Etihad Stadium, Manchester
9 December, 13:30 GMT
Manchester United travel to Etihad stadium with a three point advantage in the title race over their arch rivals and hosts Manchester City. While United will be keen to stretch the lead to six points or at least keep it to three come the end of the game, City, on the other hand, will be desperate to pull back their rivals on level terms. Last season, the match between the two teams proved decisive as not only City’s two wins gave them the six points, their demolition af United at Old Trafford proved crucial as well with the title being decided on goal-difference. Hence, both teams will be fighting tooth and nail to get an edge over the other.
Roberto Mancini is under a bit of pressure from the fans and the owners with yet another failure in Europe as City finished the group stage without a win and also failed to qualify for the Europa league. Being eliminated from European competition does give them an advantage in the Premier League race, however, Mancini would have loved to see his team in the knock-out phase of the Champions League. Also, the fact that the Blues have not been able to reproduce last season’s expansive football has been the cause of more pressure for the Italian as the fans have started becoming restless. Well, Mancini could put all the failures of this season behind him if he can manage his team to victory against their arch rivals in front of the home fans.
Manchester United, on the other hand, have been the most entertaining side of the league so far. With 58 goals scored in their 15 matches this season, the Red Devils have been a joy for the neutral. However, while the manager will be pleased about his team’s attacking prowess, he is certainly going mad about the way his team has gone about defending their own 18 yard box. Having conceded first in 15 of the 23 games played, the manager has seen his strikers bale the team out on most of those occasions but even he knows that this cannot continue to happen as there will be times his strikers will have an off day as they did against Norwich. Nonetheless, despite all their troubles, United are still at the top of the table and will be looking to consolidate their advantage on Sunday.
Team News & Tactics
Roberto Mancini has a few injury worries going into the game. Jack Rodwell, Micah Richards and Aleksandar Kolarov are all ruled out for the fixture, but the biggest worry for the manager is the fitness of David Silva. The influential midfielder is struggling with a hamstring injury and will undergo a late fitness test, however, reports suggest that Mancini is prepared to take a risk with the Spaniard for this huge clash. Gael Clichy and James Milner are also having fitness issues but both are likely to be fit and available for the game.
It will be interesting to see the formation used by the manager for this game. Mancini has tinkered with a 3-5-2 formation in a few games this season and it will be interesting to see if he goes for the same option against Manchester United. The setup with three at the back has not paid too much dividends for the Italian so far and with so much at stake in the derby game, he is unlikely to go for it from the start. Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic are likely to be the center-back pairing with Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta playing either side of them.
During the big games in the past, Mancini has opted to play three defensive minded players from the start, but with James Milner struggling to be fit, it might force the manager to be more attacking from the outset. Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure are certain to start in the holding midfielders’ role while David Silva will be playing ahead of the duo as the playmaker. Sergio Aguero and Nasri will be playing either side of Silva while Carlos Tevez is likely to lead the line for the home side.
In terms of tactics, Toure and Barry will be protecting the defence allowing the full backs to press into United’s half. The front four of Silva, Nasri, Aguero and Tevez will form a fluid formation with their constant movement as City will be looking to dominate possession as usual. However, Mancini will be looking to take advantage of United’s shortcomings in set-pieces. The Red Devils have been poor in defending dead ball situations – Reading game being the case in point, and the Blues will be applying pressure on the United defenders on every given opportunity.
The Italian also has an option of changing his tactics as the game goes on. He might resort to a back three with Lescott joining the other center backs. Also, his favourite move when things are not going his way is to push Yaya Toure in attack leaving Gareth Barry to protect the defence. The Ivorian was a major thorn in the flesh of the Red Devils in City’s 1-0 win in April last season and Mancini will be expecting much the same from his dynamic midfielder.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy; Yaya Toure , Barry; Aguero, Silva, Nasri; Tevez
While the defensive crisis for Sir Alex is on the verge of being over, it’s the midfield area that is the cause for trouble for the United manager. Tom Cleverley is the latest to be sidelined as he suffered a calf injury in the midweek Champions League game against Braga. Shinji Kagawa, who was expected to make the bench initially is also ruled out until the next game while wingers Nani and Valencia are still a few weeks away from returning to full fitness. Anderson’s hamstring injury suffered last week will keep him out for sometime as well which is a big blow for the Red Devils given the form shown by the Brazilian in the last few games.
It will be interesting to see the manager’s choice of defenders for this game. Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans had struggled in the first half against Reading last week and it was not until the introduction of Smalling that United started looking comfortable at the back. However, the former Fulham man was brought on in place of Rafael who has been the best defender for United in this season. Therefore, it won’t be a surprise if either Ferdinand or Evans makes way for Smalling in the center of defence.
Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher will be anchoring the midfield but the injuries to the other midfielders have given a selection dilemma for the manager. In the end, it might be Wayne Rooney again whose adaptability will be used by the Scot to full effect as the Englishman could be deployed in the midfield, ahead of Carrick and Fletcher. Ashley Young will be patrolling the left flank while Danny Welbeck could be used on the right. Robin van Persie, as usual, will be leading the line for the away team.
United will be looking to contain City as much as possible and hit them on the break on every opportunity, using the pace of the front four. The Dutch striker will be playing mostly on the shoulder of the last man but there will be flexibility in United’s attack with Welbeck and Rooney capable of taking the position too. However, United’s major source of attack could be set-pieces as well. With all the talk of United not defending properly, they are the leading scorers from corners so far this season.
Defensively, Carrick and Fletcher will be protecting the back four, and are not expected to advance forward very much. The biggest problem for the manager will be the team’s organisation on set-pieces. The likes of van Persie and Welbeck will be expected to do their fair share of work in their own penalty box but given what has been on evidence during this season, United are likely to concede at least one, if not more from dead ball situations.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Smalling, Evra; Carrick, Fletcher; Welbeck, Rooney, Young; van Persie
- Manchester City are unbeaten in their last 21 league games, one away from their all-time top flight record.
- Manchester United have gone 58 league games (84 in all competitions) without a goal-less draw.
- Wayne Rooney has eight goals to his name in the Manchester derbies. Only Sir Bobby Charlton has scored more (9) goals for United against City.
- United’s win against Reading was their seventh come-from-behind win this season which is already the most in a single Premier League season by any team.
Player To Watch Out For
Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)
All eyes will be on him once again as he prepares to face the team that he loved so much not so long ago. One of the fans’ favourite at Old Trafford, Tevez has now become the darling of the masses at the Etihad stadium. Always eager to do well against his former club, the Argentine is expected to be a major threat to the United’s back-line and if the visitors want to take anything out of the game, Carlos Tevez will have to be stopped.
Robin van Persie (Manchester United)
The Dutchman chose to opt for United’s history as opposed to the City’s riches during the summer and it will be the first time he gets the opportunity to prove that his decision was correct. Tipped by most pundits to be the deciding factors of this title race, van Persie has certainly shown why he was in such demand during the summer as he heads the goal-scoring charts in the Premier League. His battle with Kompany could well be the key factor in deciding the outcome of this match.
Manchester City 2-1 Manchester United
It will be a cagey affair as both teams will be opting for a safe approach. United will like to keep their three point gap at the end of the game while the hosts will try their best to not let the gap stretch to six points. However, a goal will set the game on fire and in the end, the home advantage coupled with United’s defensive shortcomings will help Mancini’s men attain a much needed win.