Old Trafford, Manchester
19:00 Hrs GMT, 8th April 2013
The title may realistically be no longer up for grabs, but Monday night’s Manchester derby is still one of the most anticipated clashes of the season. Manchester United’s commanding 15 point gap means even a victory for Manchester City will probably not be good enough for them to retain the Premier League title that was won so dramatically last season. Instead, it is all about bragging rights this time around. Can United do the league double over City and stamp their absolute supremacy on this season’s title race? Or can City defeat the champions-elect at their own backyard to give themselves a much needed shot in the arm for next season’s campaign?
Exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Chelsea has left Manchester United with only the league to concentrate on. With no midweek matches in Europe, Sir Alex Ferguson can afford to pick his strongest team for each of the eight remaining games in the Premier League as United eye a record point haul. 19 points out of the available 24 will ensure United surpass the 95 points amassed by Chelsea in 2004-05, while 8 wins out of 8 will take them past the 100 points mark. That, if achieved, will be some feat indeed.
Their rivals from across the town have had an indifferent season and have been left trailing in the league in the wake of the United juggernaut. City manager Roberto Mancini insists that United’s 15 point lead is not a fair reflection of the gap between the two teams and Monday provides the ideal opportunity for the City players to prove their manager right. Last season City demolished United 6-1 at Old Trafford and while a repeat of that scoreline is too fanciful to wish for, the men in sky blue will hope that the traumatic experience of that day plays in the back of the hosts’ minds.
Team News & Tactical Brief
After a hectic Easter weekend featuring two matches in three days, United would be happy with a weeklong rest before this massive fixture. Sir Alex revealed on Thursday that both Wayne Rooney and Rafael had resumed training and should feature against City on Monday. There is less clarity on the fitness of skipper Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans with both defenders scheduled to take part in training over the weekend. Sir Alex was quick to dispel rumours regarding plans to rest Robin van Persie, who has looked jaded in recent weeks, and backed his top striker to start scoring soon again. It will be interesting to see whether a fit again Paul Scholes play any part in this fixture.
Goalkeeper David De Gea must have harrowing memories of conceding six times against City last season and will be determined to put up a much improved display this time around. With six consecutive clean sheets in the Premier League, the young Spaniard should certainly not be lacking in confidence. In defense, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Rafael are certainties to start. Sir Alex will be hoping at least one of Vidic and Evans would be fit enough to partner Ferdinand.
The big dilemma for Sir Alex in the midfield will be to decide on the partner for Michael Carrick in the centre. Tom Cleverley is the more offensive option who can provide the thrust from the midfield to join in the attacks while Phil Jones, whom the manager lavishly praised this week, can be deployed in a spoiler role to nullify the playmakers in the City team. Antonio Valencia is a prime candidate for one of the wide roles because of his defensive abilities, while it will be one of Nani, Ashley Young or Shinji Kagawa on the opposite flank. Up front it will be the pair of Rooney and van Persie — both of whom scored in the return fixture at Etihad Stadium earlier this season — looking to terrorize the City defenders.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-2): De Gea; Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Cleverley, Nani; Rooney, van Persie
Roberto Mancini has no fresh injury worries ahead of this fixture with almost all his first choice players available for selection. The manager was annoyed at his captain Kompany’s participation in a World Cup qualifier, but since then the Belgian international came through the match against Newcastle to ease concerns regarding his fitness. Sergio Agüero returned to action in the same match and could be in line for a starting role on Monday night. Jack Rodwell, Micah Richards and Maicon are the only players to remain on the sidelines.
Joe Hart, whose form has been criticized by both the press and his manager this season, will be hoping to put in a commanding display in the goal. Kompany’s return is a huge boost to the City team and while the skipper may yet not be fully match fit, his leadership and organizational abilities will be called upon in such a crunch clash. Matija Nastasic, the young Serbian centre-half, has been one of the brighter sparks of City’s season, but this certainly will be his biggest test yet. Pablo Zabaleta will start as right back while Gaël Clichy might be given the nod over Aleksandar Kolarov at left back.
As in most big games this season, Mancini is likely to opt for extra defensive cover in the midfield in the form of Gareth Barry and Javi García. Yaya Touré will take up a more advanced position alongside David Silva and Carlos Tévez. Samir Nasri, who was impressive last weekend, and the industrious James Milner are two other options available to Mancini for deploying in the line behind the lone striker. A match fit Agüero is the obvious choice for leading the line or else City’s leading scorer this season Edin Džeko will deputize.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy; Barry, García; Silva, Touré, Tévez; Agüero
- With their victory at Sunderland last weekend, Manchester United became the first team in the English top division to win 25 matches out of the first 30 in a season.
- Robin van Persie has now gone 9 games without finding the back of the net in all competitions.
- United have failed to keep a clean sheet in the last 7 derbies in all competition.
- If City win on Monday, they will become the first team since Bolton in 2002 to achieve consecutive league victories at Old Trafford.
Players To Watch
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
The Manchester derby is one fixture which always seem to light the fire in the belly of United’s no. 10 and Rooney will be hoping that his catalogue of great derby moments will have new entries come Monday night. The England international is the joint top-scorer in the history of the Manchester derby alongside John Haynes and Francis Lee with 10 goals each. Will Monday be the night on which he makes the top position his very own?
Yaya Touré (Manchester City)
After a protracted saga, Touré finally put pen to paper on a new 4 year deal with City this week and there could be no better way to celebrate the new contract than to lead his team to a victory against their fiercest rivals. Touré would be well aware of the supposed frailties in United’s midfield and if anyone in the City team can take the game by the scruff of its neck, it has to be the towering Ivory Coast international.
Manchester United 1-1 Manchester City
With this being a game either team would loathe losing, a draw is very much on the cards.
Blast From The Past