Vincent Kompany scores for Manchester City against Manchester United at Eastlands
Manchester United travel to Eastlands this afternoon attempting to maintain top spot in the Premier League whilst also trying to avenge the 1-0 defeat from last season, which put United’s neighbours in pole position in their quest for the title. This will be the 164th meeting between the two clubs and 147th clash in the league. United go into the game after a roller coaster of a game against Reading last weekend, whilst City dropped two points at home against Everton. Sir Alex Ferguson has already started the mind games, questioning the amount of penalties Manchester City have had at home, whilst Roberto Mancini struck back with ‘swimming’ comparisons with Ashley Young (in reference to the winger’s tumble against QPR last season). Here we discuss the match preview, lineups and injury news.
We welcome comments from both sets of fans.
A view from the opposition
We’ve been joined from Steven who runs the View from a Blue blog and he has kindly answered some questions for us:
Give us an assessment of City’s league campaign so far. You’re unbeaten and have the league’s best defensive record but the draw column seems a bit heavy…
We have not played anywhere near our best for the majority of games and yet, as you say, we are still unbeaten and only just behind United. That says a lot about the teams in the Premier League and their lack of quality. We can afford to play well for perhaps 10 or 20 minutes and we will invariably win. That does not happen in the Champions League.
We have shown great spirit and resilience throughout the season, often coming back from a goal down to win, but our attacking play is lacking that spark. There are too many players off form so we are having to grind out victories rather than blast sides apart with enthralling football.
You had a very tough Champions League group but ended the campaign winless, what went wrong in Europe? Was Roberto too attacking and naïve with the teams he picked or was it just a case of badly underperforming?
If I knew the answer to what wrong in Europe, I´d be telling Mancini and not you! In reality, it is probably a combination of many factors: the quality of opposition (far superior to anything domestically), the fact we have not played well at all, rotation, odd tactics on occasions etc.
Had we managed to hold on at the Bernabeu when we were leading after 87mins, that would have given us the confidence and self-belief to go on and make an impression in the Champions League but we sat back and got punished. After that, it has been a bit of a shambles.
Do City have a settled system this year and what have you made of the changes to the shape with three centre backs at times?
The 3-5-2 formation worked superbly in pre-season and the Community Shield and it quite clear to see the benefits of the system, but it just hasn´t worked. It is designed to give us greater options when attacking, more width from the wingbacks and that also frees up space in the middle for the likes of Yaya, Silva and Nasri, but we have looked vulnerable and sides have exploited the space out wide.
Our best system, and the one we played throughout last season, is with four at the back, two central midfielders and then four attack minded players. The front six which finished last season so well – Barry, Yaya, Nasri, Silva, Tevez, Aguero – have only featured once together in the Premier League due to injuries, form and rotation. As a result, we don´t have that spark and continuity about our play.
Nastasic has played a lot recently and doesn’t seem to have got the wider praise his performances deserve. Has he been the best of the summer additions?
He has settled in superbly. Kompany and Lescott were an outstanding partnership last season but Nastasic has come in and Lescott has barely had a sniff. The Serbian is so composed in possession, so assured for someone of his age. He´s been an excellent acquisition.
David Silva’s a doubt for the game – does he remain your most important and influential player?
Without a doubt. If Silva plays well, City play well. It really is that simple. For all our stars, he is the one individual who gets us playing. He oozes control and has such a majestic ability to create chances. My gut instinct is he´ll be fit and that we rested him for the Champions League game on Tuesday.
Does Mancini know his strongest team or like Ferguson, do you think he’s still trying to work it all out?
I think he´s got a strong idea but it likely changes on the opponent and whether we are playing at home or away. Now we are out of the Champions League, we might see a more settled side domestically and that can only help.
Do you think City need to or should strengthen in January?
There are a couple of areas which need strengthening but whether or not Mancini gets the funds remains to be seen. Our performance in Europe has highlighted how Mancini was correct in saying we needed to add more quality in the summer, but we are now paying the price for adding second-rate players. Javi Garcia has been abysmal, Jack Rodwell largely injured, Scott Sinclair has barely featured (although I do think his pace out wide could be a useful alternative), Maicon has done OK and Nastasic is the only one to really impress.
Have you seen much of United this year? If so, what have you made of us?
I think you´re probably the opposite of City. You look dangerous going forward and seem likely to score from every attack but hugely vulnerable in defence to movement and pace. Both sides are nowhere near their best yet are way ahead at the top of the table.
Is there a specific weakness to City that you think United can try to exploit if they want to win the game?
Sides have had luck recently with crosses into the box so with United´s threat out wide, that could well be the way in. Our width is provided by our fullbacks so if we lose possession, then opposition teams try to counter-attack quickly while they are out of position.
Fancy making a prediction for the game and the season?
It´s a tough game to predict. Both sides aren´t playing too well yet have immense amounts of quality and can suddenly click. We´re at home and are pretty much invincible, so out of loyalty, if not 100% confidence, I´ll back us to nick it 2-1.
As for the season prediction, again, out of loyalty, I´ll tip us to win the title.
Manchester United are missing Anderson, who is suffering with a hamstring injury picked up in the 4-3 victory over Reading and Tom Cleverley, who injured his calf during the 1-0 defeat to CFR Cluj on Wednesday. Oddly, Fergie’s refused to rule Tom definitely out of the game and seemed to suggest there’s half a chance he may even make the bench. Shinji Kagawa is expected to miss the match, having still not recovered from a knee injury. There was a suggestion from the manager that the Japanese International may be on the bench for the derby, however reports are suggesting that he will not be ready despite being back in training. Wingers Valencia and Nani are also out and club skipper Nemanja Vidic is still not match fit.
