Champions League victories give both Man Utd and Man City comfort and concern ahead of the derby

A Champions League victory each for Manchester City and Manchester United gave both Roberto Mancini and Sir Alex Ferguson the ideal preparation for the Premier League meeting between the sides on Sunday, but the course of the respective 90 minutes also offered reasons for each manager to be concerned.

Sergio Aguero’s late goal gave City their first Champions League win but the start made by the league leaders was in stark contrast to the frenetic end. By being caught so cold by Villarreal City gave themselves an uphill battle that they eventually won, but a similar situation at Old Trafford may not have a similar result. Falling behind early could leave City struggling to stay in the game.

Indeed, City were able to overpower the struggling La Liga side by calling on the kind of firepower that is the envy of teams worldwide, but Manchester United are one of few clubs who can, if not better, then at least match the Citizens’ roster of forwards. The same precarious 1-1 scoreline – and Villarreal came close to going ahead more than once – is likely to see the Red Devils step on the accelerator in the same way City did on Tuesday evening, robbing Mancini’s side of the initiative that eventually delivered three points.

In the aftermath of City’s late triumph, more than one supporter and media commentator noted the similarity between Aguero’s effort and the kind of injury time feat United have specialised in during their near-20 years at the top of English football, and Ferguson’s side showed that same resilience as they defeated Otelul Galati having lost Nemanja Vidic just after the hour mark. Facing a home side unburdened by expectation and having gone a man down would be a recipe for disaster for many teams, but United held firm and eventually secured the win through Wayne Rooney’s second penalty.

Rooney’s brace brought an end to a difficult spell for the forward, starting with his red card while on England duty, subsequent suspension from the first three games of Euro 2012 and role as a substitute against Liverpool. The fiery Rooney is, however, only ever one incident away from exploding, as seen against Montenegro, and this season, domestic games for Manchester United do not come any more important or tenser than the Manchester derby. It is, nevertheless, as equally possible that Rooney thrives on the occasion.

It may not be possible to win the Premier League in October, but losing it is another matter. A City victory puts the Blues of Manchester five points clear of their red-shirted cousins as well as handing United a first home league defeat of the season. A United victory knocks City back into second place and leaves Mancini’s side waiting for United to drop points, which, on the evidence of prior years, could be a long wait. The first league meeting between the sides this season may not decide the destination of the title, but it is sure to have a great impact nonetheless.

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