Manchester City and Manchester United prepare to face off in the first Manchester derby this season and we have two rival fans engaging in pre match banter ahead of the big match!
The clubs who have shared the last two league titles prepare to face off in what promises to be an electric derby day. Both have new managers at the helm and both have had similar starts to the season. The winner of this match will look forward to the rest of the season with renewed hope while the loser might potentially find itself 6 points behind in the title race already.
On the eve of this match, TheHardTackle presents to you its Rival Rendezvous series. In this edition, we have resident author Rishi Jain (RJ hereafter), a die-hard United fan, and guest Howard Hockin (HH hereafter), a passionate City fan, going head to head in a verbal battle that has the potential to get really heated up. As City play at home this Sunday we have Howard taking the strike first.
RJ: Manuel Pellegrini was brought in as manager so that City could play an attacking brand of football, but with dour performances against Cardiff and Stoke has he been successful in remoulding the side?
HH: To be honest I don’t think he was brought in to specifically play more attacking football. He may have professed a desire to play that brand of football in the odd press conference, but I wouldn’t say that was why he was appointed. More important is his impressive record in the Champions League whilst managing in La Liga and also because he fits the owners’ more “holistic” aims for the club, his personality and man-management skills the complete antithesis to Roberto Mancini’s combative style, a style built on conflict and fall-outs. As for the underwhelming start, I would hope he is given more time to impose his methods and ideology on the team, and the result at Viktoria Plzen during the week showed more encouraging signs. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and City fans must remain patient.
RJ: Do you think that City made a mistake in letting Gareth Barry leave for Everton given his immense contribution against Chelsea last weekend?
HH: Yes, and no. My heart says yes, and as a football fan it is sad to see him go. He was the most underrated player in the City squad, he was a vital cog in linking defence with midfield and allowed the more skilful attacking players the freedom to do their job. Jack Rodwell and Fernandinho have the ability to plug this gap, but they are not there yet, and Barry could have still done a job this season, even as he enters the twilight of his career.
But I’m not sure this was done for footballing reasons. Barry earned over £5m a year in wages, more than Negredo, Navas or Jovetic, and in the era of financial fair play and the need to break even, you can see the logic in releasing a player who would have cost the club so much money over the next year whilst mainly sitting on the bench. From that perspective, it makes sense, and is all part of the process of getting all the big earners off City’s wage bill.
RJ: City were comfortably beaten to the title by United last season so what do you think they will need to do to make up ground this time around?
HH: It’s simply a case of consistency. To win a Premier League title, you have to accrue a huge amount of points, and there is little room for error. With added competition this season from the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs the bar may be lowered this time round, but every defeat can still be costly. City’s home record has been pretty consistent for a couple of seasons now, their defence the tightest in the league for three years, so they have to score more goals than last season and pick up points regularly away from home. The Cardiff and Stoke games were not a good start.
RJ: What do you think is a realistic target for City in Europe this season given that they have never made it past the group stages before?
HH: The first target is of course to get out of the group and qualify for the knock-out stage. Given that Bayern Munich are in City’s group then this might mean finishing second in the league stage and having to play a group winner thereafter, so it’s hard to say what is success after that. City should be able to compete against any team they play, so for me reaching the quarter-finals would be a moderate success.
RJ: If City were to lose Vincent Kompany would they still be able to challenge for the title given that they look so frail defensively in his absence?
HH: It would certainly diminish their chances. City’s defence may have already kept 4 clean sheets this season, but they looked shaky during Kompany’s absence, and the change in the team on his return to the team this week was immediately noticeable. It’s not just about his defending, but the effect it has on the whole team and the leadership he brings. You can see why Pellegrini wanted to sign Pepe in the summer, as he would have brought similar qualities to the team, and a wealth of experience, and only time will tell if Martin Demichelis can fulfil this role when he is fit. I think it’s fair to say though that any prolonged absence for Kompany would hit the team hard.
RJ: What can City fans expect from Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo this season?
HH: It’s been one of my biggest early-season regrets that we haven’t seen more of Stevan Jovetic yet, with apparent fitness and injury worries in recent weeks. As for what he brings to the team, he is a young, exciting, skilful attacking player who can play on the left or as a second striker, another player comfortable on the ball, flexible, who can link up play, cut in from wide and pitch in with a few goals too. I think therefore his role in the team will be predominantly left-sided, cutting in and drifting centrally as many of City’s players tend to do. He should provide more width but without performing as a winger. As for Negredo, he is here to score goals, and is already well on his way despite limited playing time. He is strong, powerful, can hold-up the ball and link play and will miss chances but also score plenty. Most similar to Edin Dzeko, I would love to see more of him on the pitch, along with Jovetic.
