Clock ticks down to biggest game of them all

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Michael Owen, a man not at exactly in the midst of one of the most engaging title tussles in recent memory, hit the nail on the head this morning.


“This is going to be the longest week ever leading up to Mondays game with City,” the Manchester United striker tweeted, seemingly the benefactor of a man removed from the heat of the battle.


The longest week of the season has certainly begun, culminating in next Monday’s winner-takes-all Manchester derby; and it was set up by another weekend of action in the Premier League that served only to baffle and confuse once more.


United could have been forgiven for letting their minds wander to Monday’s encounter at the Etihad Stadium when they stepped out on to the field at Old Trafford against Everton – the last time the Toffees came away with three points from the famous old stadium the Premier League had just launched back in 1992.


20 years on that record still remains but it wasn’t for a lack of trying – in seven second half minutes David Moyes’ ensured that a title race that looked to have been over was reignited once more.


United, battling back from a goal down to establish a 3-1 lead in the second half, were in control - this we were told, was Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in full title-mode.


No one had told their defensive four however as they stood still while Everton mustered two goals from deep within themselves, a testament to the spirit they collectively hold just a week after their FA Cup exit at the hands of Liverpool.


Seven minutes was all it took as first Nikica Jelavic hauled Everton back to within touching distance of their rivals, before Steven Pienaar rounded off one of the more remarkable 45 minutes of the season.


If there was plenty of drama to be had at Old Trafford then what transpired at Molineux a few hours later was rather more expected.


Wolves’ fate was surely sealed with the removal of Mick McCarthy in February; interim boss Terry Connor was left to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic as he oversaw a side in freefall.


Having picked up just two points from ten games under Connor their relegation was inevitable, it just so happened that their hopes would be extinguished by a side in the process of renewing theirs.


Not that the reduction of United’s gap at the top of the table helped appease an agitated Roberto Mancini; the Italian seemingly not happy with the performance of his side despite their 2-0 win.


"It was important to win, but our performance was not perfect. We have played well all season but now it only matters to win," he said afterwards.

Three points is now the gap at the top of the table between these two great rivals. City’s superior goal difference means they will go top should they emerge victorious at the Etihad Stadium – a remarkable turnaround from the eight point advantage enjoyed by United after their win over Blackburn two weeks ago.


So now, we have on our hands a week that will build up to a crescendo. Noisy neighbours, Carlos Tevez, overhead kicks and 6-1 drubbings will all be mulled over mercilessly, analysed and discussed ahead of 90 minutes that will in all likelihood decide the title.


Gary Neville, the third most successful player in Premier League history in terms of medals won, questioned whether Monday’s derby is the biggest in the league’s history, Ferguson meanwhile described it as a ‘derby of amazing proportions’.


Has there ever been this much riding on a single game between both sides? Denis Law, a bonafide Manchester United icon consigned his former side to relegation from the first division in 1974 with his famous back-heeled goal for Manchester City – but surely there is more riding on Monday’s encounter with both side’s occupying the top two places in the league table.


Ferguson’s United have stumbled and recovered in the past while Manchester City have demonstrated their hunger in bouncing back from defeat against Arsenal.


Everything is set up for one of the greatest games of the Premier League era, a fitting tribute to the recently launched celebrations dedicated to 20 years of the top league of English football. You only have to wait one very long week indeed for the biggest game for some time comes around.

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