The big game this weekend takes us to Old Trafford, where champions Man United entertain neighbours and league leaders Manchester City. The Manchester Derby has risen in prominence ever since the takeover by the Abu Dhabi group happened and with the two Manchester clubs occupying the top two places in the league standings there is more than just local bragging rights on offer. Mancinia��s Citizens are now setting the pace both on and off the pitch and this contest gives them an opportunity to come out of the shadows of the illustrious neighbours for once.

Not that, the Red Devils are lagging far behind but after the smashing opening to the season, Fergiea��s United side have gone off the boil in recent weeks. Nevertheless, form book seldom dictates matters on field in such high pressure, high intensity games, nerves jangle and even the best of men come up cropper.

Here at TheHardTackle, we join our guest Man City expert Howard HockinA�(HH) and Manchester United author NipunA�Malhotra (NM) for a bit of friendly banter. As a gracious host, NM lets HH shoot his questions first.

HH:A�The likes of Alex Ferguson and his famous mind-games, along with the Paul ScholesA�and others, have been keen to jeer at City’s recent emergence, whilst claiming that City, the “noisy neighbours”, did not concern them or pose a threat. Considering the importance and magnitudeA�of this match in the eyes of the fans, do you think that it signifies a dominance of the Premier League by the Manchester clubs in coming seasons? Does Ferguson admit now that City are a real threat?

NM:A�Ferguson and ScholesA�had a point though, didna��t they? Although City are a force to reckon with now, your lot will have to do a lot more to beA�considered in the same bracket as United, the millions spent in the transfer market wona��t buy City our history and the world wideA�acclaim. However, it would be foolish not to acknowledge Man Citya��s emergence as a major threat in all competitions from here on. You have all the resources needed and an astute man in charge who has previously delivered league titles albeit in a different league. The City of Manchester after decades of dominance by the Old Trafford club now has two clubs competing on a level footing and that should be promising for the city in general.

I think the Manchester Derby is only going to rise and rise in stature in years to come and probably become a�?thea�� most important derby at least in this country. So yeah, nobody in their right mind can any longer ignore whata��s so blatantly obvious, therea��s a serious threat from the blue half of the city and its here now, United need to respond like we always have over the years.

HH:A�There was some drivel spoken and written in the press last week in the lead up to the Liverpool v Manchester United match, and there will be drivel written this week too. Do you really believe what was claimedA�by Ferguson that United’s game v Liverpool to be bigger than the Manchester derby? If so, why did Ferguson rest 3 key players? He certainly won’t on Sunday!

NM:A�Traditionally yes, historically definitely; Liverpool have always been public enemy number one. For United fans around the globe, thata��s the one fixture you just hate to lose. The animosity is fuelledA�by Liverpoola��s insistence, ignorance to be honest in acknowledging United as bigger than them. City on the other hand are on the rise and at break neck pace! However not so long ago, you werena��t even in this league and although we did lose our fair share of games against your lot, the lack of competition hampered the rivalry. Not anymore, the Blue Moon has risen and as far as winning the championship goes City are our nearest rivals.

As far as resting players for the game against Liverpool goes, Wayne Rooneya��s trials and tribulations with the national side are well documented, so he was shielded from the wrath of Merseyside. Also weighing in Fergiea��s mind would have been the midweek European clash and that had acquired even more significance as United had failed to win its first two ties. And I am pretty sure he would put out the best possible side against City, dona��t you worry about that.




HH:A�Probably the most boring narrative in the last three years has been the mind-numbinglyA�boring accusations that City have lost their soul, and have no class, throwing their money around and distorting the transfer market. Do United fans still think it unfair how much money City have spent? Is there any praise for how the owners have rebuilt the club and soon the local community from the bottom up?

NM:A�Havena��t City fans been the ones always reiterating this myth about the locals supporting City rather thanA�United? City have for long claimed that the majority of Uniteda��s supporters are plastics and they are the ones that represent the local community. So what happens now, have you gone the United way then, arena��t you guys trying to venture into Asian markets and spread your fan base?

Ita��s your fans that have since long claimed their soul was the support of the city, so it does seem you have forgotten your values, eh?

