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Can City's derby win impact next season?

In the aftermath of the 2-1 win at Old Trafford it is tempting to look back and wonder 'what if?', but did City provide a glimpse of what lies ahead next season?

Alex Livesey

There are some who feel that City could perform a comeback that would topple even the feats of last season but even donning the bluest of blue-tinted spectacles would leave you conceding that the three points gained last night will not affect the outcome of the 2012/13 Premier League title race.

What's done is done and the combination of City's stuttering campaign with a ruthless performance from United in terms of points accrued between the two derby fixtures means that title number 20 will be heading to Old Trafford whilst it is the questions, not the plaudits, heading towards the Etihad Stadium.

In the build up to the game much of the narrative centered upon the game being 'meaningless', the context being that wherever the points ended up the outcome of the title would be unaffected. This is true of course in the basest of terms, yet as is the case for the modern-day Manchester derby the points on offer are not all that is at stake.

There is no denying that United deserve their lead in the table, yet it is not just Roberto Mancini who feels that the gap is perhaps not the truest reflection of the difference between the two sides. Those with a passing interest in analytics will know quite how United have over-performed in many areas this season and a common thread - even among sections of United fans - that whilst United have been dominant and ruthless in their pursuit of regaining the title they have failed to impress throughout the season; in fact many of their wins in the first half of the campaign came courtesy of overturning deficits in games, a handy trait but not one typically required by the champions.

It is not just United who have disappointed at times though. City's attacking fluency and creativity has flickered rather than shone this season and their conversion rate (both at team and individual level) has decreased, and aligned with some poorly conceded goals (despite possessing the meanest defense once again) has meant that, particularly away from home, they have had to chase games and rescue points rather than their relentless form of a year ago.

There was an opinion aired by Gary Neville at the weekend too which suggested that City have relaxed too often this season, having 'reached their mountain', a charge that he felt could never be levelled at United. There may be some validity in this statement, with many of Mancini's public utterances of displeasure rooted in this; his comments not baseless criticism but an exasperation at standards having dropped.

The title may have gone then but the recent signs are positive. The victory over Newcastle was a carbon copy of home games a season ago and there was a cohesion about the Old Trafford performance that belied the 'lack of team spirit' charges and bodes well for their hopes of ending the season with a trophy (and the small matter of second place in the Premier League).

But it is the victory over United, and in particular the manner in which it was achieved, which may prove to be most important. Had City been defeated it would have capped the season and placed a full stop at the end of a disappointing campaign. Instead, they went toe to toe with United both in a footballing and physical sense and far from came out second best. Local pride is of course important but what the win will do is place some doubt in United minds.

Victory was a deserved one and proved that despite the points difference that separates the two teams they are in fact very evenly matched sides. It is inevitable that United will win the title but if it has an underwhelming feel to it then City - especially if they lift the FA Cup to cap a positive finish could take this forward into next season - emerging the better for the chastening experience that their title defense has brought; armed with the sense of belief that they possess what it takes to wrestle back the Premier League crown.