Over the years, there have been many significant matches between Manchester United and Manchester City. In fact, every Manchester derby is significant, if for no other reason than the city rivalry and the bragging rights that come from being on the winning side. But is it fair to say that few clashes between United and City compare in importance, hype, and anticipation than today’s showdown at Old Trafford? Yes, yes, and yes.
Some might try to say it’s just another game, and sure enough, it is, because it alone won’t be the match that decides the Premier League title, what with there being 29 more matches left for both sides. But when you’ve got fierce city rivals battling it out for top spot in the Premier League, it’s more than just another game, even if it it’s only October.
If today’s match is nearly as thrilling as the last meeting, then we’ll be in for one of the matches of the season.
United and City faced off in the curtain-raising Community Shield in August, and those who packed Wembley were treated to a classic. It didn’t look like it’d be that way for a while, as City went into the break 2-0 up thanks to goals from Joleon Lescott and Edin Dzeko.
However, as we’ve seen time and again, deficits aren’t a deterrent for United, and they came out roaring in the second half. By the hour mark, it was 2-2, thanks to Chris Smalling and Nani, but the best was saved for last. With time running out and penalties looming, City had an opportunity to fashion a winner from a free kick. However, Wayne Rooney hoofed a clearance away, and then City decided to go to sleep defensively, allowing Nani to win the ball, break free, leave Joe Hart stranded, and slot it home for United’s latest dramatic winner against City.
After ending their long trophy drought by winning the FA Cup last season, City are chasing bigger things this season, and they’ve gotten off to the kind of the start that’s to be expected of a title contender.
In eight Premier League matches, Roberto Mancini’s side has seven wins and a solitary draw at Fulham, and they enter today’s match two points ahead of United at the top of the Premier League. In starting as they have, they’ve put up some extremely impressive numbers. They’ve scored at least two goals in every match and have netted 27 goals total (and conceded only six), and six of their seven wins have been by multiple goals.
It can be said that there have been a few slow starts in the bunch, as they weren’t able to break through against Swansea, Everton, and Blackburn until the second half. And domestically they haven’t been tested like they will be today, and they didn’t pass a comparable test in Europe against Bayern Munich. But when they’ve been on, they’ve been unstoppable, so from a quality standpoint, there’s no doubting what they have on offer.
City didn’t make a ton of additions this past summer, but the notable ones that they made have played key roles in their hot start. Sergio Aguero, signed from Atletico Madrid, has hit the ground running, scoring eight Premier League goals. The other notable addition, former Arsenal star Samir Nasri, has been an early hit as well, notching a Premier League-leading six assists.
Much of the core from last season has heavily factored in as well, with the exception of Carlos Tevez, who United fans know (and some still love, more than likely). Tevez won’t be on the pitch tomorrow, and he might not ever be for City again. However, instead of all of the Tevez drama seemingly hasn’t affected City too much yet, which could be considered a sign of progress.
United relinquished top spot in the Premier League by virtue of their 1-1 draw at Liverpool last Saturday, in a match that saw selections that were perhaps head-scratching if the expectation was to see United attempt to take the game to Liverpool.
However, after not seeing Wayne Rooney and Nani in the starting XI at Anfield, and seeing Danny Welbeck deployed as the lone striker in a formation that was built exactly for the result that was achieved, we’ll see a much more attacking lineup today.
This is not to say that the approach at Liverpool was incorrect, because one point > none in the big picture, and one point > none in the three previous visits to Anfield. However, today calls for a much different approach, and it’s reasonable to expect to see it.
It would be ideal to have Tom Cleverley back in the reckoning, but it appears that this match is just a bit too soon for Cleverley. That’s highly unfortunate, because his return could see the return to the same United we saw at the start of the season. However, with the threats that Nani (as City can attest to, hey?), Ashley Young, and Wayne Rooney can provide, United have the horses to navigate the course successfully today.
There are, however, three important selection-related questions:
1) If, as he should, Sir Alex Ferguson elects to go with two strikers, will he partner Rooney with poacher extraordinaire Chicharito, whose penchant for being the right man in the right place at the right time is always a bonus, or will he go with Danny Welbeck, whose energy, versatility, pace, and creative ability could wear City out?
2) Who will start in the center of midfield? United need to be able to hold their own in the center of midfield, so this is a very, very important decision for Fergie. Anderson and Carrick partnered up in the center against Otelul Galati on Tuesday, but could and should we see a combination of Anderson and Phil Jones in there today? Just throwing that out there, in case United go with the tried and tested partnership in the center of defense.
3) Is Ferdinand-Vidic still the go-to pairing to man the middle of United‘s back line? Rio didn’t exactly have a memorable game against Liverpool, but he provides valuable experience and leadership that are handy attributes for a match like this one. A combination of Jones and Chris Smalling occupying right back and that non-Vidic slot in the center looks to be the way of the future, but is it the way of today as well?
Given how close almost every recent meeting between United and City has been close, and how several of them have been decided by late goals, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the same again today.
But while there isn’t much to separate the two sides in terms of talent, one major difference is that United’s ability to win these kinds of matches has been proven time and time again, while the same can’t be said for City as of yet.
While it’s anyone’s guess as to what we’ll see from City today, it’s a certainty that United will not only come out with a gameplan and a starting XI designed to get the three points, but more importantly, they will be where they need to be mentally to get the win as well.
And as an added bonus, there’s the matter of Old Trafford being Old Trafford, and it’s sure to be rocking as United win a 20th straight home Premier League match and return to the top of the table.
Score Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Manchester City