If you call yourself a soccer fan, you will be parked in front of a TV at 8:30 a.m. Sunday — or, have your DVR set to record Fox Soccer Channel. Manchester United and Manchester City, the top two teams in the English Premier League, face off in a much-anticipated derby.
Not only are bragging rights on the line, but this match could prove pivotal come the end of the season. United leads the standings by three points over City, and third-place Chelsea is behind seven points.
Last year, United lost to City home and away, and City wound up taking the league title on goal differential.
“I think it is going to be close,” United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said of this year’s EPL race. “With that gap over Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham, it’ll be difficult for the two of us to collapse and let another team in. I think it will be between the two of us.”
He said the losses to their crosstown rival last year doomed them.
“Without question. Particularly that 6-1 defeat we had [at home]. It turned things right around. It cost us.”
That said, he insists he won’t panic if they were to lose. There is still plenty of soccer left to play.
“We’ve won the league after being 12 points behind, and we’ve lost the league after being 11 points ahead … so you can never be sure in this league,” he said. “You can lose to anyone — we’ve lost to Norwich already — but that’s the type of league we’re in, that’s a tough league.”
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini is calling Manchester United the favorite to win the league title.
“In this moment, United are favorites but the season is long,” Mancini said. “They were a strong team and [then] they bought [ Robin] Van Persie and [ Shinji] Kagawa. They put another player that scores 25 goals into the squad.”
He believes the game is more crucial for his team than United, and that their rivals have the edge when it comes to big-match experience.
“They can lose because they have three points more,” the City manager said. “We have three points less and we can’t lose. They are better than us at this moment. We have only been here for two years. They are used to playing these games in the title race for 20 years. They have won everything for 15 years. You can’t change this in two or three years. You need more time. For this reason they have a small advantage.”
Both teams have injuries that could prove costly. David Silva (hamstring) is questionable for City, as are Gael Clichy (ankle) and James Milner (hamstring).
“It is a big risk because afterwards we have a lot of games between now and the end of December and we need all the players to recover,” Mancini said.
Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley is slowed by a calf injury, and his status is unknown.
• Barca’s healing: Barcelona has been plagued by many injuries of late. But things seem to looking brighter heading into Sunday’s game at Real Betis.
Alexis Sanchez, Daniel Alves and Marc Bartra trained Friday and could play. The team was officially off Friday, but those three players, along with Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta showed up and worked out on their own.
“Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba both trained normally with the squad for the first time this week [on Monday and Tuesday they stayed in the gym],” said a statement on the team website. “They were also joined by Alexis, Bartra and Dani Alves, who are all in the final stages of recovery from their respective injuries.”
• U.S.-China women in Boca: Tickets for the U.S. women’s match against China on Dec. 15 in Boca Raton are on sale. Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and the rest of the World Cup and Olympic stars are on the roster. The match will be played at FAU Stadium and is the 10th and final game of the U.S. WNT Fan Tribute Tour.
Tickets are available at ussoccer.com, by phone at 1-800-745-3000, at Ticketmaster centers throughout South Florida and at the Wally Sanger Owl Club Center ticket office on the Florida Atlantic University campus. Fans are invited to attend a public training session at 5 p.m. Dec. 14 at the stadium. Admission is free.