City v United (Sunday 9th, 1.30pm KO)
Here we are. The derby.
It’s been built-up for weeks and on the minds of most United supporters for even longer. The two Manchester clubs sit first and second in the Premier League table, having already left the rest of the division in their wake. A win for the home side will draw them level with United on 36 points, potentially 10 points clear of the chasing pack. A win for the away side, of course, will see a 6 point gap open up at the top, as well as sending out a massive message to both City, and the other title hopefuls. (Not really sure who they are, mind you.)
Sir Alex Ferguson has stated that a win for United “will be one of our best ever results.” Considering how things have gone so far this season (and by things, I mean defending), I think he might be right.
AT A GLANCE
United: Nani, Anderson, Valencia out. Kagawa, Vidic won’t be risked. Cleverley a doubt. Ferdinand, Evra, Carrick, Evans, Rafael and van Persie return. Wayne Rooney has 7 PL assists – the highest in the league. Van Persie top scorer (10).
Away record: P8 W6 D0 L2 F18 A12 Pts18
Away form: W W W W L W
City: Clichy, Richards, Milner out. Silva, Kolarov, Rodwell doubtful. Unbeaten in PL this season, and 21 games in total. Yaya Toure and Joe Hart only ever-presents. Tevez top scorer (7).
Home record: P8 W6 D2 L0 F19 A6 Pts20
Home form: D W W W W D
Stadium: City of Manchester Stadium/Eastlands/Etihad Stadium (capacity 47,405)
Previous league meetings at the City of Manchester Stadium/Eastlands/Etihad Stadium: City 1-0 United (30-04-12), City 0-0 United (10-11-10), City 0-1 United (17-04-10), City 0-1 United (30-11-08)
Referee: Martin Atkinson. 47 yellows in 12 games (3.92 avg) – highest in division. 18 for home sides, 29 away. 1 red card issued. 4 penalties awarded, 3 home, 1 away. (PL)
United and City have met 11 times at the Etihad – 5 wins apiece and 1 draw.
Wayne Rooney has 4 goals in 8 games at the Etihad.
Away from Old Trafford, United have conceded the first goal in 6 of their 8 games. City have trailed only once at home.
United (21) and City (15) have the best records of points gained from losing positions this season.
City have scored 25% on their home goals between 60′ and 70′ minutes. United are yet to concede an away goal in this period.
City have also conceded 29% of their home goals between 60′ and 70′ minutes. United are yet to score an away goal in this period.
6 of Robin van Persie’s 10 goals have come away from home. 6 of Carlos Tevez’s 7 goals have come at the Etihad.
Away from home, Michael Carrick averages 92.6 passes per game. At home, Yaya Toure averages 90.8 every 90 minutes.
United have averaged 58.5% possession away from Old Trafford (1st). At the Etihad, City average 58.4% (2nd).
United (10) and City (8) have scored the most goals from set pieces this season.
Sir Alex on the City encounter: “It won’t be easy and if we defend like we did at Reading we’ll be in trouble.”
And therein, potentially, lies the problem. Defend better than we did at Reading (not hard, I know) but keep an attacking intent, and we’ll go a long way to winning, or at least not losing, the game. But go too far the other way, and set up as negatively as we did last time, would go a long way to seeing us lose, or at least not win, the game. I know what the Sir Alex of old would have done. Nowadays, I’m less sure.
At least, defensively, our problems have eased. We go into the match with Jones and Smalling fit again. Evans, Rafael, Evra and Ferdinand were given the week off. There is also the outside chance of Nemanja Vidic making an appearance – something many reds seem both keen on and hopeful of – but I don’t see it. In a game as big as this, the captain – coming back from around 3 months out – simply cannot be risked. Scott Wooton performed well against Cluj in the week and should have earned himself a place on the bench.
So, the returning four of Patrice Evra, Rafael, Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans should make up the back four. Despite the shocking defending we have witnessed this season, it is hard to take one of them in isolation and say they have played badly. Rafael, for many reds, is enjoying the best form of his fledgling United career, while Evra has (apparently) improved on his performances of the previous 18 months (again, not particularly hard.) Jonny Evans has been consistently lauded for his performances this season and Rio Ferdinand appears to have shaken off injury concerns to be a reliable member of the squad again. Yet, the goals continue to go in. It’s a strange one. But, until Vidic is fully-fit and ready to return, this is our first-choice back four, performances or goals conceded be damned.
The goalkeeping situation is another issue, of course. I’m bored of discussing it, to be honest. David de Gea returned in the week and barely had anything to do. The goal he conceded was a wonder-strike; he had no chance of saving it. Therefore, to decide who will start in goal at the Etihad, I’m going to flick a coin (which is how Fergie decides anyway.)
David de Gea will start.
In typical United style, once one set of injuries begin to clear up, another rears its head. This time, it’s the midfield that’s suffering. Anderson is out for several weeks with a hamstring injury picked up at Reading, Tom Cleverley picked up a knock against Cluj and is a doubt, while Shinji Kagawa will, at the very best, only be fit for a place on the bench. With Nani not returning until January (if at all, but that’s another issue), our midfield options are suddenly limited.
Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs continue to defy passage of time and filled the centre-midfield roles in midweek. Defying age isn’t, of course, the main ingredient needed to perform at the highest level. Chelsea in the League Cup aside, Giggs hasn’t performed to a level even approaching mediocrity this season, while errors and sloppiness in possession have begun to creep into Paul Scholes’ game. It’s sad to see, but must be noted – and, hopefully, acted on. I certainly don’t see both starting on Sunday.
