Manchester United vs. Manchester City
Tomorrow, United and City meet at Old Trafford for the 151st competitive Manchester derby, with more significance for both teams than in the recent past. For the home side, an 11th Premier League title is no certainty with arch rivals Liverpool waiting in the wings to capitalise on any mistakes. The Blues, meanwhile, still have designs on 7th place and qualification for the Europa League. Both sides are in good form, which should offer a close, competitive game.
For Mark Hughes, a man whose position as City manager has caused an unprecedented divide between fans, this is the opportunity not only to embarrass former boss Alex Ferguson, but perhaps to capture the hearts of some as yet unconvinced supporters. The season has been one of great contrasts- fantastic victories against Arsenal, Schalke and Portsmouth to name but three coupled with disastrous displays against West Brom, Nottingham Forest and Fulham, again, to name but three! City’s famed unpredictability has been a feature yet again this season and with that in mind, a victory at Old Trafford wouldn’t be as big a surprise as some suggest.
United, unfortunately, have had yet another successful campaign- sitting atop of the league table and with a place in the Champions League final secured, they will offer Hughes’ young side arguably heir greatest test to date. With such a large squad at Ferguson’s disposal, they can chop and change with ease and replace quality with quality. Derbies, however, have not gone as planned for them in recent years and even at Old Trafford, United have only been victorious twice in the last seven meetings between the two.
Our rivals’ last three league games have seen a routine 2-0 home victory over Portsmouth, in which goals at either end of the 90 minutes from Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick secured three points. A woeful first half display at home against Spurs saw United 2-0 down at half time, but a generously awarded penalty (strangely enough), converted by Cristiano Ronaldo sparked a blitz of goals in which Wayne Rooney (2), Dimitar Berbatov and a second from Ronaldo earned them a 5-2 victory. Their most recent outing, against relegation threatened Middlesbrough at the Riverside was, much like the Portsmouth game, a relatively poor display albeit an effective one. Goals from Ryan Giggs and Ji-Sung Park secured the win.
The Blues have also secured nine points in the last three league games, our best form of the season. Following on from the mixed emotions of the UEFA Cup quarter final home tie with Hamburg, bottom-of-the-table West Brom visited Eastlands and despite performing admirably, the Blues were too strong for the Black Country outfit in a 4-2 victory with Robinho, Elano, Nedum Onuoha and Daniel Sturridge on the score sheet.
Next up was a visit to Goodison Park and a combination of Everton’s excellent form this season and City’s quite appalling away record meant all and sundry predicting a home win- Messieurs Robinho and Ireland had something to say about that however, with two classy finishes enough to secure a 2-1 win.
Our most recent game, last weekend’s encounter with ‘total football’ enthusiasts Blackburn, was a comfortable, routine 3-1 win with Robinho continuing his rich vein of form. Felipe Caicedo and Elano also found the net to make it a South American themed display.
Mark Hughes is evidently looking forward to the occasion, and discussing it earlier in the week seemed to be in a positive frame of mind.
“It’s great to be able to go there with the team, and the key is to make sure we perform well. I’ve been back with Blackburn Rovers and won at Old Trafford. It’s a great experience when it happens, by the way”!
“There is no greater satisfaction than going to Old Trafford and taking points off them. If we could do it then maybe it would be another indication that we are going in the right direction”.
United boss Ferguson, meanwhile, claims his side are high in confidence and expects a performance.
“The team has come into top form at the right time. City have won their last four games and they’ve got some good players, but we’re going into the game with a great deal of confidence ourselves.
I’d like to say it was my preparation, but it’s not. I think the players smell the big games well. They like those situations, they’ve proved they can handle them and we’re so close now.”
Robinho vs. John O’Shea – With Gary Neville injured, John O’Shea is expected to continue his run in the side at right back against the mercurial Brazilian. Despite being relatively solid, the Irishman is prone to errors and if Robinho is switched on, and utilises his skill properly he could have a very successful afternoon.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Micah Richards – Much has been made of Richards’ decline this season but since breaking into the City side at 17, he’s performed excellently in most derbies with Carlos Tevez claiming the young Englishman was his toughest opponent to date after City’s 1-0 win at Eastlands last season. Ronaldo, much like our own superstar Robinho, can be either excellent or anonymous. If he is in form, which luckily he rarely seems to be in derbies, Richards will have his work cut out and must concentrate fully.
United’s home form this season has statistically been the best in the Premier League but Liverpool’s 4-1 thumping of the Reds on their own patch earlier this season proves they’re by no means invincible. Over the last few weeks City have looked stronger and hungrier than before and the return to form of Brazilian duo Robinho and Elano could cause the United defence problems. However, City’s defence remains uncertain at times and containing the threat of Rooney and Ronaldo is no mean feat. I see tomorrow’s game being an exciting, close affair and believe we can hold them to a 2-2 draw.
Many thanks to mancityfans.net poster Colin The King for this excellent derby match preview.