But more importantly, United’s tame defeat to Wigan has made the previously impossible now seem very much plausible for the noisy neighbours. The doom and gloom of the past week has been lifted.
United might still have a five-point lead, but City have been devastatingly good at home this season, so when United visit the Etihad Stadium, they had better prepare for the worst – which would mean leaving with just a two-point lead.
And that in turn will mean United cannot afford even a single draw out of their other four remaining fixtures (considering City’s superior goal difference), which includes a tricky away trip to Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland on the final day of the season.
Even before they visit the Etihad, United will welcome two stubborn customers – Aston Villa and Everton – to Old Trafford, and they weren’t exactly convincing against 10-man QPR at home last weekend.
Plus, two weeks ago I wrote about how lucky and unlucky refereeing decisions tend to even themselves out over time. Well if that’s the case, United can expect a run of seriously rotten luck after Wigan.
You could argue that the penalty escape against Fulham was just karma for the completely unwarranted one given against United when Newcastle visited.
Then came the red card and penalty given against Shaun Derry, for a slight push on Ashley Young who was a yard offside. Okay, two in a row still ain’t that bad.
But then came more blinding good fortune at Wigan – a Victor Moses goal disallowed for very, very minimal obstruction on David de Gea, and a second yellow card Jonny Evans was incredibly lucky to have escaped for a late challenge. United had their own penalty appeal waved away, but after riding their luck with Moses’ disallowed goal, they could have no complaints.
So United were abysmal at Wigan, sloppy against QPR, forced to leave it late against Blackburn Rovers, wasteful against Fulham and generally quite lucky against all of them – that’s not the form you want heading into a run of five games where you can only afford one loss or two draws (considering City win their remaining fixtures).
The only positive from the Wigan defeat was the return of Cleverley and Nani off the bench, both of whom showed the delicate touches and deft passes needed to unlock defences, and maintain control of midfield in general.
At the moment, it seems like any team that manage to shackle the raw pace and power of Antonio Valencia will already have won half the battle against United – Cleverley and Nani will give them something else, something altogether different, to think about.
The importance of Nani, in particular, cannot be underestimated. He is United’s little magician in the final third, and Rooney always seems a better player when they’re on the pitch together.
So, with the duo back for the last five games of the season, can United snap out of their current luck-assisted malaise and show some championship-winning form?
The way this season has gone, there’s really no telling.
> After watching Ryan Giggs get overwhelmed by the Wigan midfield, Ian Yee thinks a midfield of Nani-Carrick-Cleverley-Valencia would be better equipped to win the league, with Giggs and Scholes only coming on from the bench.
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