Anyways, I dona��t begrudge City anything they are getting at all. However I do feel for the likes of Arsenal who perhaps have been affectedA�the worst as they cana��t realistically hope to compete for top players anymore. But then, ita��s not our concern. At United we have reaped rewards of our own success and till Fergusona��s here we have absolutely no need to be worried.

HH: Where do you think the key battles will be on the pitch? Which areas worry you? Will Ferguson turn to his experienced players, or look towards the younger players?

NM: For me the player most likely to upset our plans would most definitely be a��David Silva. The Spaniard is in a league of his own and at times virtually unplayable. Silvaa��s all silks and takes up so many dangerous positions in the field that it is too hard a job to mark him. Carrick would perhaps be expected to keep him under a tight leach and leta��s hope he comes out on top.

For City, they must look out for Luis Nani. Clichy has always had a torrid time dealing with the Portuguesea��s pace and trickery throughout his Arsenal days and again this coming Sunday Nani holds the key for United.

David Silva- in a league of his own!

HH: It seems that City had their best results against United in recent years when they were the big underdog. However, the FA Cup Final showed the new City could get the results too. So finally – how do you see the match going? Predictions please – will it be a stalemate and an anti-climax?

NM:A�The games at Old Trafford between the two sides have been surprisingly open and highly entertaining of late although the same cana��t be said when City play at home. I expect yet another gruelling affair with both teams going for the three points and giving it theirA�almighty go. Less than ten games into the season I see no point in playing out the game for a point, nothing will be decidedA�this early on in the season and therea��s always a chance to hit back. Hopefully, wea��ll have enough to get over the line and at Old Trafford never bet against United. Ia��ll go for a narrow win with Nani getting the winner much like Wembley earlier this season.

Enough of grilling me, ita��s your turn in the hot seat.

NM:A�So, its derby time in Manchester, and although it might sound clichA�d but this could yet be one of the most important ones in recent times. How confident are you of Citya��s title credentials and what realistically would the club need to achieveA�this season for it to be considered a successful one?

HH:A�I am more confident now than at the beginning of the season, when old habits told me City couldna��t possibly be title contenders. The fixture list may not have been the toughest, but I have been impressedA�at how City have picked up points they usually wouldna��t, beating their biggest bogey team Everton in the process, and alsoA�at the number and variety of goals scored. It is quiteA�something when you stop caring whether your top scorer for the previous two seasons leaves or not. The squad now has strength in depthA�in virtually all areas. BUT a�� they lack experience collectively.

The European games show that experience is invaluable, and if it comes to the crunch, United have been there and done it many times. But that said, for the first time in my lifetime, a league title challenge seems likely. As for what constitutesA�a successful season a�� 2nd would hardly be a disaster a�� winning another trophy (of any kind) would to me still be a success. I am not expecting City to a�?terrorizea�? Europe, but getting to the quarter-finals would, to me, be a good debutA�in the competition. The press areA�loving bigging up Manchester at the moment as the footballing capital of England, but let’s not discount Chelsea from the title race – they will be there or thereabouts.

NM:A�Mark Hughes, I believe got a raw deal from the Sheikhs, however they seem to beA�rather patient with Mancini at the helm and rightly so. Initially though, there were a few murmurs and at times discontent in City circles over the Italiana��s cautious approach, how comfortable are you with Mancinia��s management, he seems to be shedding the inhibitions and playing attractive football of late. Is he the right man in your eyes and that too for the long haul?

HH:A�Mark Hughesa�� dismissal brought mixed reactions. Few City fans thought he was doing a great job, many pathetically would never accept him because of his Manchester United connections, but a general consensus is that he should have been given until the end of the season to prove himself. Either way, it was the ownersa�� decision, and bringing in their own man is hardly surprising a�� with the money they have invested, they deserved our trust. Mancini too has taken time to win over fans, but win them over he most certainly has. It helps to win the first trophy in a generation ofA�course, however much has been invested. There was great skepticism at first over whether his tactics were too a�?Italiana�? a�� the stereotypical defensive formation and a�?parking of the busa�? in big games bringing much criticism.

But slowly he has added to a new-found defensive stability with sublime attacking prowess and a wealth of options across the pitch. What has impressed almost as much as anything, and even a United fan has said this to me, is how he is his own man, and has enforced some discipline on the team (much needed), and made perfectly aware to the owners too who is in charge.A�All that apart, he had to stay a�� there is no justification for him not to, and rumours of a new contract are to be welcomed. More than anything else. City should have learnt one lesson from their chaotic last 30 years a�� successful clubs need stability, and sacking managers every year tends not to work. Discipline and stability seemed to have worked for your lot!

