This Is The One – Lining up for the Manchester Derby

Mind games, tactical decision and selection headaches - a duel between two title chasing managers

With Sunday’s derby fast approaching, questions abound over who will start, how they’ll play and what desires inform the tactical approach from the manager’s dugout. Dan and Greg look at how their respective teams may line-up on derby day. 

How City could line up

Formation

4-2-4 has to go. Displaying a variation of the en vogue 4-2-3-1, City have cut numerous teams asunder this season, but against the elite teams it has proved ineffective. In the champions league for example, Napoli’s efficient counter-attacking, and the polished class of Bayern Munich highlighted the potential pitfalls of Mancini’s new found gung-ho attitude.

Goalkeeper: Hart

England and Manchester City number one.

Defense: Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy

Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott are certain to start.  Following Kolo Toure’s eight month suspension, Lescott has firmly established himself in the team.

Mancini has taken to rotating the full-backs in pairs this season.  With Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov starting Tuesday’s Champions League game, it is very likely that Micah Richards and Gael Clichy will return.  With the lack of natural width from the attackers, the full-backs have extra emphasis to push on, meaning that introducing fresh legs will be vital this season.

de Jong has been largely absent since picking up an injury on the opening weekend of the season.

Defensive midfield: de Jong, Barry

Although many would like to see Owen Hargreaves at Old Trafford, he is far more likely to start at Molineux midweek in the Carling Cup.

Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry are an established partnership and will be vital to winning the battle in the middle of the park.

Wingers and attacking midfielders: Silva, Yaya, Milner

David Silva often starts on the right side of the advanced three, but when attacking it essentially becomes a free-role.  United will have their hands full trying to accomplish what many fail to do – stifle the Barclays Player Of The Month for September.

Yaya Toure is likely to return to the position he famously performed in last season’s FA Cup semi final versus Manchester United.

James Milner has pushed himself into contention with a series of impressive performances in the past month.  His tenacious work rate, combined with the calmness demonstrated in his match-winning pass versus Villarreal, makes him an ideal candidate to withstand the pressure of Old Trafford.  Samir Nasri undoubtedly provides flair and guile, but he has not entirely imposed his authority onto a full 90 minutes since his debut game at White Hart Lane.

Striker: Balotelli

The hardest position to predict this week is the lead striker.  Mario Balotelli has shown maturity to his game which many critics did not think he was capable of; notably performing admirably in last season’s FA Cup semi and final – including an off the ball incident with Robert Huth, in which the young Italian suffered a strong elbow to the face, an assault which bizarrely went unpunished post-match.  Four goals in four games this term has seen Balotelli in sparkling form.

As previously mentioned, Edin Dzeko is most effective when played with a strike partner, so is unlikely to start in this formation.

Sergio Aguero will be pushing hard for a position in the starting line up, with his return to action signified with a winning goal 10 seconds from time in Tuesday’s Champions League tie.

City fans will hope Super Mario can make an impact against the reds.

United’s potential Sunday selection

Formation

With Tom Cleverley looking likely to start now that Ryan Giggs has been laid off with unjury, Manchester United may be tempted to go for the win. If Fergie opts for a more cautious approach however, we could see a Rooney headed 4-5-1 packed out with Carrick, Fletcher and Anderson in the middle.

Goalkeeper: David De Gea

The young Spaniard has gone from strength to strength since his summer transfer from Atletico Madrid, and after last weekend’s solid showing at Anfield, De Gea looks perfectly placed to tend the goal on Sunday. His initiative in getting the ball back into play for his team is a major weapon for United, who will look to catch their rivals on the back foot with quick recycling of possession from the back.

Is United's Serbian captain at risk of seeing red twice in quick succession in a tense Manchester derby?

Defense: Evra, Vidic, Rio, Smalling

If fit and sharp, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand must start. Evans, Jones and Smalling have been exceptional understudies, but the two senior centre backs are an awesome duo when on form and individually a class above almost ever defender in the English game.

The return of Vidic’s dominating presence to the Premier League will be vital against the likes of Dzeko and Yaya Toure, who will look to charge down United’s back-line with his impressive combination of strength and skill. In comparison to the Serbian juggernaut, Ferdinand is an elegant dueller; clean in the tackle and far-sighted in his reading of the game. He’s lost some of his pace over the last 12 months though and, when combined with his recent rustiness and lack of match practise, Sir Alex may turn instead to Jonny Evans as a solid deputy for Rio.

On the defensive flanks, Evra is two years on from his best form but showing signs of improvement. Playing Smalling on the right would hopefully balance out the Frenchman’s positional inconsistencies and provide cover for his central defenders, who may need to drift over to cover his flank. Phil Jones, whilst impressive in his forward play, is too reckless to start, but would be an interesting tactical sub on the bench.

Manchester United's midfield looks far from frail when Tom Cleverley's on parade.

Central midfield: Anderson, Cleverley

Cleverley’s energy, work rate and awareness make him the perfect foil for Anderson in the middle. In covering the Brazilian’s surging runs and closing down the opposition he is something of a catalyst for United, whose early season eloquence benefitted immensely from the Englishman’s precise passing and link up play. Cleverley could be the key to reigniting United’s potency in attack and a marshall of discipline and duty when defending from the front.

Wingers and attacking midfielders: Young, Rooney, Nani

With Rooney free to marauder between the lines as an anarchic playmaker, Young and Nani provide the defence splitting width and tactical flexibility to swap in and out of position at will. Rooney can also drop deeper to support and play off his midfielders as required; a useful option against a team able to complement their magicians with more functional assistants such as with Silva and Milner respectively.

Nani is now a consistently productive outlet for United’s offense, able to win matches with moments of pure genius and skill, and his ability to hurt teams from every angle creates space and opportunity for his fellow reds as marking defenders double up on the winger. Ashley Young, with his smart, all-rounder abilities, completes the triumvirate. Together, and on form, they are a modular, fluid unit capable of adapting and improvising as the game dictates. With Tom Cleverley maintaining the supply lines to their lines, this is an area capable of producing the magic to win the game for United.

Welbeck is currently the man of the moment at Old Trafford, but does Hernandez offer a more direct goal threat against City?

Striker: Danny Welbeck

Welbeck is the in-form striker at Old Trafford, currently enjoying starting preference above Hernandez, Berbatov and Owen. Strong both in the air and on the ball Danny is the perfect player to hold the ball up leading the line against City; his flick ons and knock downs bringing in runners from deep. With Vincent Kompany marshalling the laser blue back line however, Welbeck may find his chances to punish the City goal limited.

It is possible that with the natural chemistry enjoyed between Hernandez and Rooney that Sir Alex could prefer to go with the lethal little Mexican from the off. Against such a dangerous and solid City side, their more familiar partnership could be attractive to Ferguson. Having a wondersub late-game option on the bench should never be underestimated however, especially at Manchester United.

Sir Alex Ferguson has always been a manager able to shock and suprise with his teamsheets, and suggestions of Berbatov holding down the frontline should never be dismissed too harshly. With his consumate technical abilities and composed creativity, he could be a rather left-field choice, able to fortify United’s ball retention in attack, besieges by an aggressive and motivated City side determined not to give their rivals a sniff.

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