THE BIGGER they come the harder they fall, and after Wednesday’s double Champions League knockout blow, the destiny of the Premier League title could well be determined by which Manchester heavyweight is able to rise from the canvas first.
While United, the seasoned, battle-scarred campaigners are famed for their powers of recovery, City represent the brash pretenders to the crown who will no doubt face accusations of possessing a glass jaw should they lose at Stamford Bridge on Monday.
Despite history telling us otherwise, the seismic shock of demotion to the Europa League, not to mention adjusting to the demands of potentially switching to a Thursday-Sunday playing schedule, is likely provide a sterner test of United’s metal.
Sir Alex Ferguson was quick to point out that his club has often used disappointment as a tool for motivation in the past, but the schooling his side received at Old Trafford at the hands of City in October has failed to trigger the sort of reaction usually associated with United.
Results, domestically at least, may suggest otherwise, but since that 6-1 derby reversal, United have retreated into their shell and have survived on instinct.
The swagger that accompanied their blistering start to the season has been abandoned in favour of a safety first approach that hints at an acceptance on Ferguson’s part that his squad are not capable of the sort of cavalier displays that have characterised City’s rise to the Premier League summit.
Injuries to key performers Javier Hernandez and Nemanja Vidic will weaken the champions still further, while last week’s Carling Cup quarter-final defeat against Crystal Palace confirmed youngsters such as Federico Macheda simply aren’t up to the task.
Meanwhile, although a club intent on global domination such as City will doubtless have had their pride stung by Wednesday’s events, a run in the Europa League was a fate they had seemingly been preparing themselves for ever since the defeat in Munich on matchday two.
Moreover, while United may view the competition as an inconvenience, City are likely to embrace it as an opportunity to further establish themselves on the European map.
And unlike their local rivals, a lack of strength in depth is hardly going to hinder their ambitions, particularly with the transfer window set to open in January.