Manchester City may have reopened their domestic cushion over rivals Manchester United this weekend but it was the Red Devils’ response after going 3-0 down at Chelsea that really caught the eye.
On Saturday, Roberto Mancini’s side brushed aside Fulham and completed a straightforward victory. Sergio Aguero weaved his magic through the Cottagers defence as the snow fell, amid rumours of a sensational possible return to the Etihad for Carlos Tevez.
We will have to wait and see about that, but Sunday was a day that certainly belonged to the red half of Manchester. We have seen some amazing games between the top teams in England this season, and Chelsea versus Manchester United was no exception.
When David Luiz bulged the back of the Stamford Bridge net with a powerful header five minutes after the break to register Chelsea’s third goal without reply, even the most ardent of United fans would have been hard pressed to anticipate a comeback.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had not played badly in those first 50 minutes, but found themselves staring down the barrel of defeat as Andre Villas-Boas’ side clicked into fifth gear, Juan Mata thumping the second home with a sumptuous volley.
But a stunning second half performance from United, in particularly the explosive Wayne Rooney, meant that when the whistle blew for full-time Fergie will have been almost disappointed not to have won the game
The England striker capitalised on nervousness in the Blues back-line to convert two penalties, as defensive solidity turned to calamity amongst the West London side.
As the injured, former national team captain, John Terry watched on helplessly from the bench, new centre back pairing Luiz and Gary Cahill fell apart as United rose from the ashes of defeat.
There was a Grand Canyon-sized gap between Luiz and Cahil when Javier Hernandez leapt into the six yard box ten minutes from time, hanging in the air awaiting a Ryan Giggs cross before pounded the equaliser in with his forehead.
United showed unbelievable mental strength to fight back from what was shaping up to be one of Chelsea’s best displays under AVB, whose side ended up fortunate to escape from the fixture with a draw, such was the nature of their collapse.
It was a team performance that sums up this United side. Fergie’s outfit contains both the potential for abysmal failure and stirring success, often combining both qualities in a single game such as this one.
It may be badly timed to suggest this after such a recovery, but this United team really isn’t that good. The current side is light years away from the Scottish tactician’s vintage sides, such as the ’93/94 team, the treble winning ’99 squad or the Ronaldo inspired XI of ’07/08.
That hypothesis is proved this season by United having been dumped out of the Champions League group stages, their 1-6 home thumping to sworn enemies City and early cup exits at the hands of Crystal Palace and Liverpool.
The team lacks greatness all over the pitch, with Rooney the one true game-changer left. Nemanja Vidic is a big loss for United, but why oh why didn’t the club sign a replacement for the Serbian in the January transfer market?
In the middle of the park United are often left wanting, and with Darren Fletcher out with a severe illness indefinitely, it is shocking that the midfield was not bolstered. Wesley Sneijder anyone?
However what this team may lack in stardust it more than makes up for with mental resolve and will to win. Perhaps best labelled as the ‘Fergie Factor’, United teams often don’t know when they are beaten and this bunch are no different.
That must be playing on the mind of Mancini at the moment, as he knows he has the better collection of players, but United are led by Ferguson and that is worth its weight in points come the end of the season.
It would be a strenuous task for anyone to argue that City’s squad is lesser than United’s, and if the title was a outright test of quality they would be walking to their first Premier League trophy this campaign.
But it is not, and to win England’s domestic chalice a side must display battling mental strength and a fierce determination to succeed. Whilst we know United contain that edge, we have yet to witness the depths of City’s resolve.
Two points clear with 14 games to go means anything can still happen. Manchester City are in the driving seat for this fascinating title run-in, but few would bet against Fergie’s United keeping pace over the coming months.
And it is from March that leagues are won and lost, as psychological abilities become as cherished as athletic talents. Will City heed to this creed? Or will United triumph again?
Stay tuned as this enthralling Premier League title race continues to excite and intrigue.