Just two matches to go nine months into an exhilarating English Premier League (EPL) season and everything’s still up for grabs. It’s no wonder then that
the Manchester derby on Monday night drew 650 million TV viewers worldwide.
Manchester City edged Manchester United 1-0 in a drab display to grab a sliver of a lead at the top of the points table — a 61-53 goal difference with both sides level on 83 points. But the delirious fans in their reds and blues, Diego Maradona in the stands and a touchline spat between the two managers showed why this match was billed as one of the most important in EPL history.
The EPL is headed for its tightest finish in 23 years. Not since Arsenal beat Liverpool on goal difference in 1989 has the title race been this close.
Monday’s derby outdid the 400 million viewers of the El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid on April 21.
It fell just 50 million shy of the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands. Last year's India-Pakistan cricket World Cup semifinal (150 million) and the first 16 matches of IPL-5 (122.44 million) were tame by comparison.
Before the derby, City manager Roberto Mancini said, "First we have to concentrate on this game and if we win, we need to forget it quickly and move on to the next. None of us must get carried away with the idea that this is the only important game left of the season."
Yet, that's pretty much what this EPL season has been all about - a riveting, see-sawing intra-city rivalry with the 18 other teams relegated to the sidelines. City led Man-U for most of the season - which included a 6-1 drubbing in October that United manager Sir Alex Ferguson called the worst day in his career — till a horrible slump in December. The big-spending club's eight-point lead suddenly vanished into thin air.
The Red Devils, on the other hand, raised their game and a 20th league title looked certain. But a surprise defeat to lowly Wigan and a tantalising 4-4 draw against Everton brought the Citizens right back into contention for their first league title in 44 years. There are still games to be played. City have tougher outings - at Newcastle and Queens Park Rangers - than United, who play Swansea City and Sunderland next. Till then, all eyes are on the ball.
(With agency inputs)