In western popular media there is a sense that we all become cultural zombies. We get caught up in the zeitgeist. It is the reason that we fire ourselves up about reaction rather than news, all the while wondering what opinion is and how people are feeling instead of focusing on the material truth. It is the reason that we ask players opinions on the sideline and managers get cameras in the face mere minutes after the final whistle in the hope that they say something fueled by emotion.
Sometimes we all need to take a step back.
In the English Premier League this happened. Everyone in soccer got caught up in Sir Alex Ferguson turning on the mind games and everyone suddenly imagined deflation at Manchester City as Roberto Mancini ‘conceded’ that Manchester United were too strong.
Overplayed were details like the return of retired veteran Paul Scholes. Overplayed was the disruption of reintroducing Carlos Tevez at Manchester City. Overplayed was the hurt Mancini felt when stung with Sir Alex’s barbs. Overplayed was the omission of some players from the EPL Players’ Player Award shortlist. Overplayed was United’s Ashley Young ‘diving’ and his team winning favorable decisions.
Underplayed was the return from bans for Vincent Kompany. Underplayed was Mancini’s title winning runs in his native Italy. Underplayed was the resolve of mercurial stars Sergio Aguero and David Silva. Underplayed was Manchester United’s ability to concede goals from point blank range. Underplayed was Manchester City’s record Goal Difference in the league.
Sports blogging is derided as an analytical tool because very often a view can be skewed. It depends on the relationship with the materials. However, as it stands the bluster and the fanfare has all seemed so embarrassingly premature.
There is a derby coming up in the EPL and it is between a top two separated by three points. The Manchester Derby looks like the most significant local meeting England has seen in many years.
It is poised thusly because the last three games have taken such odd shape. Written off by their own manager, Man City relaxed and went back to the same adventurous, but balanced play they had utilized at the start of the campaign. A few weeks back when they suffered their blip and allowed United to overtake them in the league they looked uncomfortable and lopsided. In the last three weeks they have gone back to a tilting and measured style.
As men like Zabaleta and Adam Johnson have plunged forward men like Toure and Nasri have stepped back into holes and looked to stick passes to favorable spaces rather than looking selfish and one minded. Man City have looked relaxed in a structure. With the spine of Hart in goal, Kompany and Lescott, Barry and Yaya Toure this comfort can mean the difference between win and loss.
In the last three games City have scored 12 goals. They have won all the games, even if their last outing –a 2-0 victory over Wolves –was not the best they have played. They have a bit of belief again.
At the same time United have not done so well. They have scored 8 goals in that time, but they have also conceded 5. They lost 1-0 to lowly Wigan in that spell and they drew 4-4 with Everton on Sunday, despite charging ahead.
Today Sir Alex bills next Monday’s derby as the biggest he has seen in Manchester since he took charge of the Red Devils in 1986. Glances are being cast back to October when City trounced United 6-1, blitzing and embarrassing their more famous rivals with three goals in added time.
If City win they retain top spot by grace of their spectacular Goal Difference. They nose past their more experienced running competitors and have two games left to solidify.
The current culture is one which begs for predictions and sound bites. Perhaps, though, when top end sport is this finely balanced it is better to just wait, see and accurately explain what has just happened.