Manchester United travel to the Etihad on Monday night to take on Manchester City, in what could well be the most important Manchester derby in history.
The Red Devils currently lead Roberto Mancini’s men by three points, but the Blues have a superior goal difference and defeat for United may prove terminal with only two games left after this one.
However, United need only avoid defeat to give themselves a fantastic chance, and if they manage to secure a positive result in their rivals back yard, an historic 20th league title would be in their grasp.
Undoubtedly, City are a fantastic side, and they seem to have rediscovered that early season form which saw them thrash Tottenham 5-1, before humiliating United at Old Trafford.
But Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have had a good record at City over the last few seasons. Indeed, they have lost just the once in their previous five visits and are unbeaten in three.
Although, you can pour over statistics, facts and figures all you want, but they don’t mean anything. In a derby and a match of this magnitude all form goes out of the window, and it boils down to whoever performs better on the day.
United go into the game on the back of that incredible game against Everton, where at 4-2 up, the Reds looked to be easing eight points clear. However, as the 3-3 at Goodison proved at the start of last season, a game isn’t over until it’s over, and after City comfortably dispatched Wolves, the gap was back down to three points.
The Blues head into Monday’s showdown full of confidence, winning their last three games, scoring 12 goals in the process. The return of Tevez seems to have breathed new life into their title challenge, and since losing 1-0 at Arsenal they have looked formidable.
Team Selection Thoughts
United will be hoping David De Gea is on form as he comes up against one of the most potent attacking forces in the league. The young Spaniard shipped four last weekend but could have done nothing to prevent any of the goals, and his confidence should still be sky high after a fantastic second half to the season. He will need to be at his best to thwart the likes of Tevez, Silva and Aguero and United’s fortunes could depend on how De Gea plays.
In defence Jonny Evans is rated as doubtful ahead of the derby, and Sir Alex will be hoping the Northern Irishman is passed fit, as the centre half as filled the void left by Nemanja Vidic admirably. Him and Rio, who should also start, have formed a good understanding and after an indifferent 2010-11 season for Evans he seems to have finally settled, making the position his own. Evra and Rafael should continue on either flank and the pair will be key in not only stopping City’s raids down the wings, but helping United swiftly attack on the counter. Don’t forget it was Evra who set up Scholes’ winner in this fixture back in the 2009/2010 season, as he bombed forward to join in with play.
Speaking of Scholes, the ginger maestro could prove a match winner, just as he was in that aforementioned derby two years ago. On that day he completely controlled proceedings, spreading passes left, right and centre, and his winner was fitting. He will have less time on the ball this time though and the Reds will probably have to add an extra midfielder alongside him and Michael Carrick. This could come in the form of Wayne Rooney dropping slightly deeper to help out when United don’t have the ball, or more likely Tom Cleverley, Ryan Giggs or Park Ji-Sung.
One area where the Red Devils will look to hurt City is down the flanks, and in Nani, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia they have the perfect ammunition. How they perform will be key to a United success, with the Reds looking to soak up pressure before springing forward. Nani is a slight doubt after sustaining an ankle injury in training, but Ashley Young should be fit and raring to go after missing out against Everton.
Up front, Wayne Rooney is likely to lead the line as the lone striker. Danny Welbeck may consider himself unlucky, as he and Rooney have formed an intrinsic relationship in recent weeks. The fourth goal on Sunday was a perfect example, as the pair interlinked passes culminating in a crisp finish from Rooney. However, Sir Alex is likely to select an extra body in midfield to seek the upper hand in the all important midfield battle.
Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to Jim (a City fan for over 30 years) and asked his thoughts on the upcoming derby and more:
I honestly believe City will win it. We have overcome a very poor March (losing 3 games) and handing the lead to United. However, it’s clear Mancini’s men are back to something like their form from earlier in the season. Love him or hate him (City fans are split), but Tevez has made all the difference. His touch and reading of the game has picked up the slack from Silva’s dip in form (rumour has it his legs had gone after such a long season). Nasri’s form has also come on (at last!) since Tevez has returned.
City are the form team and will be desperate to maintain their home record at Eastlands, where we are unbeaten in last 17.
In a recent press conference Sir Alex Ferguson had this to say:
‘Manchester City are our direct opponents now. They are up against us to win titles. That is what our focus is on, the team who can stop us winning. We have to get used to playing Manchester City in important games. They are not going away. The support they have means we are going to be playing them in a lot of big games.’
Two years ago, such an admission from Ferguson would have been unimaginable.
I believe City will remain unchanged. How can they change the team after scoring 10 goals in the last 3 games? Two possible exceptions could be the full backs (Richards back in for Zabaletta, and Kolarov in for Clichy). City always use the extra pace from these full backs at home, especially so against United where they will need to compress the middle and allow Nasri and Silva as the wide men, to feed Tevez and Aguero.
I think City will keep Barry on the bench and play Toure in the middle to provide drive to compliment De Jong. Mancini is likely to keep Balotelli as the main striker on the bench, who will probably come on after 60 mins.
