It’s that time of the year again. Sunday sees this season’s first installment of one of the two fixtures that I’d happily scrap from the calendar – Liverpool away being the other – as it gets him stupidly excited on the Friday, utterly pessimistic on the Saturday and terribly nervous on the Sunday – feel free to arrange the feelings and the days accordingly in the case of a Monday or Saturday kick-off.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the feeling of turning over City and Liverpool on their own turf as much as anybody else, but the build-up testes my nerves to the limit every single year and it did so even before City became Sheikh Mansour’s latest toy, pardon, project.
Perhaps is the sense of inevitability that seems to constantly permeate our trips to the Etihad – admittedly we’ve turned up a lot more often at Eastlands than we’ve done down the East Lancs Road in recent years, perhaps is insufferable new-found smugness some of the Blues I know have embraced in recent years, or maybe it is because I’ve grown bored to read the words “power” and “shift” splattered across the back pages every time they get one over us.
Whatever the reason, I’m not particularly looking forward to tomorrow.
But then again, why would I be? City have indulged in the usual summer spending spree and added yet more talent to an already excellent squad, even though, strangely enough for them, they’ve opted for players with great potential rather than established stars and, somewhat puzzling, have failed to replace the pacy Gareth Barry.
Whether you’re convinced about Alvaro Negredo, Stevan Jovetic, Fernandinho and Jesus Navas or not, we can’t shy away from the fact that City conducted their summer business like most football clubs should – swiftly, with minimum fuss and ensuring to have their deals done and dusted by July.
United’s Woodwardian struggles in the transfer window have been extensively documented, therefore I won’t dampen your mood even further by indulging in pointless reminiscing, but let’s just say that Anderson and Ashley Young are still at the club and the pantomime villain is now the local hero.
As I mentioned earlier, reasons to be confident ahead of Sunday are at a premium, particularly considering that City have replaced the scarf-wearing, player-accusing, Roberto Mancini with Manuel Pellegrini, a man who seemingly personifies calm and composure, while United have replaced the greatest manager of all time with a man who, if you believe the media and some Reds, had never seen a football pitch until July 1.
Alongside Chelsea, them of young eggs nature, many – myself included – had City has firm favourites to run away with the title this season, with United trying to keep up, like an amateur runner who has had a big night out trying to outpace Mo Farah around the park on a Sunday morning.
Except that for all of our problems, of which there are many, United have as many points as City despite having faced much better sides than the Blues so far – Crystal Palace being the only exception – and go into Sunday’s derby with the resurgent Wayne Rooney in great form, arguably the best form he’s been in since scoring twice in the corresponding fixture last December.
I’ve made my feelings about Rooney abundantly clear, but it’s undeniable that a Rooney in this form is a luxury United can’t probably afford to lose, particularly as good old Wayne has a knack for scoring against the plastic banana-wavers, which could be really handy come Sunday afternoon.
Ahead of last season’s derby, much had been made about Sir Alex Ferguson’s need to show attacking intent at Eastlands, having handed the initiative – and arguably the title – to City the previous April, when United fielded a sort of 4-6-0 and failed to muster a single shot on goal, delivering an extraordinarily abject performance.
Fergie’s decision to field a 4-2-3-1 worked a treat, as United delivered a masterclass in clinical finishing before deciding to test our cardiovascular systems as they looked to have fluffed their lines at the crucial stage, until Robin Van Persie did what Robin Van Persie does best.
I, for one, hope David Moyes marks his Manchester derby debut by adopting a similar bold approach. Having often been criticised for an overly cautious approach at Everton, Moyes did himself no favour with his team selection at Anfield and a repeat of that team selection would be suicidal.
Furthermore, if Moyes has ever watched United in big matches, which I suspect he might have, he will have realised that United are to sitting back and defending what Nick Clegg is to politics – while the effort might even look good initially, failure and disappointment, ultimately, beckon.
For the first time in recent times United have the opportunity of standing up to City’s midfield and, hopefully, be counted. Marouane Fellaini’s arrival might not have been greeted with the widespread celebration Cesc Fabregas might have been welcomed at Old Trafford, but if the choice is between having Anderson, Tom Cleverley or the Belgian alongside Michael Carrick, I know which pair I’d rather see on Sunday afternoon.
Yaya Toure has terrorised our midfield too often and considering Cleverley’s worrying regress, Fellaini and Carrick should provide us with the security we’ve too often lacked in the middle of the park.
I suspect Moyes’ love affair with Ashley Young will continue, as Kagawa doesn’t offer much defensively and, mysteriously enough, Young seems to have a good record in big games – personally I’ve got the 15th minute down on my personal “Ashley Young’s first dive sweepstake”.
As usual I’m hoping to fall asleep on Saturday night and get up on Monday morning to the news that United have sealed a comfortable win but, alas, it’s a strategy bound to fail, which therefore means I’ll have to rely on some alcoholic beverages to get through Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, though, let’s remind ourselves that it’s only the fifth game of the season and losing wouldn’t be a catastrophe.
But it’s an option I’d rather avoid
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Tags: Opinion Piece