Some Games Are Bigger Than Others: will the Manchester derby produce a match worthy of its billing or a safety first non-spectacle?

The stage is set, the previews are written and the weekend draws near. Sunday promises much with the season’s first proper instalment of the ‘Mancunian Classico’, but a question lingers over whether it can possibly deliver the game our exaggerated expectations demand. Compared to the fearsome sprint starts made by both City and United in the season’s opening weeks, the two teams have lost some of their early momentum and focus in recent games and for differing reasons.

A moment of brilliance could be all it takes to claim all three points this Sunday

There’s a sense over at the Etihad that, regardless of their current position at the top of the Premier League, Mancini isn’t entirely in control of his own players. The actions of Carlos Tevez, the self-perpetuating pantomime, may not be a valid stick with which to beat the Italian manager with, but Edin Dzeko’s recent regression and a reliance on individual genius to cover their still brittle, fair weather group harmony raises questions over his regime.

It won’t be until the middle of December that City find themselves in amongst a heavy patch of fixtures against the other ‘big sides’ in the league, but Sunday offers us a 90 minute preview to see just how much of a team they have become. Mancini may set the match day formation and pick the team, but on their good days, City have looked like a squad able to manage itself, solving their creative problems on the pitch between themselves.

They are, as the modern cliché goes, a team of ‘big personalities’, most of whom have arrived for reasons other than the culture, ethos or history of the club. One wonders whether their collective mask will slip once again, as it did in Munich, when the going gets a bit tough. When City slip into crisis mode, Mancini looks like a manager clawing at his authority on a knife-edge as the collective disintegrates into dissenting individuals. This weekend’s derby gives him and his team, the perfect opportunity to show their true mettle and unity in their first big domestic test of the year at Old Trafford.

Dissent never seems too far from the surface at Manchester City

The origins of United’s dipping form linger in other sources. Injuries have blunted Sir Alex’s side’s early season potency and stability at the back, rattling the red’s infamously solid defences. Without a consistent back-line, not one defensive selection has remained intact throughout successive matches so far this season, it’s been a case of reshuffles at every turn. For a unit that relies on the familiarity and coherency of its personnel to degree of a team’s defence, this lack of regularity has seen United concede 111 shots in seven games. Considering United have only conceded six goals in that time is testament to the determination and talent of the make-shift back-lines who have picked up the slack in the meantime.

With his goal seemingly under siege, David De Gea has taken the opportunity to finally dispel the bafflingly absurd preconceptions that were pinned against him on arrival in England (he’ll probably always be labelled as the ‘dodgy doughnut dropper’ by the idiot mob). In fact, he has made the most saves of any keeper in the league thus far with 36 stops at a save success rate of 85.71%, another league-high stat. With his seemingly unflappable and calm demeanour, and an impressive away performance at Anfield under his belt, United are in safe hands come derby day. The kids alright!

Shaky rearguard foundations have not been helped by the injured absence of Tom Cleverley in midfield. His energy, tenacity and drive has been sorely missed during this lay off. United’s other midpark dynamo, Anderson, who has almost looked like a match winner when playing alongside Cleverley, looks inconsistent once more without the emerging Englishman by his side. With his match fitness far from guaranteed for Sunday, Ferguson may have to opt for a more conservative midfield in an attempt to combat the indomitable Yaya Toure and co. This could mean packing the centre with Carrick and Fletcher alongside either Giggs or Anderson, and therefore prompting a 4-5-1 line-up at home. Not the sort of tactics United fans, hungry for bragging rights over the blues, will be wanting. As it stands however, City hold the advantage in the middle of the park.

Yaya Toure is the complete box-to-box midfielder, and a dangerous central threat to the reds.

The wide match up out wide is a different story however. With Nani, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, United have perhaps the strongest line-up of wingers in the league, with Rooney able to drop back and metamorphosis the front-line and attacking channels at will. In comparison, City’s wing threats lack width, with their attackers preferring to cut and drift inside. United’s wide-men will look to stretch and tear their opponents with real pace and width, contorting City’s shape to create the space for those deadly, incisive runs; a hallmark of Fergie’s current crop when they’re on form.

Looking to the ‘goals for’ column of the league table and you would hope the statistical omens bode well for an end-to-end feast of frantic, attacking football. Much depends on the commitment of both managers to go for all three points however. United look rather weak at the moment, especially after their recent run of draws and unconvincing wins, and City might look to their future clog of big games and see now as the perfect opportunity to bank some early points against their main rivals.

On the other hand, United have been building towards this game for some time. Fergie’s usual press room tactics of dismissal and downplay are as transparent as they are predictable, and this is the biggest game of United’s season so far. Sir Alex’s recent line-ups against Liverpool, Otelul and Norwich suggest he’s played a long game of preparation and planning in readiness for Sunday’s encounter. Caution is likely temper his approach.

Ferguson made a point of exaggerating the strategic importance of Liverpool in the title race in an attempt to rattle City.

If Mancini and City go for it though, as Chelsea did, they will be the greatest defensive test United have had to face this season, especially now that Aguero looks fit enough to play a part. As in any tight, high pressure ‘big game’, it could all come down to individual brilliance or incompetence. Aguero is a big man player, and an upgrade on Tevez, who often sucked up far too much of City’s play, regardless of his well-constructed ‘team player’ mystique. Mancini’s men are a far more dangerous and multi-faceted outfit now that their attacking play has been spread out across the team.

