The Manchester derby at Old Trafford on Wednesday is almost guaranteed to hit the headlines. After the result at the City of Manchester stadium everything is to play for with City going into the second leg with a slender 2-1 lead. Both teams realise what is at stake, and it is not just a trip to Wembley for the Carling Cup final winner.
Contests between the two sides have become closely fought in the last couple of years – although arguably a reachable chance of silverware has rarely cursed the already fierce derby atmosphere. The red of Manchester are well aware that they have dominated Manchester with victory parades over the last couple of decades, but with the Abu Dhabi United group taking over Manchester City the divide between the two sides has dramatically closed if not shifted. Both sides have household names but it is the Blues which have the multi million pound signings arriving in bucket loads. The signing of Carlos Tevez has been particularly controversial in Manchester and after his two crucial goals last Tuesday the tension has only risen. The words exchanged between Tevez and Gary Neville through the media will only add to the ferocious affair.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s winning mentality is likely to see him field a strong side as he will have no intention of losing such a crucial leg, especially at Old Trafford. A key game in the Premier League on Sunday against Arsenal, however, is likely to have an influence on the starting XI. The master Scotsman must decide on how to maximise his individual’s ability without compromising their fatigue. Certain players are likely to be dropped with the league match in mind, although this is sure to be controversial regardless of results.
Roberto Mancini will do his City credentials no harm had they achieve victory in tonight’s game, a win is sure to seal his name amongst sceptical fans. Manchester City have been waiting since 1976 for a trophy to return to their cabinet and this is the best moment they have had for several years. Without a demanding Robinho to satisfy on a weekly basis, City can focus on capitalising on Martin Petrov’s rising form. The player fell out of the pecking order under Mark Hughes but has become rejuvenated since the arrival of the Italian tactician, and Petrov’s role will be key to City’s chances on Wednesday night.
This is a match that will be much more than a football result. It is a match that will be filled with passion, fuelled by high spirits and temperaments, and will be played by 22 men full of desire and exhilaration knowing what a win would mean for their team. All the players will know what is at stake and those that were not fortunate enough to play in the first leg will want to make an immediate impression on the game. Both teams will welcome back strong central defenders in the likes of Kolo Toure and Rio Ferdinand. Both defences struggled with the aerial threat in the first leg and both players will be expected to bring more stability to their sides.
This Cup semi final is a chance for the players to wear their heart on their sleeve and show that they want to make the final. Tevez has made it perfectly clear that he plays like this week-in-week-out and he will want to continue to prove to the Red Devils that they made a terrible mistake in letting him go at the end of last season. But United are no newcomers to turning over a slight deficit in a Carling Cup semi final. Last year they lost the first leg 1-0 to Derby County before winning 4-2 on aggregate.
There is a lot of expectation on this match which could lead to a dull encounter, but for all fans in Manchester this will be an opportunity for them to claim their stomping ground and show the other half of the city they are the unsurpassable – at least for now. This is a tie that is too close to call, the Reds will not be an easy force to break down at Old Trafford and City would be foolish to believe they could defend successfully for ninety minutes. But if Craig Bellamy continues to wreak havoc on the wing and City choose to attack then this may turn into a match for the history books. Whichever way this result ends Aston Villa will have to overcome a very strong side to lift the trophy at Wembley in March.