Wayne Rooney scores spectacularly against Manchester City for Manchester United in February 2011
Manchester United welcome Manchester City to Old Trafford on Monday evening, with the visitors trailing the league leaders by 15 points with eight games left to play. United beat City 3-2 back in December following a last gasp Robin van Persie freekick, and have only dropped four points since. Manchester City have lost on their travels away at Southampton and Everton – but will be hoping to halt United’s assault on capturing a twentieth league title. Here we discuss the 165th Manchester derby match preview and welcome comments from both sets of fans.
A view from the opposition
As usual, we have a superb view from the opposition with Steven from www.viewfromablue.com/ who you can follow on Twitter here – @viewfromablue. We discuss Aguero’s injury, United’s dominance and Pablo Zabaleta.
So, what have you made of Manchester City’s season?
It has been a largely frustrating one. That’s not in terms of position – we don’t have a divine right to win the league and finishing second is by no means anything to be concerned about – but with regards to performances. They’ve been insipid, predictable and laboured on too many occasions. Teams have started to work us out and so, despite controlling possession, we have struggled to break sides down. There is no pace, no genuine threat out wide and we have lacked a clinical touch. Of course, winning the FA Cup and finishing second in the Premier League would still, in my eyes, represent a good season but it has not been an enjoyable one in terms of watching enthralling football or following up our eye-catching displays from the last campaign.
As for the Champions League, that was verging on pathetic. Again, that’s not purely down to not progressing beyond the group stage, but more based on our performances and the fact we didn’t win a game. I doubt any English side would have advanced from our group, but they would all have put up a better fight.
Do you agree with your manager that the gap should be closer than 15 points?
There is absolutely no way our squad, and the quality it possesses, should be 15 points behind United and that doesn’t reflect too well on Mancini or the players, but the table doesn’t lie. United have been relentless, their drive and hunger carrying them over the line when not at their best, and that is often overlooked as eyebrows are raised at City. We have struggled to kill sides off, especially away from home, but United pretty much always find a way.
How much have you missed Aguero’s goals (currently on 9 but hit 23 last season)?
His injury, sustained within the opening 20 minutes of the first match of the season, and David Silva’s subsequent penalty miss in the same game, have been symptomatic of our season. Injuries have hit us hard – by my reckoning, Joleon Lescott is the only outfield player who has been available for every match – and our lack of quality in depth has been evident. Aguero is such an exceptional player but has had two injuries which have sidelined him for lengthy periods. His energy, selfless running, touch, link-up play and goals have been sorely missed.
Who has been your best player this term?
Pablo Zabaleta, by a distance, will be our player of the year. He has benefitted from injuries to Micah Richards and Maicon which has meant he has been afforded a run in the side and he’s been phenomenal. Solid defensively, he offers an option going forward, has added a couple of goals to his account and perhaps most importantly for the fans, he ‘gets’ the club and what City is about. He’s a real fan favourite.
After him, you’re looking towards Matija Nastasic, Gael Clichy and Gareth Barry as the positive aspects from the season. That says everything about how our attacking stars have failed to sparkle. Defensively, we have been very efficient, but we haven’t clicked as an attacking force.
David Silva stole the show in the 6-1 game last season, how do you think he’ll get on this time around?
He’s a wonderful player, a joy to watch when on form, which, sadly, hasn’t been all that often this season. He’s not been helped by the passiveness of Samir Nasri, meaning that the Frenchman’s happiness to shirk responsibility places all the creative burden on Silva’s shoulders. Still, he’s our most important player and at the hub of our all play so he will be our key man on Monday. He will be given the freedom to roam around, to look for the ball and to dictate play. United will need to be aware of his threat otherwise Silva will take advantage of the space he’s given.
What have you made of United this season in comparison to last?
In terms of the squad, van Persie has provided a clinical touch but while City have regressed, United have improved, not in terms of the quality of football played, but in terms of ruthlessness and sheer will to win. It’s nothing new to suggest that the way in which they lost the title has spurred them on, and it is that factor, combined with City’s performances, which will secure the trophy.
Still, I don’t believe this to be a great United side by any means. Yes, results domestically are superb but the league is a poor one. There seems to be a sense of vulnerability still, a lack of a midfield enforcer meaning sides can get at United’s defence. They have continued to grind out results and have an admirable grit, but in terms of star quality, it is not a side to be feared.
Will Mancini leave in the summer and if so, who do you think could replace him?
