Bet on goals as United and City chase title glory
The English Premier League has seven matches tonight and two more tomorrow, but they are all just appetisers for Monday's blockbuster between Manchester City and Manchester United.
The stage is set for the match of the season - an accolade for which the competition has intensified in the past week, which has featured Manchester United's 4-4 at home to Everton in the Premier League, Real Madrid's El Clasico win at Barcelona in Spain's Primera Liga and Chelsea's dramatic Champions League semi-final success.
Already this season City and United have been involved in three memorable matches. In the beginning was the curtain-raiser of the Community Shield, in which City led by two goals at half-time only for United to storm back for a 3-2 win. Then came the demolition derby at Old Trafford in October, when a rampant City tore United apart for a jaw-dropping 6-1 victory, before United bounced back again for another 3-2 success at City in the FA Cup third round.
That makes 17 goals in three meetings and, with everything to play for, there is the promise of more to come. Victory for City on Monday would put them back on top on goal difference, but any other result would leave United at least three points ahead with two games to play. And the teams face the uncomfortable truth that one of them is going to finish the season without any silverware.
It's a tough game to call, with City the best home team in the Premier League (16 wins, one draw, no defeats) and United the best away team (12 wins, three draws, two defeats).
Nor is the good form confined to this season alone. City's home win rate in the Premier League during Roberto Mancini's reign is 72 per cent, with only four defeats out of 46, while United are always a difficult team to beat on the road, as countless Champions League opponents can testify.
The history of similar title showdowns suggests a strong away team has the edge, perhaps because the weight of expectation bears too heavily on the home side in front of their fans. For the first piece of evidence we can go back to April 1954 when Wolves won 1-0 at local rivals West Brom before going on to take the title.
Most famously there was Arsenal's 2-0 win at Liverpool in the 1989 title decider, while more recently came United's 1-0 victory at Newcastle that turned the tide of the 1995-96 season and United's 2-2 at Arsenal in April 2003 that paved the way for them to regain the title from the Gunners.
The last two of those results show Alex Ferguson has the nerve and the strategy to cope with this type of high-stakes away match and we should also remember the famous night in Turin when United battled back to knock out Juventus in the Champions League semi-finals of 1999.
Nor did Ferguson allow City the freedom they had enjoyed in the 6-1 at Old Trafford when the teams met again just over two months later in the FA Cup. United had City on the back foot with a blistering start that put them 3-0 up at half-time.
A key moment was City captain Vincent Kompany being banished after 12 minutes, shortly after United had gone 1-0 in front, and the fightback to 3-2 with 10 men will give City plenty of encouragement that they can do better this time with a full team. United might think the same about the 6-1 home defeat, when Jonny Evans was sent off with the score 1-0 to City.
What is most clear from the meetings this season is that both teams are capable of punishing the other if they get on top - if we break the three matches down into their six constituent halves, the scores have been 2-0 to City, 3-0 to United, 1-0 to City, 5-1 to City, 3-0 to United and 2-0 to City. Two of those halves were influenced by sendings off and, if they are discounted, City have won three halves to United's one.
That suggests City might have the edge and their outstanding home record makes them worth the risk at the odds. Mancini's side have won all four home games against big-six teams this season and, while United have two wins and two draws on the road in that category, the fact that Ferguson's team have conceded in all of those games is a negative factor.
City's chance of victory will increase markedly if they score - under Mancini, they have won 36 out of 40 at home when they have got on the scoresheet.
Over 2.5 goals looks a good bet, especially with the distinct possibility that City may have to chase the game in search of the win they almost certainly need. City have had over 2.5 goals in 14 of their 17 home matches and have not been held scoreless at the Etihad stadium since November 2010, with 72 per cent of their home games over 2.5 goals during that run.
Over 2.5 goals has occurred in six of the nine away matches in which United have conceded this season, which is another pointer to the likelihood of a high-scoring game.
Consecutive wins for Newcastle, with only one goal conceded
Everton, West Brom, Newcastle, Manchester City, Espanyol, Monchengladbach.
TOP 5 BETS
1 Everton home win
Seven wins in their last nine at home
2 West Brom home win
Have turned their home form around
3 Newcastle on handicap
Finishing strongly in chase for Champions League
4 Manchester City home win
Home advantage can give them the edge over United
5 Espanyol home win
Strong home form against teams below them