Preview: Manchester City v Manchester United
The fourth and final installment of this season’s Manchester derbies sees City in excellent form, while United are watching their trophy hopes disappear, but let’s take nothing for granted. Victory is far from a given against a side that could be close to full strength.
United’s poor performance at Blackburn had all the hallmarks of a European hangover. Prior to Rafael’s sending off against Bayern, they were in good form and with both teams having had a full week to prepare, this will be a real test.
“It’s such a massive game and there is so much that we are playing for. Even if we’re doing the same things in training, in our heads we know that we have to focus even more because of the game we have this weekend.”
The good thing for City is that we are finally looking a balanced team, organised at the back, and with an attacking quartet linking up well and in good form individually. Roberto Mancini has spoken about changing the formation due to returning players and the threat of United. It’s to be hoped he doesn’t.
“I want to see who recovers. It is important when you play with two wingers and two strikers that you get the balance right. If the winger works for the team, it is better to play like this.”
Thus far against Chelsea and United, Mancini has gone for three in midfield, but that was when Adebayor was unavailable. Having only two in central midfield isn’t such a risk with the tracking back of Bellamy, Tevez and Johnson.
Looking through the team, the biggest concern is left-back. Garrido isn’t strong defensively, and Valencia could be a real test. Wayne Bridge may be our best left-back, but he hasn’t played for several weeks, and normally needs a couple of games to get up to speed.
In which case, Pablo Zabaleta may be our best bet defensively. Pablo is a Mancini favourite who always gets a starting place in the side. The Argentine may not offer much going forward from left-back, but the Italian coaching philosophy dictates defence is the first priority for a defender. We could always bring on Bridge, Garrido or Sylvinho from the bench if needed.
Hopefully Nedum will keep his place at right-back. Not for his goal scoring heroics last week, but for great tackling and strength in the air when both defending and attacking set pieces. There’s a chance Mancini may go for Zabaleta, while there is no news thus far of Micah Richards having recovered from injury.
Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany are sure to start and will need to be at the sharpest. Kolo’s athleticism is better suited to more fluid attacks such as that offered by United, who are likely to start with a lone striker in Rooney or Berbatov.
The desire to keep de Jong from getting booked in the last two matches indicates the Dutchman is likely to start. His greater mobility warrants a starting place ahead of Barry or Vieira. Barry’s excellent performance against Birmingham should enable him to keep his place.
Vieira and Zabaleta are Mancini favourites, but the Frenchman may make greatest impact from the bench. It would be a surprise to see Ireland start the game so soon after injury.
Bellamy versus Neville should be a fiery affair and one where we’ll be looking for a clear advantage if we’re to get any joy.
With Fabio Capello having dangled the prospect of a World Cup place, Adam Johnson should be flying. He’ll need to be to get the better of Evra, though the Frenchman is considered weaker against wingers who cut inside. Let’s hope so.
Tracking the attacking runs of Evra will be crucial, so expect to see Mancini directing Adam from the touchline. Him and Bellamy could swap wings during the game to let Bellamy get tight on Evra, and allow Adam to test himself against England past.
Tevez and Adebayor are starting to show a genuine understanding and it’s to be hoped they both start. If he plays, Ferdinand may not be 100% and hopefully we can take advantage. Carlos is unlikely to get a great deal of space when dropping deep, but he’ll need to do it when we don’t have the ball to help out the midfield.
“I try to be my own player but, if you are talking about English-based players, then I have learnt a lot from Carlitos.
“He has proved this season he is one of the best strikers in the world.”
Of course this derby isn’t just about bragging rights, there’s our challenge for fourth place. Tottenham are looking to be our major rivals, and to get three points before they kick-off against Chelsea would be huge.
Blue Days line-up: Given, Onuoha, Bridge, Toure, Kompany, de Jong, Barry, Johnson, Bellamy, Tevez, Adebayor.
Prediction: 3-1 to City.