In short, I think Mancini will still be here next season, but by default. City fans are hugely appreciative of what he has done for us – of taking a talented, yet under-performing Mark Hughes team and turning us into cup and league winners – but I’m of the opinion he’s not the man to take us forward. However, there is no candidate out there who is not a huge gamble and who would definitely take us to the next level. Mourinho won’t come (and nor do most City fans I know want him) and then the other names mentioned includes the likes of De Boer, Pellegrini and Laudrup. Are they a step up from Mancini? Not at this moment. We can’t just sack Mancini for sacking him sake. There needs to be a replacement out there who is the right man to build. And for that reason, I think Mancini is safe for one more year.
Do you think City can still win the league?
How do you think City will line up on Monday and what United side are you expecting?
I’d expect to see this side. The only real dilemma is Nasri or Milner…
Hart – Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy – Yaya, Barry – Milner, Silva – Tevez, Aguero.
That is what many fans would suggest to be our strongest team and, remarkably, if Mancini were to select that side, it would be the first time in all competitions this season that has been the starting XI. That says everything about how injuries, form and other factors have affected our season.
Other than the 6-1, what is your favourite memory of the derby at Old Trafford?
There aren’t exactly a plethora of options to choose from, but in recent times, it would have to be the 2-1 victory on the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster. The fans were impeccably behaved that day and to think we won thanks to goals from Benjani and Darius Vassell.
A £20 bet on United to win both halves nets you £130
A £20 bet on Wayne Rooney to score two or more nets you £220
a £20 bet on Robin van Persie to score first in a 2-1 win nets you £580
Wayne Rooney faces a late fitness test on his groin, having picked up an injury on international duty which forced him to miss the 1-0 victory over Sunderland and the FA Cup clash with Chelsea, which United lost 1-0. Rafael is also a doubt having picked up an injury in the Sunderland match, but like Rooney, he took part in training on Friday. Both Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans, who was sent off in this fixture last season, have knocks but are expected to feature in the squad despite only starting training on Saturday. Darren Fletcher is missing through his illness and Scholes was said to be fit again but is now allegedly only returning to training at the start of this week.
Last season’s Champions are without Brazilian wing back Maicon who has picked up a knee injury. Jack Rodwell, once heavily linked with a move to Manchester United in his Everton days when he was a youngster, misses the match having picked up a hamstring injury in the 1-0 victory over Aston Villa. Right back Micah Richards has just recovered from a long term knee injury, but isn’t expected to feature against United or be fit for another ten days. David Silva, who was instrumental in the 6-1 defeat of United last season, is fit to play, whilst Frenchman Samir Nasri has recovered from a knock picked up in the 4-0 victory of Newcastle United last weekend.
Potential Manchester United setup and line up
Form 3-man centre and control possession
If fit, Rooney should start and will surely be instructed to form a trio of central players, joining Carrick and one of Jones or Cleverley in midfield. United have often won the battle of possession even when playing a standard 4-4-2, but Mancini’s side play with greater authority if the centre of the pitch is won (see the FA Cup semi final at Wembley as an example). Barry, Toure, Milner and Silva will look to interchange position and rotate the ball in close proximity, and it is essential that the United midfield disrupt any rhythm in this area of the field. Even though Rooney is not fantastic at performing a disciplined tactical role, as his travails versus Busquets have proved latterly, the Englishman thrives at Old Trafford when given licence to attack from deep in what is something of an ‘attacking 8’ role, rather than the traditional No. 10.
Press the ball
Take the game to City and play with confidence and verve. United have success versus City, particularly in recent encounters at the Eithad, where they haven’t given City time on the ball. In the away win this season, United sought to sit deep and counter, but it was the FA Cup encounter before that which stands out tactically. Here Rooney played as an auxiliary centre midfielder as described above, and looked to press Barry and Toure in their own half as soon as possible. The back-line was relatively high, with Rio in particular proactive in possession once the ball was reclaimed; and there was a compactness to the overall system that meant there was always a short passing option available in transitions. This tactic disrupted the home side’s momentum and gave United the edge overall – United fans still can’t fathom how the game ended 2-3, when a fairer reflection of United’s dominance would have been an emphatic five or six nil riposte to the earlier 1-6 at Old Trafford.
