Premier League | Old Trafford | Tue 25 Mar | 7:45pm
A local derby, underdog spirit, a returning-to-form hero… this one has the lot!
Oh, how a season can change in a heartbeat. Not three weeks ago, the tide was turning inexorably against David Moyes, a manager who was seemingly locked into The Busby-McGuinness Syndrome: the condition where a newly appointed manager is overwhelmed by the legacy of his all-conquering predecessor. If you haven't read that particular script, failure and departure follows pretty quickly thereafter, and Manchester United's form had been disastrous of late - by their standards anyhow. The title race is long gone; whispers that Dutch manager Louis van Gaal is being lined up for next season recently gained volume.
MAN UNITED FORM
- West Ham 0-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 3-0 Olympiakos (CL)
- Man Utd 0-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- WBA 0-3 Man Utd (Prem)
- Olympiakos 2-0 Man Utd (CL)
MAN CITY FORM
- Man City 5-0 Fulham (Prem)
- Hull 0-2 Man City (Prem)
- Barca 2-1 Man City (CL)
- Man City 1-2 Wigan (FAC)
- Man City 3-1 S'land (LC)
But, wait! Here comes the old guard to save the day! Against Olympiakos in the Champions League last week, a holding-back-the years performance from Ryan Giggs pushed United into the Champions League quarter-final stages (OK, a tie against Bayern Munich is hardly grounds for celebration, but it's better than an ignominious exit). Later, a two-goal performance from Wayne Rooney against West Ham twinned both drive with exquisite imagination. Light was finally appearing from behind the clouds.
The plot has been thickened somewhat by their neighbour's rediscovered muscular form. The weekend's 5-0 drubbing of bottom-of-the table Fulham was hardly out of character: Manchester City have embarrassed a list of teams this season, including Arsenal and Spurs. Instead it was the manner in which their victory was conducted that generated so much positive chatter.
Following on from defeats by Barcelona in the Champions League and Wigan in the FA Cup, City had been brought back to earth with a bump.
On Saturday, Manuel Pellegrini's team, most notably Yaya Toure, clicked into a higher gear and nudged aside their opponents in a performance that brimmed with tactical confidence, team desire and flashes of entertaining individuality of the highest order.
For United, Robin van Persie is a long-term injury concern, while Nemanja Vidic is suspended following his sending off against Liverpool. Antonio Valencia and Jonny Evans face fitness tests, but Chris Smalling and Rio Ferdinand are sidelined. Edin Dzeko will need to recover from illness if he's to make the side for this fixture, but Sergio Aguero, Micah Richards, and Matija Nastasic are out of contention.
Key battle: Phil Jones vs Alvaro Negredo
Jones occasionally plays the game with an expression that suggests he might have left the house having forgotten to turn off a dangerous kitchen appliance. At times this season, he has been shown up by top-class strikers, at which point his face droops into a snapshot of despair. As the only fit centre-half against West Ham, however, he excelled; Jones was impressive against Olympiakos, too. The England hopeful will have to be on his A-game to stop City striker Negredo, especially if Michael Carrick has to line up alongside him.
It's in this tussle that the match could be settled. Negredo allies physicality and desire with top end skill; he fashions chances from scraps and brings others into play. And when those others include David Silva and the marauding Toure, United will have to control the space that tends to open up against them in midfield, especially if they're to limit City's embarrassment of riches. A patched up defence could be horribly exposed.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- City 4-1 United (Prem, Sep 13)
- United 1-2 City (Prem, Apr 13)
- City 2-3 United (Prem, Dec 12)
- City 1-0 United (Prem, Apr 12)
- City 2-3 United (FAC, Jan 12)
Having admitted the depth of problems facing United were far greater than first expected, Moyes might have finally stumbled across a lucky break in a season littered with banana skins. Since the January transfer window-signing of Juan Mata, much was made of the linking of three players who performed in attacking positions - the Spaniard, plus Rooney and Van Persie. However, the Dutchman's recent injury has presented Moyes with an opportunity to link two players blessed with goalscoring potential and an unselfish desire to create chances.
If Saturday was anything to go by, reducing an attacking triumvirate to a partnership was a forced move that carries some potential - Mata revelled in his free role; Rooney benefited from the link-up play and his partner's willing runs during a confident performance.
For Pellegrini, this match presents an opportunity to claw back some ground lost to their title rivals through fixture congestion. City have three games in hand on Chelsea who sit six points ahead in first place. A trio of wins will change the complexion of the table considerably. Meanwhile, the surrender of their FA Cup and Champions League challenges enables City to focus their attentions on usurping Jose Mourinho's men.
TIPS & TRENDS
Facts and figures
- United have lost 4 of the last 5 Manchester derbies in the league including the last 2 at Old Trafford.
- This fixture has had at least 3 goals in each of the last 4 seasons, with both teams scoring each time.
- United have conceded first in 7 of their last 12 home matches.
- City have won 6 and lost only 3 of their 14 trips to top-half teams since the start of last season.
- 6 of United’s last 7 matches have had more goals in the second half than the first.
Best Bet: Man City @ 2.10
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
United to restore some semblance of pride to a disappointing season with a draw. 1-1.