Manchester City are missing James Milner and Jack Rodwell, who have hamstring injuries, whilst Micah Richards is a long term injury concern. The Serbian Aleksandar Kolarov will also miss out with a thigh injury. Gael Clichy and playmaker David Silva both face late fitness tests but are expected to feature against United.
Quotes in build up to the match
Sir Alex Ferguson:
(On the amount of penalties given to Manchester City since the start of the 2010/11 season)
“If we got that number of penalty kicks there’d be an inquiry in the House of Commons.There’d be a protest.”
(On the title race between the two Manchester clubs)
“It would be difficult to think the two of us would collapse and allow another team to get in so I think it will be between the two of us. We have that gap over Chelsea and Arsenal and Tottenham. City are our biggest threat and we’re their biggest threat. Derby games are notorious for surprises. City haven’t lost for two years in it. It’s going to be a hard game for us but we are capable of beating anyone.”
(On Ashley Young)
I remember very well last year when Young was swimming in the box. Four or five times in the last 10 games and no-one said anything. Fergie is clever for this.
(On time it took for Sir Alex to win his first English league title and European Cup)
If I haven’t made a mistake, Ferguson won his first [championship] trophy after seven years and his first Champions League after 14 years. I have another 12 years to win a Champions League.
Former Red Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:
(On City never surpassing United)
“It’s always this thing about being the big brother and the little brother coming to try to overtake the big brother. That always happens in families and in clubs – the young player hoping to take the old player’s position – and City are hoping to overtake United. I don’t think they’ll ever be able to.”
Manchester United team and tactics to face City
United should line up in somewhat of a 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 formation, with the key question being where to deploy Wayne Rooney. With Anderson due to miss out and Cleverley a doubt, Scholes (who has seemingly been prepared for this game anyway) is likely to tuck in besides Michael Carrick. So where to deploy Rooney? In United’s FA Cup win at the Etihad last season, and in a few games this season (such as versus Chelsea and Tottenham), Rooney thrived in a deep lying forward role which essentially meant he was an attacking auxiliary third central midfielder. But with both Valencia and Nani out injured, Fergie may be tempted to keep him on the right side of midfield, in the same role he performed versus Reading recently where he arguably had his best game of the season (and Fergie commenting as such) – cutting in from the right and finding those pockets in between the defensive lines.
Tactics sheet: How both sides could line-up
United could have joy down the left
This ploy may allow two things: 1. Play three flat (and possibly specialist) central midfielders – which is a tactic he likes to use versus City (think the Jones surprise pushing on; Anderson’s man-marking instruction versus Toure the year before last and Fletcher likewise in the 0-0 at the Etihad in the same season). And 2. He can focus City’s attention to the right side, ensuring that defensive attention is given to stopping Rooney (with Rafael). This could potentially allow Evra and Young* the chance to capitalise down the left side. Especially if Silva makes it, and is deployed in a typical inverted winger / free role position from the right side – Evra will have the opportunity to link with the England winger (and van Persie) in (timed) counter attacks in the vacated space ahead of him. If the Reading game is the marker for swift attacking play down this side, City must hope that Clichy returns from injury so that it is Zabaleta, and not Maicon, who starts at right back. In essence, we could see a similar approach to the Chelsea game, but this time with the left side pivotal.
Crowd Toure and halt City threat early
Though Tevez and Aguero (should they start together) can cause United all sorts of problems (and Evans may have to watch Aguero closely), it is the influence of Toure in the centre, which may be on Fergie’s mind (despite his lacklustre start). The manager has hinted at a conservative approach to the game, and will not want to lose – and therefore could play four effectively across the middle, with Rooney tucking in from the right. If he selects Fletcher for his 200th Premier League appearance (a ‘big-game player’ if ever there was one), the Scotsman will surely be instructed to perform the now infamous ‘Park role’ of last season – pushing high on the Ivorian at every opportunity and disrupting City’s midfield rhythm. Whether Fletcher has the energy or the form is another question, as despite looking very good in relative terms, has suffered a dip in recent games, often dawdling far too long on the ball; the antithesis of what the Scotland captain is all about. With this in mind, there may well be a surprise inclusion of Jones in this particular role, with the youngster having put in a cracking performance midweek.
On a side note; Young is coming in for some unfair criticism from the United fans at present – some of it justified of course as perhaps only van Persie, Evra and Rafael can be truly satisfied with their contribution this term. However, the wingman has plenty to offer, and if Fergie can unleash the potential that he undoubtedly has, he could be an asset. Young had a scintillating couple of seasons at Villa (before fading dramatically in the last few months there, perhaps with the pressure of being watched) and had a run of games for England where he scored or assisted in five consecutive games. Not only can he cross a ball better than Valencia or Nani, he is more able to adapt his role and play off the front man – and his defensive capabilities are equal to those of our Ecuadorian. He needs a little more time before he can be judged outright.
This derby is likely to go with tradition, and buck this season’s trend of a high scoring match. The last five league games here between the two teams have not produced more than 1.5 goals. Set pieces could thus prove crucial, either from a direct effort (Tevez/van Persie/Kolarov/Rooney) or via a centred ball. Mancini’s tactical tinkering in Europe has cost him dear, but this should be a straight 4-5-1 v 4-5-1 battle, with the opening goal perhaps being fatal.
Whilst this won’t decide the title, the potential to open up a six point gap will be one Fergie will want to take advantage of. With wins at Anfield and Stamford Bridge already this season, one gets the feeling that United may just about to enough to scrape though and steal a 1-0 away win.