After Everton stunned Old Trafford at the weekend, the title race was blown wide open. United’s lead at the top of the table was reduced to three points after Manchester City defeated Wolves, with the next game up the Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium.
Monday night’s blockbuster has led to Sir Alex Ferguson branding the game the “most important derby” in his time at United. The defending Premier League champions will be hoping that all the experience garnered by both the manager and the playing staff will guide them through the final three games of the campaign.
In the away dressing room before the game will be Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney. Between them under Ferguson, this clutch of players possesses one shy of a combined forty Premier League winners medals, plenty of experience to call upon under such a pressurised situation.
City’s match day squad will likely contain just a combined four – one apiece from Kolo Toure and Gael Clichy during their Arsenal days, and the other two from Carlos Tevez when he was at United.
Carrick will be an almost guaranteed starter on Monday, surely partnered at the heart of midfield by at least one of Scholes and Giggs. Whichever combination will need to draw on their awareness to solve the problems that Everton caused thanks to a packed midfield of their own. Marouane Fellaini, Phil Neville and Darron Gibson were effective in imposing themselves on Sunday, with the latter pair also able to drop deep and minimise the space between themselves and their defence. This left United, and Rooney in particular, little room in which to manoeuvre. When United were at their most effective, in the first 25 minutes of the second half, it was Carrick who was providing the penetration by bursting forward from his usual deeper position.
United will need this thrust against City, who will also be likely to pack the midfield area. Any number of players will be selected out of Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry, James Milner, Nigel de Jong, David Silva and Samir Nasri.
They will also require a continuation of their strong away form, which has brought 12 victories from 17 games. United have suffered just two defeats on the road this season, at St James’ Park and the DW Stadium. If this record can be sustained at the Etihad, it will likely see no way back for Mancini’s men in the title race.
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