By Mark Young
The noisy neighbours are getting louder and nothing would turn the volume up more at the Etihad Stadium than a win at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon.
This fixture last season saw a turning point for Wayne Rooney, who had been playing well below par since his well publicised transfer request and the poor World Cup he had in the previous summer. Nani had given Manchester United a half time lead before City equalised. The game looked like it was going to end all square until a cross from Nani was over head kicked into Joe Hart’s top corner by United’s number ten. A special and spectacular moment. Since then Rooney has not looked back and has been at the heart of everything good with United this season and will be relishing the prospect of City after missing out against Liverpool at Anfield last Saturday.
Manchester City sit top of the Premier League after last Saturday’s demolishing of Aston Villa at the Etihad with Mario Balotelli the star of the show. This was after United had drawn at Anfield against Liverpool after coming from behind to salvage a point from a Javier Hernandez header.
City started their encounter against Villa without Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero and David Silva. Expect the line up to be much changed this weekend and for the team to be in buoyant mood after the win against Villa and the club’s first ever win in the Champions League thanks to a last minute goal by Sergio Aguero. City had gone 1-0 down very early on through a Cani strike for Villarreal. City reacted before half time as Marchena put through his own net. As the clock ticked down qualification for the knock out stage looked an uphill climb until Aguero showed Carlos Tevez what a substitute should be doing to help his team. There is no Tevez at Old Trafford this weekend and both fans will be happy about that but City do have strength in depth now and are a force to be reckoned with. With Man United and Chelsea, City are up there and fighting for this league and nothing more will help their chances than a win at The Theatre of Dreams. The last team to win there won the title. Chelsea were 2-1 victors the season before last and lifted the trophy at the end of the campaign.
United go into the game on the back of an away victory in Europe and a credible draw against a revitalised Liverpool. Wayne Rooney missed out at Anfield but netted two spot kicks to give United their first win of the Champions League this season after two draws. City leapfrogged United last weekend into top spot but United want it back. It is amazing to think of City’s strength in depth but the United bench at Anfield last Saturday has Carrick, Valencia, Nani, Hernandez and Rooney all warming it up. The treble substitution of Nani, Hernandez and Rooney after Liverpool went a goal up changed the way Fergie’s team were playing. The dynamism pace up front is enough to scare anybody.
Team Selection Thoughts
Ryan Giggs was at fault for moving out of the United wall last weekend but has picked up a two week injury in training. He will miss his first ever home derby in a United shirt. Although Giggs is out it is reported that Tom Cleverley would be ready to fill his place alongside early season midfield counterpart Anderson. Cleverley was put through his paces as the rest of the squad travelled to Romania and it is brilliant news for United as he gives the team something different. Without the England under 21 international Anderson has struggled to maintain his impressive start to the season; often paired with Fletcher the space between two has caused a downturn in fluidity. If Fergie does play these two they will need to be on top form but it would show just how much faith he has in them.
Another fitness boost for United is that Nemanja Vidic is fit and ready to play. He also missed the Liverpool game but was sent off in Romania on Tuesday night. Although visibly rusty he is likely to start at centre back alongside Ferdinand. Ferdinand and Evans looked strong last weekend as Jones took up a midfield role but the first choice pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand would make sense for such an epic encounter. Evans may consider himself unfortunate as his performance levels have been to a high standard this term. The Northern Ireland International has arguably been United’s most consistent defender. Smalling is likely to resume at right back to counter the aerial threat City possess.
In recent meetings between the two clubs Sir Alex has favoured a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation in the attempt to compete/dominate in the important midfield battle; the exemption being the 2011 Community Shield where Carrick (Cleverley in the second half) and Anderson formed the midfield partnership. The manager cited Carrick’s inclusion due to City’s physical presence in the centre of the park (Toure, De Jong and Barry) and their ability to bully or frustrate opposition midfields. The higher tempo and intricate passing of the second half may urge Sir Alex to stick a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1/4-2-4 system. If the more adventurous formation is preferred the manager will have two selection issues to consider (a) the midfield pairing (b) who partners Wayne Rooney.
Without first team football since sustaining injury Cleverley may be considered a risk for a game the magnitude of Sunday’s fixture. Carrick’s midweek man of the match performance has put him into contention meaning he could start his first Premier League game of the season. The final midfield spot should be taken by Anderson or Fletcher. Carrick and Anderson have developed an understanding and were quite possibly last season’s best midfield combination. Carrick adopts a slightly deeper role providing a defensive cover, which allows Anderson greater freedom. Fletcher will bring a higher work rate that may be necessary to compete with City’s midfield, but he has struggled to reach peak form for some time even before suffering from the mystery illness.
