LONDON (Reuters) - A win for Manchester City over Manchester United on Saturday would seal the Premier League title in record time, but City's stunning superiority can give something of a false impression of progress at United.
It has been anything but a smooth ride for United this season.
Manager Jose Mourinho has been critical of fans on more than one occasion, Spanish side Sevilla ended United's Champions League ambitions early and former Old Trafford greats have been lining up to criticise Mourinho's style of play.
"He (Mourinho) is playing in this defensive way, which is not the identity of Manchester United," French forward Eric Cantona said.
However, when the dust has settled at the end of the season, and United's campaign can be truly assessed, should they continue at their current rate of 2.2 points of per game in the Premier League, Mourinho will be able to protest progress is being made.
Sixty-eight points from 31 matches is a better return than United achieved in the entire 2013-14 and 2015-16 seasons and just a point short of their last campaign's total.
Continuing at 2.2 points per game will see them finish with 83 points - enough to have secured the title two seasons ago, as well as in 2010-11.
The problem for United is that City have raised the bar, massively. Should City continue at their current rate of 2.7 points per game, they will smash the 100-point mark for the first time in Premier League history and finish with a record total of 102.
The gap to United will be huge - which will add to fan angst. However, perspective is needed because in any other season this United side would at least be challenging for the title.
"We want to finish second and have 10 points more than last season," Mourinho said. "But there is a club which is making it practically impossible to follow."
A strong end of season is a must. Delaying City's title party would be a start while FA Cup glory would also help appease the expectant United masses.
That potential Cup win and 83 league points which would be United's best haul for five seasons should be regarded as a successful campaign.
City's achievements are out of the ordinary and as difficult as it is for United fans to accept, they are still making progress, if at a much slower rate than their bitter rivals.
(Reporting by Peter Hall, editing by Ed Osmond)