A third straight Premier League title has now arrived at the Etihad, hurting those involved with Manchester United just as much every other since the first 11 years ago.
Manchester City did what they always seem to do, sew together a run so relentless that they unnerve those above – Arsenal, this time – and surpass them with games to spare. It was 11 on the bounce after the 3-0 win against Everton just over a week ago, the win that eventually secured top-spot after the Gunners lost at Nottingham Forest.
Pain for the red half of Manchester is as palpable as ever, but the acute feeling is also heightened with the sense of concern for the near future. The Premier League trophy could just be the beginning of a fortnight in which City go on to win an illustrious treble, adding FA Cup and Champions League glory to their league title as United did so dramatically in 1999.
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Under Sir Alex Ferguson, the Reds added both domestic and European cups to their league success in 1999, the latter coming thanks to added-time goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after being 1-0 down since the sixth minute. No team in England had done it before and no one has done it since. United stand alone.
But the increasing worry is that they will be joined by their Manchester rivals, with Pep Guardiola’s side in seemingly unstoppable form and now needing just two wins in the right games to seal it. A Champions League final will never be simple, but in Inter Milan they face one of the easier opponents of their campaign at the final hurdle, following wins over Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in previous rounds.
Before that, however, comes an FA Cup final and an opportunity for United to end the party before it kicks into full throttle. Both have two league games to navigate between now and the June 3 trip to Wembley, with City effectively having nothing to play for while United still need to secure a top-four finish.
Nine changes for their game against Chelsea on Sunday afternoon suggested Guardiola will use trips to Brighton and Brentford as a chance to rest his key players, but that isn’t necessarily a positive for him, nor is it a negative for United. Momentum is an important factor in football, and City’s rotation between now and the final could hamper theirs.
Meanwhile, Erik ten Hag and United need to carry the momentum that has seen them win twice on the bounce, with home games against Chelsea and Fulham presenting a chance to head to London with four consecutive wins under their belt and the core of their team sharp and firing.
A sharp start against a potentially disjointed opponent could be United’s gateway to an FA Cup, and equally their chance to stopping City’s treble push. Ten Hag’s side are the biggest of the final two hurdles, having flexed their muscles in January’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford.
They undoubtedly have the better chance of winning than Inter Milan, and should relish the chance not just to kill off City celebrations, but to maintain their own status as the standalone treble-winning English team.
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