When it comes to derby football, nerves could flare, temperatures are prone to rise but the Manchester Derby never ceases to thrill its audience.
Sunday ushers in another re-enactment of the famous rivalry between two Manchester teams, whose fortunes in recent times represent stark contrast in evidence provided by record keepers and historians. As emerging forces in English football continue to assert pressure on the tidal wave of change, Manchester City, yet, could effectively stand for the successful lot to have survived the upsurge. But for every grounds gained in a contest, there is another somewhere, who somehow loses its own relative portion. City may have dethroned Manchester United, but they remain the most celebrated team in England with record 20 titles; all that achievement now buried somewhere in a treasure trove hidden in the past.
A new era, post-David Moyes misfortune and the rebirth of a revamped United team which has showcased confidence in getting at their opponents, but have struggled to curtail opposing attackers- partly thanks to a growing injury list. By this time last year, the ‘Red Devils’ were on eighth position, same as in the present campaign, but were point better. Then, they had instead played the likes of Chelsea (H), Liverpool (A) and City (A), conceding a total of five goals in the latter two fixtures, while Wayne Rooney’s late but well-taken free-kick at the Etihad Stadium was undermined as nothing in the way of consolation. They moved on with a narrow home win over Arsenal two weeks after the period in review. Lo! The Old Trafford fortress was twice broken in quick succession; Everton before Newcastle all in the space of three days. Alas, on and on the reiteration of a disappointing campaign continued, climaxing in personnel change ten months after the era of the ‘Chosen One’ and a seventh-place finish after it all.
While stocks at a complex in the vicinity of Sir Matt Busby road were collapsing, somewhere in that neighbourhood some people were having a fair run under their own new manager, culminating in a fourth top-flight title as well as the League Cup.
Suffix it to say the ‘Citizens’ have just recently tasted their longest blip of form since Manuel Pellegrini resumed work. From letting a 2-0 half-time lead slip and drawing a Uefa Champions’ League group stage game at Russian champions CSKA Moscow to losing at West Ham last weekend and being bundled out of the Capital One Cup by an in-form Newcastle; the Chilean boss must be pardoned for having to say he is “worried” for almost the first time in over a year. Nonetheless, City are favourite to win the first Manchester derby of the season. The only clause in such prediction is the tendency of having a high-scoring outcome, neither the 4-1 success in front of their faithful nor the 3-0 on the road last term could come near it. Expect a close contest involving gritty performances when rivalries are renewed.
The man we all seem to have labeled the ‘Right One’ for the United job is acquainted with the ease with which you could go from being the ‘Messiah’ to becoming just the son of a carpenter. Robin van Persie’s dying-second strike in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with leaders Chelsea was timed at 93:34secs- United’s latest since Michael Owen’s Manchester derby winner in 2009- but be amazed not should many visiting fans appear to have grown weary of celebrating another hard-earned point. A win would take Van Gaal’s men to within a point of the reigning champions. Anything other than a draw could spell trouble for the Dutchman, who has excelled in all of his previous roles and has expressed determination to make his philosophies work in England.
As well as battling for the bragging right of Manchester, Pellegrini and Van Gaal are jostling for Fifa’s Coach of the Year award among eight other competent nominees. United’s chief orchestrator in the middle of the park, Angel Di Maria, and his counterpart Yaya Toure are in the quest for the Fifa Ballon d’Or award. There is still time for all nominees to increase their fan base, which explains how significant this derby has become.
None has stamped his footprint in this fixture than United and England captain Rooney. He, though, might have lost his nomination ticket for the best player in the world from last season, the leading scorer in Manchester derbies with 11 goals returns from suspension following his red card against West Ham. Michael Carrick is in contention for a starting role after being named in the squad against Chelsea. Antonio Valencia and Radamel Falcao could all feature, but Phil Jones is a doubt with a shin splint.
The match has come too early for Frank Lampard, who has yet to fully recover from a thigh problem. David Silva is a doubt after limping off early into the midweek loss to Newcastle with a knee problem, but Toure is expected to play despite being substituted in the second half as a precaution over a groin complaint.