Paul Parker: United better poised for response

Parker: United better off


Both Athletic Bilbao and Sporting Lisbon deserve the credit they have got, but you have to question the commitment of the two English teams. Neither of them really started playing until they were firmly up against it, when it was a matter of pride more than determination to progress to the quarter-finals.

You can open the debate about whether or not the Premier League has fallen behind other European leagues all you want, but there is no way that England's top two teams should have been outclassed in the way they were by teams who are nowhere near winning the title in their own domestic leagues.

I don't hold much stock with the theory that it will serve both teams better to be knocked out of Europe, so that they can focus fully on the one competition they remain part of. At this stage of the season, momentum is absolutely key. As a player, you just want to be playing games. If you suffer a defeat, then at least you only have to wait a few days before you get the chance to put it right.

That could well be the key to United recovering from their own disappointment in Spain better than City do, following the latter's defeat in a draining and ultimately futile second-half fightback against their Portuguese opponents.

United get to play on Sunday, just three days after their European exit, while City have to wait until next Wednesday to stew over their loss before they can try and make amends.

Moreover, United are playing a Wolves side that looks a lot worse off following the decision to sack Mick McCarthy. They may have beaten United at Molineux last season, but Terry Connor has got Wolves looking a shadow of their former selves.  They appear to even lack the fight and work ethic which got them out of many a hole under McCarthy. Of course, anyone can beat anyone on a given day, but Wolves have the look of a side ripe for the taking, and United will be in vengeful mood.

When City finally get to play again, almost a week after their defeat, it will be against a Chelsea side which is riding high after winning all three games since Andre Villas-Boas was sacked. Chelsea inflicted City's first league defeat of the season upon them, and after battling their way into the Champions League quarter-finals they will come to Manchester full of confidence, especially if they brush aside Leicester in the FA Cup this weekend as expected.

Out of the two managers, Roberto Mancini must be feeling the most pressure, too. Alex Ferguson has got more than enough 'money in the bank', so to speak, from the trophies he has collected over the years. Mancini, however, knows that every competition won for him makes his job a little bit safer, but every failure makes it more precarious. So he will look at United's run-in enviously.

United play five of the bottom six in their next six games then face Everton at home. City, meanwhile, still have to travel to Arsenal as well as deal with tricky opponents like Stoke, Sunderland (who have already beaten them once), West Brom and Norwich.

Their respective runs of seven games then takes them up to April 30, when the derby at the Etihad is scheduled to take place.

For months now – ever since the 6-1 thrashing of United in August, for some – that date has been the red letter day for fans on both sides. However, if City cannot regain the momentum that saw them top the table for so much of this season, then it could be irrelevant by the time it comes around.

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