While the hyperbole might have been stretched to breaking point, the point was a valid one.
Lineker was of course, talking about Monday night’s Manchester derby clash between United and City. First and second in the Premier League respectively, a win for City would see them leapfrog their fierce local rivals on goal difference with just two games remaining of the season.
Should Sir Alex Ferguson’s men triumph, it would take them six points clear and City would need a United collapse of mammoth proportions for the remainder.
It maybe clichéd, but it will be all to play for at the Etihad Stadium.
The title race looked to have been over as far back as Easter Sunday when City were beaten 1-0 by Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. Earlier in the day, United eased past QPR 2-0, and City’s defeat left them eight points behind.
Many thought the title chase was dead, and even City manager Roberto Mancini seemed to agree.
‘It’s finished,’ declared the Italian, after the Arsenal game. The conceding of defeat has become something of a mantra for Mancini since that day.
Even after his side romped to a 4-0 victory over West Brom and seeing United lose 1-0 to Wigan, Mancini still confidently stated there was no way his team would be lifting the Premier League title and insisted he wasn’t indulging himself in mind games.
‘For me, it is still finished. This is not mind games, United have fantastic experience and we don’t have it!’
Mancini was at it again after the 6-1 trouncing of Norwich saw the gap reduced to two points.
‘It’s finished’ repeated Mancini. When reminded the gap was now down to just two points (United played Aston Villa the day after) he replied ‘No. Five points.’
In just five words, Mancini had rubbished the chances of his own players, shown a remarkably defeatist attitude to his supporters and disrespected Aston Villa by implying they have no hope of getting a result against United. That was some accomplishment.
Even at his press conference on Saturday, the former Inter manager was reiterating his viewpoint that United were still favourites.
‘Even if we win this game, I think they are favourites. After us, United will play against Swansea and Sunderland – I think for them that will be two easy games.’
But the truth is, even if Mancini will not admit as much, his side have a fantastic chance to become Premier League champions.
City head into Monday’s game with nine points from nine and have racked up an impressive 12 goals in that time. United on the other hand have dropped five points since the QPR win, there is no question that City are the form team.
Ferguson’s men undoubtedly have the experience at this stage of the season, and that could be a crucial element, but had this scenario been handed to City before the start of the season, they would have gleefully acquiesced.
Of course Mancini’s outfit still have a tough game away at Champions League chasing Newcastle and a tricky home fixture with relegation threatened QPR to come after Monday.
It is not exactly the title-deciding encounter it is being billed as, but make no mistake, Monday night’s game will be the biggest of the season, and there is some justification to it being billed as the biggest Manchester derby of all time.
By Paul Gorst