Cyprus Mail
Premier League Sport

Derby deflation as City and United battle for fourth

Memphis Depay (r) cost Manchester United almost £20 million but has failed to sparkle for them

WHEN Manchester’s Premier League big guns were spending lavishly in the close season, neither City nor United can have imagined that the final derby of the campaign would be little more than a contest in the battle for a Champions League spot.

With City, lying fourth, having slipped 12 points behind the leaders and United trying to climb up from sixth, Sunday’s match is hardly the pivotal title decider they both would have wanted.

City spent £152 million in preparation for the campaign while United also surpassed the £100-million mark, but neither team has generated the momentum needed to launch a sustained title challenge.

United, often laboured and struggling to score goals all season, go into the game at the Etihad Stadium trailing their rivals by four points but perhaps sniffing blood.

City have capitulated in recent weeks and, with leaders Leicester playing Crystal Palace on Saturday, could find themselves 15 points off the top by kick-off.

Since it was announced last month that Pep Guardiola would replace manager Manuel Pellegrini in July, City have won two of six league games and are far enough adrift of the summit to know that anything other than victory over their neighbours will end any lingering title hopes.

Arsenal, 11 points off the top and visiting Everton on Saturday, are another side who have imploded at a crucial point in the season with manager Arsene Wenger’s position again coming under intense scrutiny.

Having won only one of their last eight games in all competitions and exiting the FA Cup at home to Watford, the debate about Wenger’s future has become increasingly heated.

After Barcelona completed their expected passage into the Champions League last eight with an 3-1 win at the Camp Nou on Wednesday, Arsenal were left with nothing to play for unless they can claw their way back into title contention.

Like City, however, Arsenal’s hopes rest on Leicester slipping up, which is looking increasingly unlikely with every passing week.

The battle for the title seems to have come down to a two-horse race between Claudio Ranieri’s side and Tottenham Hotspur, who trail them by five points and host Bournemouth on Sunday.

Both sides should win, with Leicester, who boast the best away record in the top flight, visiting Palace who have taken just four points from the last 12 games.

Tottenham, who have lost only two of their last 16 home league matches, face Bournemouth who are comfortable in 13th position in the table.

In the relegation fight, Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez will experience his first north-east derby when his team host Sunderland on Sunday.

Newcastle, second-bottom of the table, are one point behind their neighbours who are 17th in the 20-team standings.

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