Derby day means so much on both sides of Manchester. Bragging rights and an excellent day in work on Thursday will be at the forefront of supporter’s minds by 8pm tonight.
But the first derby of this season has some very high stakes attached to it, much more than bragging rights. A victory for City will put the blues level on points with United and stretch the gap between the blues and fifth place Newcastle. Not only that, but it would inflict a first defeat on United this season, much in the same way City lost at Old Trafford in September 2009.
Victory will give the blues fresh impetus after a recent run of poor results ended with a win at West Brom on Sunday and bring Sir Alex Ferguson’s 24th anniversary celebrations at Old Trafford back to earth. But while Ferguson has been in charge, City have seen 13 managers come and go with little success but the fans are hoping number 14, Roberto Mancini, will not fall in the same way as his predecessors.
The City boss has come under fire in the last few weeks but answered some of his critics with Sunday’s victory, while United narrowly beat West Brom’s Black Country neighbours Wolves 2-1 on Saturday. Mancini’s decision to play Mario Balotelli paid dividends but also saw the striker see red, a situation that angered the Italian who had warned the striker to pay attention to the referee.
For United, the derby has grown in significance over the last couple of years. At one time, Ferguson would be happy to get the three points, but now he revels much more than he used to when his team win the match. City failed to beat the reds in all competitions during the 1990’s and their only win until 2002 was a 5-1 victory at Maine Road in 1989.
But Ferguson admits that the derby matches are a ‘great intensity’ to those of the 90’s. “The fact we are both in the same city means there is an incredible intensity in this derby game now, which was not there 10 or 15 years ago.”
The derbies have come a long way since those days and United’s desire to beat the blues is just as great now as City’s to beat their old rivals. After the disappointment of last season when the blues lost three times to late goals, City will feel there is a score to settle at Eastlands tonight.
Mario Balotelli’s appeal against his sending off on Sunday fell on deaf ears as the FA upheld the red card and the derby is the first of a three match ban for the youngster. Emmanuel Adebayor is City’s only other doubt which leaves the blues short on attacking options.
United have more problems though. Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen both miss the game through injury, as do Wayne Rooney and Antonio Valencia. Anderson and Dimitar Berbatov missed Saturday’s win over Wolves with a virus and are rated as doubtful, while Ryan Giggs and Nani are also struggling to be fit for the game.
Forever the optimist, I will always go for a City win in this fixture and today is no different. I think City will choose the derby to show exactly what they can do and sweep United aside.
City 3-1 United
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