Mancini- right man for the job!

NM:A�The summer acquisitions of Sergio AgueroA�and SamirA�NasriA�have further enhanced Citya��s attacking options. Add to that, the presence ofA�the Spanish magician a��David Silva (probably the best midfielder in the league) and the rejuvenated Edin Dzeko, you lot have an awe-inspiring front four. Leta��s compare and contrast that with the front four at Fergusona��s disposal – Nani, Rooney, Chicharito and Young, which of the two do you think would frighten a defense more? Blue tinted glasses off please!

HH:A�My honest answer is that they would both frighten opposition defences a�� a lot! The premiership league table shows that both teams are scoring for fun. After a drop in form, it is BalotelliA�that gets the nod over DzekoA�at the moment, and it is time for Mario to beA�taken seriously, especially with four goals in his last four games. The two attacks are different, Uniteda��s relying more on pace and width, and pace frightens defences more than anything else. City relyA�more on play-makers, and an Arsenal-like penchant for trying to score great goals sometimes a�� but with the players at their disposal, why not?! I really cana��t say which attack I would prefer a�� they are too close to call, though I wouldna��t swap Aguero or Silva for any other premiership player.

NM:A�Now the question which I am pretty sure you would have expected, but as predictable as it may sound, one that needed to beA�asked. Carlos Tevez a�?The incredible Sulka�� is at it again, but this time the Argentine possibly reached a new low even by his pretty shoddy standards. Whata��s your stand on this whole fiasco, surely he has burnt all his bridges at City or is he still a�?Welcome to Manchestera�??

HH:A�Historically, Tevez has always had the support of most City fans, as despite his many disputes off the pitch, he always gave 100% on it, and thata��s all you can ask for. But not any more a�� in Munich he crossed a line (or more to the point, refused to), and there are very few City fans that ever want to see him in a City shirt again (which is pretty unlikely anyway). Despite his protests, most City fans believe that he did refuse to play, thus destroying Mancinia��s game plan, bringing more unwanted headlines on the club, and making a mockery of the huge wages paid to him for his services. There can surely be no going back now a�� the best outcome now is that he is heavily fined, banished to the reserves, and that City find a willing buyer in January. The sooner he is gone from the club, the better.

I had to laugh though at United fansa�� repeated claims that they and Ferguson never wanted TevezA�anyway, and they have been provedA�right. The fans were singing for FergieA�to sign him up during his last home game at United, and the United website shows an article where United say they offered him a 5 year deal and the highest wages at the club, which he rejected. But we knew what we were getting with TevezA�a�� he was never going to beA�a club legend or stay here for 10 years, but he performed brilliantly for 2 years and helped take the club onto a new level.

NM:A�Now on to the match this weekend, how do you envisageA�Man City lining up at Old Trafford? One cana��t possibly overlook the massive game midweek against Villarreal, which as it stands seems like a must win for you guys. As far as individuals go, David Silva represents the most obvious danger from Uniteda��s point of view but who do City fans consider the most potent threat?

A�HH:A�I expect a similar formation to previous games a�� a 4-2-3-1. But the line-up is not easy to predict. At the back expect Hart to start behind Lescott, Kompany, Clichy and Richards, fitness permitting. I suspect DzekoA�may drop to the bench and BalotelliA�will start, with Aguero, Silva and either Barry, Milner or NasriA�behind, with Yaya Toure and De Jong anchoring the midfield. Barry and Milner both have strong claims for a starting place in my opinion.

As for the obvious threat from United a�� there isna��t one. The threat could come from Rooney, Nani or Hernandez, all of whom have scored against City in recent seasons. I think the skills are spreadA�across both teams, which makes for an intriguing fixture a�� I just hope that City are aggressive and attacking, rather thanA�playing conservatively. Attacking United is the best way to beat them, rather thanA�hoping for a break. Uniteda��s defence has looked at porous at times this season, with De GeaA�having to make more saves than any other Premiership goalie a�� City should be looking to exploit this. Either way, the nerves are settling in already, it will be a tense 90 minutes!

Here’s to a great game on Sunday!

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