Manchester eagerly awaits the meeting of the Premier League’s top two sides on Sunday at the Etihad Stadium, as Manchester United take the short trip across town to visit the home of the side that wrenched the championship from their grasp with virtually the final kick of last season.
Both teams have been far from their best so far this time round, yet United are still top of the league and three points ahead of Manchester City, with third placed Chelsea a further seven behind. The weekend’s meeting represents a genuine marker for the current state of both clubs, in addition to the opportunity to settle scores and for either side to impose superiority on their local rivals.
United have often impressed going forward this campaign, with summer signing Robin van Persie adding a gilded edge to an already potent attack. It is at the back that the Reds have been struggling, with the defending reaching near-comical proportions at times. This drew Sir Alex Ferguson to compare his defence to a children’s cartoon in the week, and he even joked last weekend that should his players not buck themselves up he would play himself in the derby.
In consideration of United’s lackadaisical attitude to protecting their goalkeeper – whoever it may be – it is a blow that club captain Nemanja Vidic has seemingly failed to recover from the knee surgery that has kept him out of action since September. However, it would not be a huge surprise should the Serb be named in the starting line-up, having resumed full training this week, and given Ferguson’s propensity to keep opposition managers guessing. United could certainly use their skipper’s organisation, with Vidic absent for both of last season’s league defeats against City.
Conversely, the Blues are boasting the league’s best defensive record, having conceded just 11 goals so far, virtually half United’s figure. It is offensively that Roberto Mancini’s men have not clicked in the manner they did last season, with David Silva in particular not having hit the dizzy heights he set himself in the first six months of the last campaign.
In Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko, the Premier League champions boast one of the most potent strike forces in Europe, not to mention the marauding threat posed by Yaya Toure. The City attack has the potential to seriously hurt United, who have now gone behind in 15 of the 23 games they have played this season. It will not be quite so easy to recover a losing position at the home of the miserly Blues, who are approaching an incredible two years without a league defeat at Eastlands.
The outcome of the derby could rest on the attitude adopted by Ferguson in his team selection, with the United boss heavily criticised for his negative tactics in last season’s corresponding fixture. With the shakiness his team have displayed at the back, attack may be the best form of defence for the Old Trafford side. If Wayne Rooney can impose himself on the game then United have the firepower to score goals.
The potential loss of Tom Cleverley to a calf injury he sustained against Cluj on Wednesday could be significant, and potentially even see Rooney dropped deeper in the side. United will also be without Anderson, their other box-to-box style central midfielder, meaning that there is a strong chance Darren Fletcher will start. The Scot is yet to recapture his past form since returning to the side, and should Michael Carrick also be joined by Paul Scholes, the City midfield has the potential to overpower their rivals.
Ferguson’s team selection will be telling, especially if he loads his side with the attacking flair that has been his get out of jail card so often already this season. Either way, Manchester gears itself up for what could be an explosive Sunday afternoon.
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