With the usual verbal shenanigans already in full swing as the Manchester derby approaches, you’d be forgiven for thinking this game is an actual title decider.
With the normally reticent Patrice Evra even getting involved and claiming that United are not that *rsed about their less successful neighbours- or words to that effect- it’s not just rent-a-gob Gary Neville stirring it up.
That money grabbing.. sorry I mean Carlos Tevez has had is say by coming up with the novel idea of mentioning Wayne Rooney, seeing as we’ve not heard much about him lately. Tevez has stated that he’d liked to have seen Wayne Rooney at City, well you can’t blame him, after all partnering Emmanuel Adebayor is probably enough to make you wish Colleen signed for City. While any comment from Tevez is likely to incur the ire of all United fans, the Argentine’s statement was not all that surprising and actually something of a compliment to Rooney. With a good 24 hours until the game kicks off, I fully expect something a lot more incendiary and possibly even slightly hysterical from the Blue camp.
Regardless of the vocal sparring that has been, or will be committed by both camps, from a purely football point of view, the game is more of a ‘must-win’ for City than it is United. That may sound like a bit of pre-match excuse making just to cover my own back should City win, but allow me to explain.
United are unbeaten and only two points off the top of the table. If United were to draw it wouldn’t be too bad, after all it would be a point more than Chelsea took from Eastlands this season, and still keep the unbeaten run intact. If United were to lose, they’d stay ahead of City on goal difference and be level on points with Arsenal if the Gunners beat Wolves at Molineux.
It would be a bitter blow to lose to the noisy neighbours and could give City the real lift they need to kick start a proper title challenge but in terms of how it would leave the table it wouldn’t be a disaster for United, just a nightmare for the fans for a few weeks. City’s situation is more tenuous, if they were to lose, or even just fail to win, it would mean only on win in the last four league games, relegation form if we’re brutally honest. With Roberto Mancini seemingly under pressure every time his team concede a throw-in, a loss to United wouldn’t exactly help the scarf wearing Italian’s cause.
If City did lose, then the fallout of from the fans may just be enough to start making Sheikh Mansour reconsider his managerial options. Let’s face facts, when you’ve got Gary Cook as your Chief Executive then you’re never going to be the most secure manager in the country. City need a win to show that their team of argumentative, spoilt, playboys can actually justify their wages, while a United win would be a massive boost for the club, fans and players and make the rest of the league take note of who the real title contenders are.
So now that we’ve established that a win would be a rather pleasant experience for either club, who looks more likely to get one? Well the form guide would seem to favour United, after all unbeaten all season, coming off the back of six straight victories, it seems the Reds are flying. However, that’s not entirely true, as due to a virus and a series of injuries, the starting XI for United’s game against Wolves resembled the sort of side Sir Alex Ferguson would send out for a Carling Cup game.
Apart from a strong back five, United had a makeshift midfield, with only arguably Darren Fletcher a true first teamer, with Chicharito deployed as a lone striker. Oh and Owen Hargreaves got a start such was United’s lack of options. With Rooney, Antonio Valencia Michael Owen and Ryan Giggs all definitely out, United are already four attacking players light. Add to that the possibility that player of the season contenders: Nani, Dimitar Berbatov and Paul Scholes are all doubtful and the omens don’t look to clever for Fergie’s men, or should that be Fergie’s flu victims?
If all of those players weren’t available then United would be missing six potential match winners and would be up against it from the start. Losing Rooney is disappointing, losing Rooney, Giggs, Valencia, Berbatov, Scholes and Nani could be disastrous. Of course we’ve seen a bit of Fergie kiddology when it comes to injuries before, let’s not forget how many times Wayne Rooney ‘miraculously’ appeared on the team sheet was he was a certain ‘non-starter’ last season. Mind you, judging from the fact he’s currently in the US if Wazza does make an appearance at Eastlands tomorrow then it really would be a miracle.
The extent of United’s absentees will not be known until the team sheets are submitted tomorrow evening, but the absence of a Nani or a Scholes could be a deciding factor. When it comes to the City squad, they’re in a much rosier position than United, with the suspended Mario Balotelli their only real loss. The main boost for City is having Tevez back, after all it’s no coincidence that his return from absence brought the team’s first win in four games. Tevez has been City’s talisman ever since he signed for them and bagged three goals against United in the Carling Cup last season. If United can find a way to cope with the former Old Trafford hero, then City’s options suddenly don’t seem as positive. Adam Johnson is always a threat and David Silva has already bagged one of the goals of the season, but let’s not pretend any different, City are the Carlos Tevez show and he could be the key to the game.
Part of Mancini’s problem may not be which players are fit but which ones he picks. Yaya Toure, Nigel De Jong and Gareth Barry may all start against United, the question is will Mancini go for 4-4-2 with Tevez and Adebayor up front, or will he go with a five man midfield at the expense of Adebayor?
If Mancini starts Yaya Toure, Barry and De Jong, this may work to United’s favour as Darren Fletcher is capable of mixing it with anyone, while if Paul Scholes starts, he could teach his blue counterparts how to control a game from midfield. Without Scholes, United may need to turn to Michael Carrick, if he’s fit of course, although he was another notable absentee from the Wolves game. It’s a shame for United that Anderson is also out as this may have just the type of game his physicality flourished in, I’d have relished seeing him and Fletcher getting stuck into De Jong and Toure. It’s also a shame Hargreaves didn’t come through the Wolves game as he’s now needed more than ever.
Whatever the injury crisis United have at the moment, or how Mancini deploys his troops, one things for certain, a mid week Manchester derby with so much at stake is going to be explosive, let’s just hope from a United point of view it’s not the missing players we’re talking about come Thursday morning.