Hernandez and Welbeck will battle it out for the position alongside Rooney. Welbeck’s ability to hold up possession plus his current form is likely to earn him the nod, but if Sir Alex wants to stretch proceedings there is no better option than the Mexican. If Hernandez is to start on the bench he will benefit by facing tiring defenders illustrated by his equaliser against Liverpool.
If the manager returns to 4-5-1/4-3-3 Fletcher or Cleverley will line up alongside Carrick and Anderson in the centre of midfield.
Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to Jim (a City fan for over 30 years) and asked his thoughts on the upcoming game and more:
Both sets of fans enjoy the banter of Derby matches (always have always will!) but for City fans it’s especially great at the moment since we are up there legitimate challengers to United. For so many years we have had to take United’s gloating with titles whilst we have been mid table (or worse – 2nd division shudders at the memory!) It may be a cliché but it is great that both teams are heading the Premier League and taking it to the rest of the country.
I would expect Mancini to have learnt from his last few away matches – and go one up front probably Dzeko or Balotelli with Aguero coming off the bench, and packing the midfield and hitting on the break – it worked in the FA cup semi. Playing too expansive at Old Trafford will leave us wide open. Mancini will change it up with 30 minutes to go and try to nick goal (which City could possible do with United’s defence looking less secure than normal). United’s midfield and defence look suspect to me this year – the injuries United have been carrying has been a factor.
Prediction: City 2-1 or 1-0.
I think all City fans everywhere are delighted with the way the season has started, good to see they have strengthened with Aguero (not sure about Nasri; he has a tendency to hide in games and is a bit like Nani in that he will do nothing for 3 weeks then score a couple!) We haven’t really played anyone around us; Sunday’s match is City’s first big test, but I can see City maintaining or increasing the lead over United.
The Champions League has proved ‘challenging’ so far. The games are noticeably slower paced and more patience is required – not exactly how City are set up! Time will tell how far they go although most blues are not really bothered by it – it is a bonus from last season, and clearly it takes a few years to adapt to how to play in it. The real target is the develop consistency in the league and try to push on and maybe to win the league.
Who has impressed and who has disappointed
The most impressive players to date have been Silva and Aguero. The pair have exceeded expectations and they are proving to be a real positive effect on the rest of the squad.
No surprises for most disappointing… Tevez and Dzeko.
Tevez has really lost the plot; his ego is such that he seems to think he is bigger than the club. I cannot imagine he will play again for the first team (fortunately we don’t need him yet).
Dzeko is simply not a Premier League standard first team footballer – he has had one good game (Spurs away – where everything he hit went in) and had another shocker the other night against Villarreal – he had 3 clear cut shots/headers none of which hit the target, resulting in the game being way too close at the end!
80-acre Academy plan (Manchester City unveil 80-acre Etihad Academy plan)
It is one thing to be the richest club in Europe and have all the trappings that go with it (high maintenance players: Toure, Tevez et al?) But it says a lot about the organization that they are prepared to invest so much time and effort into club development and perhaps more importantly bring the local community along with them too.
Hopefully it is demonstrates that Sheikh Mansour has a long term commitment and is here for the long haul. City fans everywhere are grateful for all he has done so far and have never had so much cause for optimism since he took over the club.
The signing is cracking business by Mancini. Hargreaves will provide great cover for Toure when he goes to the African Nations Cup in January, and he is gradually gaining match fitness. He looks a good player, he reads the game really well and he possesses good composure on the ball – it is clear he was a quality footballer. If he stays fit it has to be all good for City.
Three Key Battles
Wayne Rooney vs. Vincent Kompany
Rooney’s show stopping overhead kick stole the show in this fixture last year but City’s captain will be very wary of something like that happening again. He was brilliant against United in every game last season and is a brilliant choice for captain by Mancini but Rooney may just have his number, if he can recapture his early season form.
Nemanja Vidic vs. Sergio Aguero
Both players have just returned from injury and will be put to the test against each other on Sunday. Vidic will need to be at his best to silence the little Argentinean but he can cause problems for the United defence.
Manchester United Vs. David Silva
Okay, it is not a player against Silva but the Spaniard makes City tick. If United as a whole can keep the marauding playmaker quiet, then they have every chance. City has picked holes through Premier League defences so far this season and it only takes one little ball from Silva to put United behind or to be drawn level. He is so dangerous that if he is not picked up it could be a long afternoon for the Red Devils.
The Manchester derby is no doubt the biggest game of the season so far and it promises to be a huge battle. Both sides want control of the volume levels but Ferguson will already be wary that this City side can go up a few notches yet.
So both teams are playing well and both teams have all their best options available. We could be in for quite a game at Old Trafford. The result certainly could have a say towards the title race but right now that is so far away. Everyone will have their say before, during and a long time after but no matter what the result is on Sunday, it is where you are after 38 games and not after nine.