Man City fans dreaming of winning Premier League title vs. Man United
For weeks, Manchester City fans have been saying that the opportunity of winning the Premier League title against Manchester United would be too good to be true. As much as it would be delightful, it was never going to happen. There were too many variables that could change how the season panned out.
Either side could have picked up or dropped the wrong amount of points to have moved City's finishing line closer or further away.
But, following the 2-0 win at Stoke on Monday night, City fans are waking up to the possibility that they could seal this season's Premier League crown against their nearest rivals. It's no longer a pipe dream -- it will become reality providing Pep Guardiola's side win at Goodison Park.
A victory against Everton will ensure that three points in the Manchester derby in April will make City's lead unassailable -- though they can afford to draw or lose on Merseyside if United do the same to Swansea earlier in the day.
At this stage, you can understand City fans getting giddy at the prospect. It's always difficult to watch a club you love falling from grace, but to do that in the shadow of their city rivals consistently winning everything is a difficult pill to swallow.
Any City supporter that grew up in the 1990s will be crossing everything just to have the chance of winning the league when playing Jose Mourinho's team. After all, it's only a matter of weeks until Vincent Kompany lifts the trophy -- but clinch the title at the end of a match against the team that caused the fans so much suffering for a decade-and-a-half would be sweet.
It would mean the world to all of the supporters who, nearly every Monday morning without fail, would have to listen to gloating from friends at work or classmates in the school playground.
The balance would be somewhat redressed if City could crown the biggest domination of England's top flight in generations by exorcising the demons of the 1990s. There are Premier League records to be broken and Guardiola should have his sights set on polishing off an amazing campaign -- if nothing else, just to keep the team motivated and playing with momentum for their push in the Champions League.
As City's title-winning seasons have done in the recent past, their ultimate joy will be shaped by both Everton and United. In 2012, it took a 4-4 draw by the Toffees at Old Trafford to open the door enough for then-City boss Roberto Mancini to claw his way back into the title race.
He took poll position by beating United 1-0 at the Etihad not long after.
In 2014, Manuel Pellegrini's City had to banish their awful record at Goodison Park in order to keep their title chances in their own hands. Liverpool were breathing down their necks and only a win against Everton would keep the team in command. It came in the shape of a 3-2 victory.
It's undeniable that Goodison is a bogey ground for City. Guardiola won't have fond memories, having lost 4-0 on his only previous trip there, while the travelling fans remember year after year of gritty defeats, often courtesy of a Tim Cahill header somewhere along the way.
But this season is an anomaly. City have passed pretty much every test they've come up against with flying colours, accruing a record points total and goals haul for this stage of the campaign, and opening a gap at the top of the table seen only once in a blue moon.
The 4-3 defeat at Anfield -- City's other huge bogey ground -- is almost the exception that proves the rule.
Winning home and away against Stoke, following the 7-2 victory at the Etihad earlier in the season, Guardiola has become the first City boss since Joe Royle to claim a league double over the Potters. The last came when the club was at their lowest ever ebb in the 1998-99 campaign -- it would be a cute echo if the latest came in what could be their most extraordinary season of all.
It's now an agonising wait for City's next game, on March 31. But that gives the manager chance to prepare. Supporters are now praying he gets it right against Everton just to have the opportunity for payback for the misery of years gone by.
Who would have expected the derby rivalry could be so intense with such a big points difference in the table?
David Mooney is ESPN FC's Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney