This is easily my favourite match of the season. With our noisy neighbours talking more and more about surpassing us, there is no better way to put them in their place than winning at their home ground. A few years ago I may have said Liverpool was my most anticipated opponent, but things change. I would have to be a fool to say Manchester City hasn’t improved in recent seasons; they have. They’re not yet a title contender in my eyes, but they’re getting close and they’re certainly capable of qualifying for Champions League. There is no doubt that City is making strides forward, but when United travel to Eastlands on Wednesday it will be the perfect opportunity to remind the bitters who the top team in Manchester is.
There is no doubt in my mind that City is my most hated rival. Being stuck with a City fan as a randomly-assigned roommate freshman year built up even more animosity toward the noisy neighbours. And while I liked my roommate, his bitter talk directed at United only made me hate City more. That was before the Sheikh. City fans have grown increasingly frustrating with their talk of glory despite their squad’s shortcomings in the field. Enough of my own hatred for City though. We all hate City; we are United after all!
Defeating City certainly isn’t all about crushing the noisy neighbours’ delusions of grandeur. There is a title to be won. The gap between United and the top of the table has been cut to two points following Chelsea’s shock defeat against Liverpool over the weekend. At the very least, United must keep the pressure on the defending champions. Should Fulham manage a shock result at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, then United would be top of the table for the first time this season.
Three points at Eastland certainly won’t come easy. Though Roberto Mancini’s squad has suffered a bad run of form lately, you can count on them to raise their game when United is involved. The bad news is that United are in the midst of coping with a depleted squad. With five goals and nine assists Nani has been the most influential player in the squad this season. An injury picked up against Bursaspor last week has ruled him out of the Manchester derby. Owen Hargreaves is back on the sidelines after a five minute return to action. Antonio Valencia is still months away from any involvement. Oh, and of course that Rooney bloke is busy in the United States sorting out his head.
On a more positive note, Dimitar Berbatov and Ryan Giggs should be available after recovering from flu and injury respectively. I suspect Giggs will continue his streak of being involved in every Manchester derby since his career began. Giggs’ fellow returnee Beberatov should make his 100th appearance for the club on Wednesday. So, this brings us to the tactical predictions. In a tough away fixture, Sir Alex will likely deploy the team in a 4-5-1. Berbatov will be expected to play as the lone striker, while Giggs is the obvious choice on the left wing. After a stunning performance against Wolves over the weekend, Ji-Sung Park should be the man on the opposite flank.
As difficult as this is to admit, City will be a difficult opponent. And as Sir Alex typically does against tough opposition, a midfield trio will likely be used in an attempt to dominate the centre third. Michael Carrick seems to have rediscovered his form, and having been rested this weekend looks likely to play against City. Alongside him will be Darren Fletcher and Paul Scholes. The Scotland captain is the engine at the heart of midfield. He drives our team. His energy will be key at breaking down City’s midfield. And, of course, there is our ginger genius. At 35, Scholes is still a key component of the squad and his passing will be crucial to provide the strikers with service. Of course, few will forget Scholes’ contribution in this fixture last campaign. Perhaps he’ll provide us with another winning goal this time around.
Edwin van der Sar will start between the posts with what should be our first-choice back four in front of him. Rafael seems to have finally established himself as the first-choice right back, and his pace and energy will be important in dealing with City’s threat on the wings. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, and Patrice Evra are all automatic selections when fit. Enough said.
Mancini will likely maintain the conservative tactics he’s used all season. Despite spending a fortune on attacking talent in the past few transfer windows, the Italian typically deploys three holding midfielders in Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong, and Yaya Toure. Consequently, City’s primary threat is likely to come from the wings. You can always count on Park to put in a tireless performance, and his presence on the wing will be important for stifling City’s attack from wide areas.
We are all familiar with City’s star man. Some of you may know him as a traitor. Others may call him a money-grabbing whore. Perhaps you refer to him as both. Of course I’m speaking of Carlos Tevez. He may have been the third-choice striker in his second and final season at Old Trafford, but he’s found the back of the net more than a few times since pulling on the blue shirt of City. The Argentinian will be City’s primary threat in front of goal, and there is little doubt he will keep Rio and Vidic busy for 90 minutes.
With Mancini expected to stick with his aforementioned negative tactics and Sir Alex likely to crowd the midfield, I can’t see many goals in this one. With regards to last season, expect more of last season’s 1-0 win at Eastlands rather than the 4-3 thriller at Old Trafford. Both have a point to prove. City is determined to prove the tides are changing in Manchester. United will want to prove the status quo is still in place. Neither will want to take big risks for fear of conceding. I simply can’t make an unbiased prediction this time around. I become ill at the thought of City beating us. But, making my best attempt to set bias aside and provide an educated prediction, I believe United will come away from this match 1-0 winners with Berbatov getting back amongst the goals.
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