•United’s Lukaku bulldozes his way through City challengers during a previous Manchester derby
Manchester City can ease the pain of their Champions League defeat to Liverpool by clinching the Premier League title against bitter rivals Manchester United on Saturday in record time.
Pep Guardiola’s men will become the first team in the league’s 26-year history to wrap up the title with six games to spare if they beat United at the Etihad – a fitting end to a season of almost total dominance in the league.
City are 16 points clear of Jose Mourinho’s second-placed team so it is a matter of when rather than if they wrap up the Premier League title, the first of Guardiola’s reign in England.
The runaway leaders will be desperate to reassert themselves after their chastening 3-0 defeat in the first leg of their Champions league quarterfinal at Anfield.
But the derby comes just three days before the return leg of their European tie and Guardiola faces a difficult balancing act, still believing he can overturn the Champions League deficit at the Etihad.
BALANCE OF POWER
After decades of living in United’s shadow, City have changed the balance of power in Manchester firmly in their favour and are on the verge of their third title since 2012.
Having endured a disappointing first season with City, Guardiola has silenced the critics who claimed his purist principles would not work in the cut-throat Premier League, meshing his desire for a smooth passing style with an ability to compete physically.
Belgian midfielder De Bruyne has been their driving force, while David Silva, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero have all played key roles.
Former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss Guardiola won his first English silverware in February when City trounced Arsenal in the League Cup final.
By then, City had already turned the title race into a lengthy coronation and it would be fitting if they complete their journey with one more record-breaking victory, even though their probable Champions League exit threatens to cast a shadow over the celebrations.
City set a record earlier this season by winning 18 successive league matches and a host of other statistical milestones are within their reach.
Currently on 84 points, the leaders are chasing Chelsea’s Premier League record tally of 95 points set in 2004-05. With 27 wins so far, they can also beat Chelsea’s high of 30 victories set last season.
United won the title by the widest margin when they took it by 18 points in 1999-2000 but that record could also fall to City, who, with 88 goals scored, have their sights set on Chelsea’s 103 netted in 2009-2010.
City’s dominance has been so overwhelming that many are already ranking them among the best teams in Premier League history, alongside the likes of Arsenal’s “Invincibles”, who won the 2003-04 title without losing a single match, and United’s 1999 treble winners.
Victory for Manchester City would make them English top-flight champions for the fifth time, and third time in the Premier League.
Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola could become the third manager to win the title in England and at least two of the other big five European leagues, after Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho.
Romelu Lukaku has scored in each of his last three matches for Manchester United in all competitions; his best run since scoring in six consecutive matches in September.
The Red Devils are unbeaten in their last two league visits to the Etihad Stadium, keeping a clean sheet each time. (AFP)