More talking points

There was a lot of hype before the match and when it came, the Manchester derby, which was the pick of the FA Cup third-round fixtures, did not disappoint. It had the goals, drama, suspense and controversy, all of which make for an exciting high-profile encounter. At the end of the day, the red half of the city prevailed.

As I said last week, there was a lot riding on this fixture if you are Manchester United. This was more than qualifying for the next round of the FA Cup. It was about saving a season that has in many ways thrown in a number of paradoxes. It was about mending severely battered pride and victory was not optional—it had to be achieved at any cost.

Debate still rages over the sending off of Manchester City Vincent Kompany, which significantly contributed to the final result, but we shall never know how differently the match would have panned out if both sides had their full complement for the whole 90 minutes. What is in no doubt is that the Citizens are not the same without their influential captain and their midfield workhorse Yaya Toure.

Journalists had hardly submitted their subjective accounts on the events at Etihad Stadium—there were several talking points there, least of all the sensational return of retired Paul Scholes to the United midfield—when the fourth-round draw produced another explosive fixture—my Liverpool versus Manchester United at Anfield on January 28.

Given the history between the two cities of Liverpool and Manchester and what has gone on between the two clubs over the years, the rivalry between the two sides has always been bitter, bordering on hatred, and events of the last few months have just taken that acidic relationship a notch or two higher.

The FA Cup fixture will be taking place three days after Anfield hosts the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-finals between the hosts and City. The Reds will go into this fixture with one leg on the way to Wembley Stadium given their hard-fought first-leg victory in Eastlands. It will be another feisty affair given what is at stake.

Before all this, however, City will concern themselves with consolidating their position at the top of the English Premier League table given the dual threat posed by their neighbours and the league’s form team Tottenham Hotspur who are third only on goal difference and are only a win away from catching the Citizens.

Looking at that league table one sees that it will, barring some major change along the way, be a three-way fight for the title whereas my Liverpool, Chelsea and the Arsenal will battle for the all-important fourth position that gets a team into the Uefa Champions League qualifying rounds. The Blues currently occupy that position.

With all the top six clubs expected to win this weekend’s round of matches, although this season has taught us never to take any result for granted, it is next week that promises to be crucial given that United travel to the Emirates while City host Spurs. These are fixtures that will greatly impact the fight for the title and the coveted top-four status.

I talked about Scholes earlier, but what a fairy-tale return to English football by Thierry Henry! The only sad thing for him, as others have argued, is that he found the trophy cabinet the way he left it—empty. He may just help them change that statistic the short time he is there.

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