That City and Liverpool, United's two old rivals, played to a lively 2-2 draw Sunday at the Etihad Stadium serves as only half of the story. The other half is that in finishing all square, both helped United open a nine-point lead in their quest to regain the English Premier League title.
It could have been 10, mind you. Steven Gerrard, Liverpool's captain fantastic and ageless midfield wonder, powered the Reds ahead with a cracking goal in the 73rd minute. But Sergio Aguero capitalized on Pepe Reina's questionable goalkeeping five minutes later to score the equalizer and rescue the champions a point.
And so, the two teams shared the points in a match both led, and in the end, both just about deserved something from it. Liverpool, however, will correctly feel let down.
The Reds held more possession and carried most of the attacking initiative, out-shooting their hosts two-to-one (22 to 11, to be exact). But City were ruthless with their chances, converting two of only three attempts on target.
Not that any of that will serve as consolation to City and manager Roberto Mancini. Last season's title run-in, in which City made up eight points on United in just over a month, was little short of miraculous.
A nine-point sequel over the next three months is certainly possible but highly improbable. As Mancini noted, via Ian Herbert of the Independent:
Mancini: "I think probably now we need to win probably all of our games and if not 11 or 12 games. #mcfc— ian herbert (@ianherbs) February 3, 2013
The hosts went ahead in the 24th minute, just as Liverpool looked ready to seize command. James Milner rolled a precise pass across the box, out of the reach of both Reina and Liverpool defender Daniel Agger. Edin Dzeko, starting instead of playing his customary role of supersub, poked home accordingly.
Liverpool punched back quickly through Daniel Sturridge. The England man, signed from Chelsea last month, scored his fourth goal in red, beating Joe Hart with a powerful drive from a standing position outside the box.
It was the first goal City had allowed in 2013, a fact that, given the size of their deficit, must feel all the more frustrating.
Both teams had chances before the end, but while both might have deserved something for their efforts, Liverpool must have felt like they would have been worthy winners. Manager Brendan Rodgers praised his players, whom he said "dominated" the champions at their home stadium (via BBC Sport).
"It was an outstanding performance," Rodgers said (per Liverpool's official Twitter account). It's difficult for teams to even score here. We were brilliant."
For Mancini, meanwhile, the title defense has come down to watching the scoreboard, making declarations of brave defiance and fielding endless questions over the state of the race. Mancini stated (via the EPL's official Twitter account):
Man City manager Roberto Mancini: "Today we were so nervous, I don't know why... [it's] 13 games to the end, so no, no [it's not over yet]."— Premier League (@premierleague) February 3, 2013
Mancini is right, at least to some degree. The title race is not over, at least not yet and at least not by the rules of mathematics.
But after falling nine points behind a frightfully motivated Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, City's title defense now breathes on life support.
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