RJ: If you could pick out one United player to play for City this weekend who would it be and why?
HH: The answer would have to lie up-front. Robin Van Persie is an obvious choice. Here is a player that would walk into any team, and part of Mancini’s downfall was his inability to get his transfer targets in the summer of 2012, Van Persie being one of them. It didn’t seem that City needed him, but his influence on a team is obvious, his clinical finishing something City lacked last season. Like Ozil at Arsenal, irrelevant of need, if a player like that becomes available, you buy him. But for tomorrow, I would choose Wayne Rooney because he is a player who performs in spurts, and is currently returning to his best and more importantly, he always seems to play well against City, so he’d weaken United at the same time.
It is now time for Rishi to face the music.
HH: The initial appointment of David Moyes seemed to be rather underwhelming for many United fans – would you agree with this, and has he won many United fans over since then?
RJ: Sixty percent of the core United fans would have been happy when David Moyes was appointed this May, as he represented the same set of values that Sir Alex Ferguson stood for. So, in a way there was a sense of continuity, similar to what Liverpool had when Bob Paisley took over from Bill Shankly. His handling of the Wayne Rooney situation has also been almost close to perfect apart from that ‘backup to Van Persie’ comment. So all in all he has done a steady job till now. I bet that most United fans would have been satisfied with the club’s start to this season if Sir Alex would have still been in charge.
As for the forty percent of the fans who would have found the appointment a little strange given Moyes’ lack of a European pedigree and his failure to win a trophy with Everton, they would still be unconvinced. They would only be convinced once he wins a few Premier League titles and takes this team to the latter stages of the European Cup.
For me personally, Moyes’ biggest challenge is not taking over from Sir Alex, but will be when he has to build his own team a few years from now, when he will have to replace Rio, Vidic and Carrick.
HH: Do you not find it hard to support Wayne Rooney after his repeated run-ins with the club and apparent desire to leave in the summer?
RJ: Modern fans have to get used to the fact that the players they support today might not be at the club tomorrow. Most United fans would have prepared themselves mentally for Rooney’s exit and would have been hoping that if he does leave it would be for a club abroad rather than to London. I guess that the whole Rooney situation will only have one outcome which is that once he stops playing he will be respected at Old Trafford rather than revered.
HH: What on earth went wrong during the summer transfer window? United seemed to be linked with and bidding for every midfielder in the world – should they have done better?
RJ: Yes, they should have done better. A club of United’s stature cannot look and act the way it did during this transfer window. If we proceed chronologically, the Thiago Alcantara deal was off the moment Pep Guardiola entered the scene with Bayern. United should also have realized that after selling Thiago, Barcelona would never part ways with Cesc Fabregas in the same transfer window. As for United’s protracted dealing with Everton regarding the sale of Fellaini, David Moyes really put it well a couple of weeks ago when he said that he always wanted Fellaini and Baines rather than just the former. He waited for so long only because he felt that United could have the duo.
With regards to the deadline day deals involving Andre Herrera and Fabio Coentrao, the less said the better. Ed Woodward and the other executives central to the transfers should realize that United should never been made a laughing stock again.
HH: The bookmakers make United the outsiders for the title compared to City and Chelsea? Are United being underrated again? Do you think they can retain the title?
RJ: Are United being underrated again – Yes. Can United retain the title – Yes. United were outsiders in 2005 when they sold Van Nistelrooy, and in 2010 when people said that they hadn’t replaced Ronaldo and in 2012 when City were talked about as the new force in English football. In all those seasons United won the Premier League title with last season being the most convincing.
If Sir Alex Ferguson would still have been in charge we would not be having this conversation but with a new manager at the helm there are bound to be a few problems. But I firmly believe that with the squad United possesses they will not only challenge for the title but will win it as well.
HH: Wayne Rooney has stated this week that he still sees Liverpool as United’s biggest opponents? Do you agree?
RJ: I do not believe it one little bit, no matter how many United players come out and say that they view Liverpool as a bigger matchup as compared to City. I would just plainly put all of this as pre match banter. I think that United are beginning to realise that City are not just a flash in the pan but are a club that will constantly vie for top honours.
HH: If you could take one City player to play for you tomorrow and beyond, whom would it be?
RJ: Yaya Toure. With United’s problem in the central midfield area he would be the perfect solution. With him in the side United would look scary as the spine of the team would be really strong. According to me he is the best box to box player in the league if not in Europe.
So that brings us to an end to this edition of the Rival Rendezvous but this battle would really commence when the players line up at the Etihad tomorrow.