Of course, as part of the strategy to establish the ascendancy in the middle of the park, it will be key to halt Spanish maestro, David Silva. The little magician had a slow start to the season and his form/ lack of consistent impact is part of the reason why City are off the pace; but in the last dozen games or so, Silva has exerted his authority once again and is showing a terrific bit of form. Silva’s movement inside from wide positions (and his lateral movements outside) are a key component to City’s approach. United must not allow him to dictate the attacking tempo and double up on him where possible. Typically, Carrick has been asked to work in combination with either Fletcher or Jones in order to close the space between the lines. Rafael and Evra must also assist here, pushing high on Silva and showing him inside as often as possible, blocking his passing angle. Aguero’s movement in particular is vital to Silva’s creativity, so Ferdinand and Vidic (or Evans) will have to communicate well in order to stem the Argentine’s impact – again pushing him high and following him out – a tactic that has worked well in the past.
Exploit wide areas
City’s 4-2-3-1 formation lends itself to attacking fullbacks and penetration out wide in the final third. As well as dealing with this approach (as above), United can also exploit the benefits on the counter attack, as Clichy and Zabaleta can often get caught up the pitch in attacking to defensive transitions. Valencia and Welbeck are vying for starts on the right, with Young and Kagawa likewise seeking a part of Ferguson’s plan from the left. Whichever duo is selected, each will want to receive the ball close to the touchline as early as possible, especially when City’s attacks break down in the United defensive third. Carrick’s positive mindset has been well documented this season, and it will be his precision from back to front that proves key here. Releasing Valencia early in order to hit the space vacated by Clichy could be a theme of the match – with Rooney and van Persie able to hit the box in anticipation of the centred ball. The Dutchman is more confident when he settles into the game with early possession – United should seek to involve him as much as possible (likely to be very deep) early on, using his superb hold-up play and vision on the turn.
Depending on if whether you’re a red or a blue – both sets of fans feel their side has a point to prove in the derby on Monday evening. United lost both fixtures to City last term. A humiliating 6-1 defeat at home and a limp and disastrous performance in the away fixture, when Vincent Kompany beat Chris Smalling in the air to hand City the initiative in the title run in. Not to of course mention the dramatic finish to last season’s championship run in. Manchester City on the other hand are 15 points behind the league leaders and don’t want the embarrassment of handing over the title to United and being the worse side (in terms of the gap between themselves and the top of the table) to defend the trophy since Blackburn Rovers in the 95/96 season.
The match in December was an excellent game of football. United raced into a 2-0 lead, whilst City fought back to equalise late on before Manchester United’s top goal scorer Robin van Persie stepped up to the win the match from a freekick, which took a heavy deflection off Samir Nasri. But looking at the fixture last April, it was an extremely cagey affair – with United going into the match hoping for a draw, which of course backfired and City claimed all three points that eventually led to the title. Do United adopt the same cautious approach, or will Ferguson line up as he did in December with two forwards. City will no doubt come to United and play a 4-2-3-1, as they have done under Mancini. This approach has led to City dominating possession of the football in the past three fixtures between the sides.
David Silva may not have hit the heights of last season this term, however – his ball to Dzeko in the dying minutes of the game was one of the best passes I’ve ever seen. There was an abundance of space due to the dismissal of Evans and United’s naive approach to a game that was beyond the realms of saving, but the technique and vision to supply such a ball cannot be taught. United will be well aware that he is the man that pulls the footballing strings to coincide with the physicality and driving runs of his midfield colleague, Yaya Toure. Toure and Silva have been vital in previous clashs with United – and Toure scored the winning goal in the 2011 FA Cup semi-final and received plaudits for his contribution in that match. He will surely play high up the pitch off the front man.
Manchester United are in an unbelievable position. Ferguson would have taken being a point clear going into this fixture at the start of the season, let alone fifteen. United’s Premier League form has been outstanding and haven’t lost a match since the 1-0 defeat to Norwich in November. We’ve seen Ferguson go into these fixtures before (take last April for example) more cautiously, placing the emphasis on the chasing team. This invitation can backfire catastrophically and it is essential that Manchester United play “the United way” when the sides meet on Monday evening. Ferguson has been quoted in the past as saying that “United were the only team to try and win the match”, placing emphasis on the more cautious opposition that were more interested in not losing.
The United manager will know that Monday presents a great opportunity to put one over the ‘noisy neighbours’ and win the match in style, with an attacking expansive style of play associated with Manchester United throughout the years. This doesn’t mean an all out attack gung-ho approach or tactical naivety. Wayne Rooney’s inclusion is key as he is the essential link between midfield and attack, whilst also important defensively to drop back into midfield if indeed there is a 3 vs. 2 setup. Danny Welbeck has shown how disciplined he can be from a positional sense in the 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid when he nullified the attacking threat of Xabi Alonso. City do not have a player of Alonso’s class operating from deep, so Welbeck could be asked to do a job wider – as he did against Spurs – with United’s number ten through the middle.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Manchester City