|Dzeko gives City a very early lead|
|City ran out 4-1 winners in September’s reverse fixture|
Sky Sports may have raised a few eyebrows when they pronounced tonight’s Manchester derby as the “Race for the Title”, but regardless of Manchester United’s position in the table, they can still have a say in the destination of the trophy come May.
Tonight’s game is their final chance to do so however, as City are the last team they encounter this season still in the running. Manchester City could afford to lose tonight, as winning the rest of their games would most likely put them one point ahead of Liverpool and level on points with Chelsea with a superior goal difference come the 11th of May. However, with crucial games coming up against Arsenal and Liverpool, they would be leaving themselves with a mountain to climb should they capitulate at Old Trafford.
It says something about the shift in power in Manchester that United go into tonight’s game on home soil as underdogs. That’s something that would have been unthinkable during the Ferguson era. Such has been David Moyes’ maiden season in charge however, that home advantage hasn’t guaranteed one point, let alone three. West Brom, Newcastle, Spurs and Liverpool have all left Old Trafford with maximum points this season.
It seems that Moyes’ struggles to make the best out of the less than stellar squad bequeathed him by Ferguson has been met with a certain amount of Schadenfreude from opposing fans and the media. Where other manager’s travails have slipped under the radar somewhat, the focus on Moyes has been intense and unrelenting. While this may be unfair in some respects, some blame has to attributed to Manchester United’s transfer dealings, or lack of same, last summer. With a clear need to strengthen in midfield and at the back, United’s efforts in the summer ultimately amounted to the capture of Marouane Fellaini on the final day of the transfer window.
In contrast, Manchester City, themselves under new stewardship with the introduction of Manuel Pellegrini, identified their targets early and had time to integrate them into the squad before the start of the Premier League season. Fernandinho and Alvaro Negredo in particular have come in and strengthened the squad. When Manchester’s new managers went to battle for the first time at the Etihad in September, the home side ran out 4-1 victors. The tone for the season had been set.
However, while a Capital One Cup victory and possible Premier League success constitutes an impressive season, Pellegrini’s belief that his side could attain an unprecedented quadruple was misplaced. Defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League, after a second consecutive defeat at the hands of Wigan in the FA Cup, left that dream in tatters. The only English teams left in the Champions League are title rivals Chelsea and who else? Manchester United.
And so back to tonight’s game. United manager Moyes has kept his own counsel this week regarding the availability of his centre halves. With Michael Carrick having to deputise at the back in Saturday’s 2-0 win at West Ham, United fans will be hoping that at least one of Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Rio Ferdinand will be fit to face Kompany and co.
Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata started at the weekend, with the Japanese international occupying the number 10 role apparently coveted by Mata. Moyes has stated that the Spanish playmaker is happy to occupy any position for the side. With City usually deploying full backs who like to get forward however, perhaps the manager may move Mata to a more central attacking role in order to facilitate a more defensive minded winger.
With Robin Van Persie unavailable yet again due to injury, United will very much depend on Wayne Rooney for goals tonight. Having found the net five times in his last five appearances against City, the £300k a week striker should be a key concern for Pellegrini. Two goals at the weekend will have boosted his confidence and City should aim to keep him, above all others, under wraps.
With Sergio Aguero out injured, and Alvaro Negredo in a poor run of form, it may be up to free-scoring midfielder Yaya Toure to inflict damage on United tonight. Fresh from a hat-trick against Fulham at the weekend, the Ivorian international will be City’s key player. While United fans may flinch at the idea of adapting tactics to stop other teams rather than just playing their own style of football, it is imperative that Moyes’ midfield tonight is set up right. Liverpool’s 3-0 victory 9 days ago at Old Trafford is a case in point. Jordan Henderson was allowed too much space and was involved in much of his side’s good play. With all due respect to Henderson, Toure is an infinitely more accomplished player at this point in time. If he is allowed the same space as the Liverpool midfielder then United will surely miss their chance to dictate where this year’s Premier League title ends up.