Michael Carrick will obviously come back into the side, as will Robin van Persie up front. Wayne Rooney will retain his place and fill the gap between the two. Ashley Young should also come back into the side – on the back of a much-improved performance at Reading – and fill the left side. That leave the right hand side of midfield, where it was hoped Antonio Valencia would return. Alas not. That could mean another outing for Danny Welbeck in a wide position, where his pace and athleticism could be utilised to help halt City raids down the flank. His inclusion could depend on Tom Cleverley’s level of fitness. If Cleverley is passed fit, he may start in a tight midfield. If not, Welbeck could get the nod. With Scholes and Giggs also available, Fergie has a decision to make.
The big issue here is Phil Jones. He was arguably man-of-the-match in the week (slim pickings) and his extra height and power could be useful against this current City side. He can operate at right-back, centre-back and in midfield, so his inclusion is a tough one to call. Rafael would be expected to come back into the side, but as we witnessed last week, his lack of height and rashness in the challenge can be exposed. Phil Jones would be a more powerful, reliable option. But, in the centre-midfield area, City have the man mountain himself, Yaya Toure. While not operating at the same level as last season, he is arguably their most important player. Deploying Phil Jones in the centre-midfield area would go some way to stopping Toure’s bursts through midfield. Players breaking on us through the middle of the park has been a common sight this season – Jones could help alleviate this. It’s a thought.
Wayne Rooney will have a key role to play. He will once again provide the link between midfield and attack, tying things together when we have the ball, dropping into the midfield to make a central 3 when we don’t. Robin van Persie could be in danger of being isolated up top if City put us under any real pressure; Rooney must not be sucked into excessive defensive duties. He can’t, though, go too far the other way and leave the midfield to be over-run. It’s a tough job, but one he’s more than capable of pulling of. With 7 assists so far this season (the highest in the league), his attacking intent will hopefully come to the fore.
Predicted United line-up: De Gea, Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Scholes, Carrick, Jones, Young, Rooney, van Persie
Roberto Mancini on his side’s poor European performances: “I don’t feel any pressure.”
Lose Sunday and he might.
Expect the Italian to put his three-man-defence experimentation behind him and line-up with their much more familiar 4-2-3-1. The City players will tell you its the formation they feel most comfortable with, and in a game as big as this, it’s the one they’ll get.
Joe Hart will start in goal. Any questions? No? Moving on..
Pablo Zabaleta, now, arguably, their most experienced and reliable defender, will come back into the side after being rested midweek. Vincent Kompany, club captain, will start at centre-back, alongside either Joleon Lescott or summer signing Matija Nastasić. While Nastasić has enjoyed a run in the side of late (performing well), Lescott’s experience, particularly in games of this magnitude, could see him get the nod. Aleksander Kolarov – set piece specialist – will no doubt start at left-back, despite being named as a doubt. He was left out in midweek – no doubt in preparation for this game.
In midfield, Gareth Barry will start. Mancini’s reliable sitter-inner. Depending on how adventurous Mancini feels, he will be joined by either Javi Garcia or Yaya Toure. If its the former, the latter will be a much more dangerous proposition. His decision could be aided by whether or not David Silva is fit. It has been said that he is likely to miss the game, but I’m not sure I buy it. I fully expect the Spanish wizard to play. Needless to say, while he has not been at his best for large parts of this season, if United give him time and space on the ball, he will hurt us. The same can be said of Samir Nasri – a United favourite, of course. Equally magical or anonymous, depending on the game, the Frenchman has the tools to hurt United if allowed. He has played the majority of City’s “big” games this season.
Up front, a combination of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and/or Edin Dzeko will play. Each has a very specific skill-set, a different way to hurt United. Aguero will be dangerous over the top, where his pace and trickery will keep Evans and Ferdinand on their toes. Carlos Tevez likes to drop deep and collect the ball, so Michael Carrick (or Phil Jones) will have to be wary of him doing so in behind them. Edin Dzeko, of course, is the physical danger. A big beast of a man, he will pose us no end of problems in the air, from open-play and set pieces. Considering the nature of the goals United have been conceding of late, he looks to be the most likely dangerman. All three, despite not being in the greatest form, possess fantastic quality. Whoever plays, the United defence (and midfield, to be fair) will have to perform much better than they have of late to keep them out.
Predicted City line-up: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, Barry, Nasri, Toure, Silva, Aguero, Tevez
A tough, tight game should be expected. But that much was obvious, right? Yaya Toure’s power in the centre of midfield will pose us a problem, especially when he drives forward, as will David Silva’s trickery on the ball. The defence, and midfield, will have be to tight, positionally sound and, most importantly, concentrated and switched-on at all times. If Edin Dzeko plays, United will have to be 250% better at defending in the air than they have been for large parts of the season, especially at Reading.
We can hurt them, though. Wayne Rooney will be important, in the hole between midfield and attack. If he can prove allusive to the likes of Gareth Barry in the centre of the park, he can get at them. Robin van Persie will need to be sharp, with Rooney providing him decent ammunition. Chances could well be at a premium; it’s imperative we take the ones we get.
Needless to say, big performances will be required all round. We will have to be massively improved defensively, but hopefully still retain the attacking intent we have shown this season. Another negative, pathetic surrender does not bare thinking about. We could go 6 points clear with a win – a fantastic prospect. I hope the team show more interest in achieving that, instead of playing for, or accepting, a draw. If we do that, we’ll lose. If we have a go, and really get at this City side (as Everton did last week), we’ll have a great chance of winning.
Score prediction: City 0-1 United