Rooney is undoubtedly United’s ‘main man’, but his team’s true unpredictable match winner is the Portuguese, Nani. His penetrating dribbles, quick shooting and sheer arrogance will provide United with some powerful inroads to City’s defensive lines, hopefully creating panic and disarray in his wake. A mention should also be given to the potential striking partners of both teams. The likes of Hernandez, Balotelli, Dzeko, Welbeck and Berbatov are all potential game changers capable of offering left-field alternatives to either team’s plan A.

Sunday could be the defining point of either side’s early campaigns, with both clubs entering the clash unbeaten in the league. Whilst Mancini has the weapons to hurt United, going for broke would risk the safety of a draw at Old Trafford, a place that so often inspires Rooney and co. into their full effect pomp.

The early season bragging rights are up for grabs. Can United drown out their noisiest of neighbours?

Regardless of tactics, formations or form, the fans from both sides of Manchester will want their teams to fly through each other with all guns blazing. The football needs to be played at its loudest, fullest volume to drown out the noisy neighbours and deafen the pompous red sods over the road, respectively. Who dares wins.


13 thoughts on “Some Games Are Bigger Than Others: will the Manchester derby produce a match worthy of its billing or a safety first non-spectacle?

  1. another great read :). however, I reckon this game will either be a high-scoring draw (3-3) or both sides defending for a low, but very interesting, draw (1-1). We never know though, there could be a 96th minute goal again for either side.

    • It could well come down to the super subs. Hernandez is always a late game option and Baltotelli, whilst unlikely the start, would be interesting shock trooper off the bench.

      We can only hope both sides go for the win ala Chelsea at Old Trafford rather than being submitted to the dross that was City vs. United at the COMS last year.

  2. Awesome read mr. Johnson. I hope it’s a fearce match but something tells me in my mind it could be a stale one when two top teams go head to head, my prediction it could be 1-0 or 1-1 ether side. Maybe 2-1.. Basically don’t put money in what I’m saying. I don’t know. Ether way it’s going to be worth a watch!

    • Thank you very much for the commet!

      You could be right about the ultimate score line but I’m hoping we see some good football played out regardless of the end result. Double figure goals don’t guarentee a good contest after all!

  3. If Mancini plays it stale, could be 1-0 either way. If both teams go for it I think United will win. Rooney will produce the goods again. Nani is in great form as well and Young has really impressed at Old Trafford so far this season.

  4. I’m struggling to recall the last good Rooney performance vs City, actually. Possibly the 08/09 carling cup second leg?
    Obviously he didn’t need to have a good game to settle last February’s though (the build up to his shinner was actually a horrible miscontrol, bobbling away from the defence).
    Hopefully his recent personal issues will affect him in the same way cheating on his pregnant wife did, a run of form such as that would be much appreciated.
    3000 Shrek masks in the away end should help encourage a moment of England duty-esque stupidity 🙂

    Super Mario’s going to start btw, BELIEVE.

    • Rooney is at something of a pitvotal moment form wise, its true. He hasn’t looked completely sharp since mid-way in the second half against Chelsea. His father and uncle’s dodgy gambling hasn’t helped him i’m sure, and he’s only got himself to blame for what happened for England.

      He’s a player that can either wallow in self-pity or bounce back with avengence. With Tom Cleverley now looking likely to start though, there’ll a rocket load of energy bursting up out of the midfield which should hopefully snap him into action. I think Rooney appreciates someone else taking on the responsibilites of the team’s firestarter when he’s going through a rough period. With Nani and Cleverley, he’ll have all the help he needs!

      • It’s actually crazy how different your midfield looks without Cleverley. For such a young player to make that much of an impact, it’s reminiscent of Wilshere’s breakthrough at Arsenal. I’d much rather Giggs played!

        I’m hoping that Ferguson decides to play it safer like he did against Liverpool and have Park in for Nani, I highly doubt he will though.

        The real interesting choice will be your back four.

      • if they’re match sharp, it has to be Vida and Rio in the middle. Evra and Smalling would be my choices for left and right backs respectively. Jones can be too much of a loose cannon at times to start but would make for interesting tactical sub in the second half.

  5. I think the result will be decided in the changing rooms before kick off. I hope I am wrong but I gotta feeling that both teams will be playing not to lose. With both sides having issues off the pitch, United injuries and solidarity in the middle of the park. City with the ego’s and the disruption the Tevez saga has caused, leads me to believe at this stage of the season a point would be greatly received by both parties. If Mancini decides to go for it, i strongly believe they will win, but in my opinion this game will be irrelevant come the return fixture later on in the season. City might win this battle but they sure as hell wont win this war. Spirit in the camp is surviving solely on there winning ways, but I cant see City coping when things start going against them, lets face it every team in the league will have a rough patch. On the other hand Uniteds spirit is uncompromised whatever the situation. I think this will be the difference come the end of the season. Man City as a squad seem on edge, and that spirit could break sooner rather than later if United can pull one out the hat come Sunday.

    • With both squads having looked a bit nervy and on edge at different points over the last month, Sunday could be not only the perfect opportunity for an early season advantage at the top of the of the table, but also a chance to fortify team spirt and hurt the heads of either side’s major rival for the league this year.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s