April 04, 2013
Robin van Persie scores the game-winning goal against Manchester City in December.
Clint Hughes/AP

A year ago, Manchester City edged past Manchester United to go to the top of the Premier League and maintain its thrilling end-of-season surge to a first English title in nearly half a century.

A repeat result on Monday, however, will do little more than delay City's surrender of the trophy to its fierce rival.

With United 15 points clear after a record-breaking run of victories, City has given up hope of defending a championship won in such dramatic circumstances last season and has been more concerned with keeping hold of second place from Tottenham and Chelsea.

"Last year had so much more to it,'' said City captain Vincent Kompany, who headed in the winning goal 12 months ago. "It is a completely different situation, today and last year.

"It is about coming out on top in that game. I am looking forward to it and I think everyone else at Manchester City is, too.''

There was growing talk of United winning the treble barely a month ago, but Alex Ferguson's side has recently lost two big games - to Real Madrid in the Champions League and Chelsea in an FA Cup quarterfinal replay - to leave the league as its only chance of silverware this season.

It would require the biggest meltdown in Premier League history if United was to blow the title at this stage, and a win - a 26th in 31 games this campaign - would leave the team needing just four points from its remaining seven matches.

"The way we've approached things is the correct way and that's to win the next game. Hopefully, it takes us to winning the league,'' Ferguson said Thursday. "It'll be a big game for City. They'll want to come and derail us for a spell. We're at home and our consistency is there for all to see. I expect us to perform really well on Monday.''

Before that Manchester derby, which has become the Premier League's standout fixture in last few years, the race for Champions League qualification and survival will heat up.

Third-place Tottenham, which is five points behind City, hosts sixth-place Everton in a match between two of the five teams competing for a spot in Europe's top competition next season. Fifth-place Arsenal is at West Bromwich Albion while fourth-place Chelsea is at home to relegation-threatened Sunderland, whose new manager Paolo Di Canio will be taking charge of his first match.

The Italian will be glad to be focusing on matters on the field after a trying first week in his new job following an outcry over his previous political allegiances.

Despite having once said "I am a fascist'' and been pictured performing straight-arm salutes to fans of his former club, Lazio, Di Canio attempted to draw a line under the controversy Wednesday by renouncing his links to fascism.

"I am a football man . Now I will speak only of football,'' Di Canio said at the end of a heartfelt statement detailing his beliefs.

Di Canio, back in the Premier League for the first time since 2004 when he was a player for Charlton Athletic, has taken over from the fired Martin O'Neill and inherits a team without a win in eight games and just a point clear of the bottom three.

"You call me the mad Italian so I bet what I have got (that Sunderland will stay up),'' said Di Canio, whose only managerial experience has come at Swindon in England's third-tier.

Sunderland will look to make the most of Chelsea's testing run of fixtures, with Sunday's match being its fourth in nine days.

There are three decisive games at the bottom, with next-to-last Queens Park Rangers at home to fourth-bottom Wigan on Sunday and last-place Reading hosting Southampton and third-bottom Aston Villa at Stoke, which is four points above the relegation area.

QPR and Reading are seven points adrift of safety with just seven games left.

Also on Saturday, Norwich hosts Swansea. On Sunday, it's: Liverpool vs. West Ham; and Newcastle vs. Fulham.

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