I feel United are weak at the back and the full backs can be exploited with the midfield being overpowered if Scholes is not controlled. Control Scholes and Rooney and I believe you control United. Young and Valencia are good old fashioned wingers. But they may be starved of space if City push up and compress the middle with their full backs.
Who is going to win the title?
I believe City. I also think we deserve it over the course of the season – being top for approximately five months? Ranked first for goals supremacy, attack and defence. In truth City have had only one really bad month, which as we know can happen to all teams (look what has happened to Spurs!)
The fact is though, City have to win this one – I believe if United draw it will do them, because they have an easier run in. Away to Newcastle could be a banana skin for City as the pressure mounts. Whatever happens it’s great that is going to be close, with both Manc teams leading the way, and it’s great to see the excitement and tension mounting from both sets of fans as it gets nearer – this is what the game should be about.
Have to admit the Tevez situation is pretty embarrassing, and dragged on way too long. It may be stating the obvious, but the likelihood is that City would probably have wrapped up the league by now if he had returned sooner.
He has courted controversy all of his football career and has never stayed more than a couple of seasons at any club. He may also have returned to place himself in the shop window for next season by leading the blues to a league win to enhance his CV.
Like most City fans I felt he should have been banished to the reserves and made to play out his contract playing at Hyde – after all he was the one who breached his contract.
No matter, the fact is he is a City player and whatever his motives, whether he is mercenary or not he has once again started producing the goods just when we need the team to.
Like him or hate him there is no denying he is a great player and if City finish second the Tevez saga will be pointed out as a major reason why City failed to win the title. But he has come back strong and is producing the goods and also from his teammates who appear to have missed his vision.
He will never be idolised again by Blues, most fans are not that gullible, but he has apologised and Mancini has accepted it. We move on, as he no doubt will next season, after helping his team mates (hopefully) win the title.
Mancini is a great manager and has withstood plenty of adversity this season (Balotelli/Tevez/limping out of Europe) and even learnt a thing or two from SAF about mind games during the run in.
If City do lose it, it will be gutting (no denying it), but we are getting stronger and closer each year and have played the best football in the league this year, even most United fans would acknowledge United haven’t played great this year, but have ground out a return to the top. For all sorts of reasons this season has shown clear progress and bringing quality players into the club to legitimately be the only challengers to United.
Mancini should stay. He’s just settling into the post. It’s not always about trophies (United may not win one this year either?), but it can’t be denied that finishing in the top two for both clubs with Champions League football guaranteed is still a great season.
Is Balotelli an asset or a hindrance?
He is an asset who has the potential to be a great player. He has the talent and ability, but plenty of attitude baggage that comes with it. It’s cliché, but he is young and is struggling to adapt to the physical demands of the league (as many Italians do when they play in the Prem).
However, he clearly has to learn, and I am sure with another season under his belt he will settle down and express his talent. His behaviour clearly cost City during March. The good news is he says he acknowledges his errors and will address his attitude —- time will tell.
Fans don’t tend to like maverick players from other teams – unless they are playing for you? Cantona was a legend at United, but other teams hated him and his attitude. Whilst I am not comparing them as players (clearly Balotelli has a long way to go) but Balotelli could learn a thing or two from Cantona about how to integrate into the league.
In my opinion, Balotelli is worth persevering with… He also like playing against United (scoring 2 at the Old Trafford) so expect him to come on after 60 minutes.
City’s Player of the Season
Good question. Cannot decide this one.
Either Hart, Kompany, Lescott or Aguerro. Each of them have been giants this year (I hope City win it especially for these players, they couldn’t have done more).
To Reds and Blues everywhere, enjoy the game. Win, lose or draw, keep your head up and take it like a man.
Blue moon Rising.
Three Key Battles
Wayne Rooney vs. Vincent Kompany
Kompany has been instrumental in City’s success this season and is unquestionably one of the best defenders in Europe. However Rooney has 26 league goals this season and has four in his last two games. If Rooney gets the better of Kompany then United could be in business.
Yaya Toure vs. Paul Scholes
Toure is one of City’s big game players and it was no surprise that their form dipped when he was at the Africa Cup of Nations. Undoubtedly he will out run Scholes, and that is why this battle is intriguing. Scholes will have to find space and create his own time and he may have trouble doing this against the Blues’ hard working midfield. The outcome of the game could well hinge on this duel.
Antonio Valencia vs. Gael Clichy
Valencia has 14 assists this season, his best since he came to the Premier League, and he could give Clichy a torrid time. The ex Arsenal left back has pace but Valencia’s strength and directness could prove the difference, and if United can get the ball out to him early then Valencia can drive forward and deliver dangerous early crosses. The Red Devils have always relied on their wingers to create chances and will be hoping this outlet can create opportunities on Monday night.
This is the biggest Manchester derby in history. City can take a monumental step towards their first Premier League title with victory, whereas United could silence their noisy neighbours once again. The Reds have made it difficult for themselves by dropping points against Wigan and Everton but win here and that 6-1 will be a distant memory.
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