Wednesday, March 26 19:45 GMT
Old Trafford, Manchester
As the dust settles down on a good rare week for Manchester United, a big battle awaits at Old Trafford when the noisy neighbours come to town. Manchester City find themselves in a title winning position with two months to go, while their historically successful hosts look to have all but given up on hopes for a Champions League qualification spot this season. In many ways this completes the reversal in fortunes for the two clubs. City, even when backed by billions of oil money in 2008, were always on the cusp of qualification for the best prize in Europe while United won the trophy that year. Six years on, the shoe is on the other foot – with United struggling to secure qualification for Europe’s elite tournament and City, assured of qualification, going all out to win the Premier League. We preview the 167th Manchester derby to be held at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
It’s been a good week for David Moyes and his men – something of a rarity these days. After Liverpool hammered them at home, United have bounced back to first overturn a 2-0 deficit in the Champions League round of sixteen tie against Olympiakos to progress to the quarter-finals, and then beat West Ham at Upton Park thanks to a Wayne Rooney double, the second of which will surely go down as one of the best goals scored in the Premier League. Following this result was the news that the highly coveted Porto defensive midfielder William Carvalho has agreed to join United, with a £37million deal to be finalized before Carvalho goes to the World Cup to represent Portugal.
In the wake of such optimism at Old Trafford, there could actually be no better time for United to welcome their cross-town rivals City for the Manchester derby. Perhaps for the first time in a very long time, City go into this tie as the favorites. They are twelve points ahead of United in the league, with two games in hand and look like clear favorites to wrest the Premier League crown back from their neighbors.
United, having known City to be the underdogs in these encounters in the past, know full well that the underdog usually bites the most during derbies. City, even though they were written off in many derbies in the past, managed to beat United, and with the champions going in as underdogs, they must feel the weight of pressure lifted from their shoulders. Moyes’s team not only are underdogs, they are also in fine nick as was seen in the games against Olympiakos and West Ham.
With Robin Van Persie out injured, Wayne Rooney led the line against West Ham and United’s gameplay looked fluid and potent again. Juan Mata was given the number 10 role vacated by Rooney as an aftermath of the domino effect Van Persie’s injury has had on the first team selection. Mata had perhaps his best game in a United shirt, linking up play, creating chances and setting up play from his favored number 10 role. He was in the middle of most United moves at Upton Park and would relish the opportunity to expose the spaces behind Yaya Toure and Fernandinho.
The crucial bit of news for United is the return of captain Nemanja Vidic from suspension. Having missed out against West Ham for his sending off against Liverpool, the skipper’s return will be welcomed by Moyes. Not only will it beef up a defence already without Smalling, Evans and possibly Rio Ferdinand, Vidic’s return to partner Phil Jones will enable Michael Carrick to take his familiar position in midfield from where he can dictate the game and intercept opponent passes. Jones was in terrific form against West Ham, and the partnership between him and Vidic will be the key to keeping Alvaro Negredo’s goal drought just that.
Moyes faces a tough choice on whom to play in midfield alongside Carrick. Fellaini played against West Ham since they had to counter the physical strength of the Hammers, but United may need the experience of Ryan Giggs to unlock the City defence. Giggs was outstanding in the win against Olympiakos, and the 40 year old has suggested he was a little disturbed at getting very little game time under Moyes. A derby win would go a long way to establish Moyes in more favorable light among the fans and he might go for Giggs in this situation given the repercussions of the result of this game.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Jones, Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Giggs, Young, Mata, Januzaj; Rooney
City travel to Old Trafford, knowing that they won their last two outings across town, and feeling pretty confident after their 5-0 thrashing of Fulham at the weekend. Critical to their success is their midfield general Yaya Toure, who seems to have found an extra goal-scoring dimension to his game this season. Toure has racked up 16 goals this season from free kicks and long range strikes. When added to his powerful bursting runs from midfield, Toure becomes the man United must neutralize if they are to win the game.
Manuel Pellegrini may not have had the chance to feature in many Manchester derbies, but he must’ve been told that the underdogs usually excel in this fixture. He would not want to take United lightly and would hope his goalscorer Alvaro Negredo can break his goal drought on Wednesday as he looks to make up ground on Chelsea in the Premier League title race. With the continued absence of Sergio Aguero, Negredo and Edin Dzeko, who might return from illness, must take the goal scoring onus on them.
City must guard against defensive frailties. Vincent Kompany will be back against United, but the inspirational skipper has been known to get sent off in this derby and would need to keep a cool head to lead his team to victory. His defensive partner Martin Demichelis is thw weak link in this partnership and Komapny will have to be at his alert best to keep out the United front line. With the creative and crafty Mata playing the number 10 role for United and the livewire Rooney sa their lone forward, Kompany and Demichelis will have their work cut out. Kompany must ensure his defence does not leave spaces for Rooney and Mata to exploit.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Kolarov; David Silva, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Nasri; Negredo, Dzeko
The Manchester derby, like most derbies, is one where the underdog comes to life. For this reason, we give it to United, who are on a roll following their successes against Olympiakos and West Ham. Without pressure on them, the Manchester derby will be a different experience on the United players and one that they will relish. City on the other hand have weaknesses even though they are title contenders. Sergio Aguero’s absence will hurt them.
Manchester United 2-1 Manchester City
Blast from the Past:
City have overtaken United as the favorites this season. We look at the game that emphasized the beginning of this trend when in 2011, City hammered United for six goals at Old Trafford. Sir Alex Ferguson called it one of his worst days in football.