Tuesday Team Talk: Manchester United escape penalty decision – Is Lady Luck essential to win the Premier League?

By James Dickenson

Everyone agrees you need a little bit of luck to be successful at the top end of professional football.

Some say luck distributes itself evenly on teams across the course of a season, but this weekend it certainly wasn’t fairly represented in Manchester.

City went a goal down against a battling Stoke side courtesy of a wonder strike from Peter Crouch.

United nicked all three points against Fulham in a 1-0 win despite a hugely controversial call from the referee denying Fulham a late penalty after Michael Carrick appeared to foul Danny Murphy in the hosts box.

Whilst City were unlucky that Crouch reserved his self confessed ‘greatest career goal’ for their arrival, United were unbelievably lucky not to concede an 87th minute penalty and likely equaliser.

The two clubs are now split by three points in the Champions favour, as luck begins to show just how crucial it is in the title run-in. Or is it mind-games?

Whilst the rest of the Premier League fight relegation, eye cup runs or prime themselves for a late charge into European qualification, the gaze of the top two is fixed squarely on the title.

In the build up to last weekend’s fixtures, we saw a return of the mind-games.
Patrick Vieira, football development executive at the Etihad, stoked the flames first by labelling United’s decision to bring Paul Scholes out of retirement aged 37 as ‘showing weakness’.

Fergie, never one to shy away from the trash talk, (perhaps given his strong track record of success in the department) responded by questioning what that formula would consider City’s recall of the up until recently AWOL Carlos Tevez. He settled on ‘desperation’.

There was also conflict over Vieira’s assertion that the Red Devils losing talented youngsters like Ravel Morrison (West Ham) and potentially Paul Pogba (linked with Juventus) proved they were struggling.

Fergie explained that the club want to keep Pogba but were happy to let Morrison go, before stating he “had plenty of ammunition” if United’s rivals wanted to engage in mind games.

A few blows registered from Vieira in this bout, but Fergie’s subtly dark response means this one is a stalemate. A score draw for Manchester’s mentality match up.

Perhaps trying to back up his boss, Rio Ferdinand claimed last week that City’s fans were now more prominent since the club have been doing well. The centre back said: “Walking around in town, you see more and more blue shirts than you probably ever would have seen over the last 10 years. Success sometimes brings people out of the woodwork.”

Seems like a moot point really, considering how football surely accepts the fickle nature of its fans with these comments suggesting Ferdinand is focusing on City too much.

Rio might think he has picked up a couple of tips watching his manager over the years, but he hasn’t utilised the Scot’s unique skills just yet. Wide of the target from the 33-year-old there.

After all the mid-week talking was said and done, not forgetting City’s comeback against Chelsea to gather up all three points at home, both teams were a little bit tired from the frivolity to put on much of a show on the pitch.

City blinked first against Stoke, and having seen Crouch’s set up and volley effort at least eighty times on Match of the Day 2, it can be confirmed as a strong Goal of the Season contender.

That could be two in two years against the Citizens, after suffering Rooney’s overhead kick last season and now enduring a sensational strike from the Stoke star.

Yaya Toure ensured the spoils were shared, and City may be within their rights to claim that was a point gained rather than two lost such is the difficulty of a trip to the Britannia Stadium. They didn’t quite get the rub of the green, with Mancini’s tinkering arguably to blame for a largely disjointed performance.

In the post-match interview Mancini’s assistant David Platt stepped in for the Italian, who claimed needing to ‘calm down’ after witnessing Stoke’s rugby tactics first hand for 90 minutes, and the former Arsenal midfielder took the opportunity to play down the importance of mind games.

“It doesn’t matter what the ammunition is and what words are said, it is all about amassing points,” Platt insisted. “It is not about winning leagues because of mind games, it is about players going on to a pitch to play football and gain points.”

Mr Platt must be trying to pull the wool over our eyes, if he genuinely wants people to believe that spoken exchanges between the two clubs don’t affect performances on the pitch. City should be worried about ending up like Keegan’s Newcastle or Benitez’s Liverpool at this rate.

Of course goals win matches and you can’t put the ball in the back of the net by winning the battle of mind-games, but it undoubtedly helps breed confidence within teams trying to subside fear and anxiety when the going gets tough.

An own goal from Platt there, cancelling out Vieira’s early work to give United the lead in the mentality stakes, which they are also enjoying in the table. Round one to the Red Devils as the title race really begins to heat up.

Follow James on Twitter @jdickenson2010

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