Date: 22nd October 2011 at 9:44pm
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Derby day top of the table clashes...they don't come round that often.

The lunchtime kick off on Sunday is approaching fast. Our old foes, our bitter rivals, and some would say our noisy neighbours have, in recent years, seen this one as a more important game than we have. That’s because over the years, have been our local rivals, and not a side that have been much of a worry in terms of challenging us for a trophy. However this time, things are different, and the noises our neighbours are making are definitely ones that sound like results on the pitch.

City come in to this game on top of the Premiership. Two points clear of the reds, and two goals better off as well. Like us, they are unbeaten in the league and have been pulling out the right results since the opening day of the season to show that they are well and truly title contenders after all.

Does it pain me to say that? No. It doesn’t. I prefer to concentrate on my own team, regardless of who any challengers are. Worries about any opposition are secondary, always have been and always will be.

However, this will prove to be a challenging derby game for us, and it’ll be the sternest test for City so far this term.  They’re on top of the league on merit, but they have been done against the big teams in Europe, so how will the 161st derby pan out on Sunday?

Team news:

After the Champions League excursion to Romania on Tuesday, United have no new injury problems. Tom Cleverley and Rafael are still carrying injuries, and Wayne Rooney is likely to return to the starting line up after being rested last week at Anfield.

For the visitors, there’s fireworks whatever Mario Balotelli does these days, and he’s available for Mancini after suspension in the Champions League in midweek. Owen Hargreaves might be fit for the game at Old Trafford too…I’ve written that before though.

Men to watch:

City’s Edin Dzeko has put six goals in for City so far this term, at an iimpressive rate of one every 72 minutes 10 seconds, and midfielders David Silva and Samir Nasri have completed a pass in their opponent half every 2 mins 42 secs and 2 mins 20 secs respectively. They’re the main men who I think will cause United problems.

I also think that Adam Johnson is a much under-valued player by the City coaching staff. I’ll be pleased if we don’t see him feature on Sunday, but if he does I know he’ll cause us a bit of trouble.

Next door is only a footstep away…

Ben Garnham is a match-going blue.  We spoke to him in the week to find out what his thoughts are about Sunday’s match and wondered if the two point advantage gives City a psychological advantage, or will it add to any nerves? Ben explained: “The advantage is merely numerical and as far as talks of pressure goes, we go into every game with the same amount each time. Having said that this game really is an opportunity to set a marker down that we really can challenge this year for the title. This will be as always the biggest test for us this season as to how far we can go.”

Neither Manchester side looked convincing in their Champions League victories in the week, and there’s always a danger that form can carry over in to the following weekend’s fixture. Ben said: “the age old cliché of ‘playing badly and winning is the sign of champions’ is something I would like to get used to, however we can’t play the way we did on Tuesday against United as we were static at times and didn’t really push the pace. I don’t see United sitting back the way Villareal did and I expect a few changes for Sunday’s game. We’ll look to soak up some early pressure and play counter attack the ‘Mancini way’. We also have a few dangerous players, but the player that’s capable against any team in the world is David Silva. He doesn’t have a natural position which makes him difficult to pick up as a defender.

We couldn’t do a City preview without asking Ben about a certain Argentinian. “Tevez is double edged sword.” Ben exclaims. “What he provides on the pitch there is perhaps 3 other players in world football that can produce the type of skill that he can, and then there is the other Carlos Tevez which sadly has started to be talked about over his ability as a player. I have followed City for 20 years now and have paid thousands of pounds to watch my club and I would give it all up for 5 minutes on that pitch playing for my team. The moment he refused to play for my club was the moment I lost my faith in him. He really doesn’t realise what a privileged position he is in, but that’s sadly becoming part and parcel of some ‘modern day’ footballers.

So – we have the biggest Manchester derby game in recent years, the winners of which will finish the weekend on top of the Premier League. The rivalry between players and fans will be on show in this one, and for the first time in many years, it’ll be rivalry of a serious nature for both teams.

Wherever you’re watching it, enjoy the game.

Follow me on Twitter: @stevecrab and follow Ben: @sherlockmoans