After back-to-back defeats against Blackburn and Newcastle to end 2011 and open 2012, there were many who doubted that Manchester United would be able to successfully defend their Premier League crown. At that time, though only three points separated United and City at the top, many United supporters would’ve been content with a three-point lead going into the pivotal late-season derby at the Etihad Stadium.

But after overturning that deficit and taking an eight-point lead with only six matches remaining, a three-point lead can seem like a major disappointment. What’s perhaps most disappointing is that United held that advantage going into a fairly favorable pre-derby stretch. But instead of notching three straight wins to all but wrap up the title, United decided to make the task a little harder. As a result, there will be many a United supporter whose nerves will be shot well before Monday night’s kick-off.

United are 11-1 to win 2-1 on Monday night, with Rooney 7/1 to score the opening goal. Back Rooney to lead United to a (near) title-clinching win on Ladbrokes with a free £50 bet.

Of course, there might not be any nerves left at this point anyway, given how much of an emotional ride this season has been. Just over the last few months, there have been numerous tense finishes, several key wins, the Europa League exit and recent results against Wigan and Everton, and the multiple momentum shifts that have set up a gripping climax in the title race.

Derby days are always emotional for the obvious reasons, but there’s more emotion in this derby than any in some time because there’s so much at stake. And with so much time to sit and stew about the draw against Everton, the title race‘s closeness, and the possible outcomes Monday night and in the title race, there’s no wonder why nerves will be frayed before the kickoff, much less during the match itself.

Fortunately, you can guarantee that the players won’t share the same mindsets that fans might. Sure, there are naturally nerves and thoughts about the occasion and situation, but where the fan is often unable to keep such emotions and thoughts in check, players are able to switch off when it’s time to perform, and they can far more easily put poor results behind them.

That’s part of why United supporters should feel at least a little less tense ahead of the match. United are no strangers to big games, to rising to the occasion in a tense situation, to responding to adversity or poor results. This Premier League campaign has been a fine example. From dealing with numerous injuries, most notably to captain and defensive rock Nemanja Vidic, to the comeback at Chelsea, to responding to the Blackburn and Newcastle defeats by launching the long unbeaten run that put them in the driver’s seat, United have kept their cool and stood tall every time they were prematurely written off.

So, we should expect United to step up on Monday night, and if they perform as we have seen them do time and again in big games, then they’ll come away still in full control of their destiny. Sure, things are closer than they should be. The players couldn’t have been pleased about not closing things out against Everton, and you can be 1000% sure that Fergie wasn’t. But instead of agonizing over what wasn’t done, Fergie, as always, is looking forward, focusing on a strong, positive response, and the players will be focused on delivering.

United were in a similar position last season, holding a three-point lead with three matches remaining, with title rivals Chelsea coming to town. They delivered then, producing a 2-1 win to move within a point of the title, a point picked up in the next round at Blackburn. There are differences this season, as City hold a six-goal edge in goal difference and host this potentially decisive clash, but the mission’s still as simple. United would still be in pole position with a draw, but the door could remain open into the season’s final day. But with a win, United would again be able to clinch the title with at least a point in round 37.

So, you can expect United to go in search of a win. And why not? Yes, City have been an excellent league mark at the Etihad this season, winning 15 in a row before a draw against Sunderland, and picking up 49 of 51 possible points at home. As a result, it’s no surprise that Ladbrokes have City as 6/5 favorites to win. But United have already notched a win there, and they own the league’s best away record by a decent margin, with a dozen wins, three draws, and only two defeats in 17 matches.

It’s entirely possible that United could lose. Defeat is possible in any match. Defeat in this one would hand the initiative to City, but even still, United wouldn’t throw in the towel, knowing the title tide could quickly turn again, as City’s penultimate match is away to Newcastle, who are presently in the league‘s best run of form. But knowing they want to control their own destiny, and their history in these situations, there’s every reason to be confident about United picking up a pivotal positive result in enemy territory, and the 9/4 on United to win could end up looking like a real steal.