The FourFourTwo Preview: Man City vs Man United
St Mark's (West Gorton) vs Newton Heath LYR. But not recently.
MAN CITY FORM
- Man City 0-2 Newcastle (LC)
- West Ham 2-1 Man City (Prem)
- CSKA 2-2 Man City (CL)
- Man City 4-1 Spurs (Prem)
- Villa 0-2 Man City (Prem)
MAN UNITED FORM
- Man Utd 1-1 Chelsea (Prem)
- WBA 2-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-1 Everton (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-1 West Ham (Prem)
- Leicester 5-3 Man Utd (Prem)
Six points off the Premier League pace and in the bottom half of their Champions League group: this isn't quite how it's supposed to be according to Manchester City's sky-blueprint.
Having wrestled back the league last season, they were supposed to be retaining that while pushing further on in Europe.
To that end, and acknowledging that the creative end of the team didn't need surgery, City spent the summer recruiting reinforcements for the defensive half of their team.
Thus far, it hasn't really worked. Of the last 10 Premier League and Champions League games, City have only won three, and kept one clean sheet (against Aston Villa, which is no great achievement).
Rather than strengthening the defence, key £32 million signing Eliaquim Mangala has been a weak spot targeted by opponents. Explanatory in victory last weekend, West Ham's Sam Allardyce noted that the young Frenchman had been left "exposed" by team-mates, including fellow new boy Fernando, who "don't protect him".
Then again, this time last year City had conceded in seven straight PL/CL games, but had won six of their last 10 because the glory boys up front were on fire. Twelve months on, they're lighter in that department, having thrown out Alvaro Negredo for FFP ballast in a chase for Radamel Falcao, who ended up moving next door instead.
Manchester United's capture of the Colombian was somewhat surprising. Undoubtedly an excellent player, he's not what that imbalanced squad needed, bringing to mind Rafa Benitez's quote about tables and lamps.
For if City wanted to bolster the backline in the summer, United badly needed to. While David Moyes floundered in the dugout, the Old Trafford suits sat on contract renegotiations, causing the simultaneous exit of three-quarters of a well-established defence.
True, they spent big on Luke Shaw as a long-term replacement for Patrice Evra; true, Rio Ferdinand's displays for QPR have hardly suggested a player in his prime.
But for all Louis van Gaal's commendable commitment to youth development, how they have missed the leadership of Nemanja Vidic to organise the youngsters, from those with barely 100 league appearances (Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Rafael) to complete greenhorns like Tyler Blackett, Paddy McNair and Tom Thorpe.
Such an inexperienced defence is always likely to concede, and although Van Gaal would presumably love to add to his two clean sheets he may be surprised to start across town.
Never shy of playing on the counter, the Dutchman may hope to lure City forward: if Pellegrini sticks to his guns and plays his usual 4-4-2 with flying full-backs, United are capable of exposing them on the break.
With both sides defensively suspect, this could be a see-sawing game for the watching millions – including a presumably chuckling Jose Mourinho.
City's League Cup defeat at home to Newcastle was worsened by injuries to David Silva (knee) and Yaya Toure (groin). The Ivorian should be fit but the Spaniard has been ruled out for up to a month and will more than likely be replaced by Frenchman Samir Nasri, freshly over his own groin gripe.
Falcao remains injured for Van Gaal's side, but captain Rooney is fit and ready to return after a three-match suspension. Antonio Valencia may also feature having been out for a month.
Player to watch: Marcos Rojo (Man United)
United's other Argentinian may find his seventh successive start produces his toughest test: stopping compatriot Sergio Aguero. Rojo still has his doubters but he has been growing into the centre-back role. At West Brom, nobody contributed more ball recoveries (9), interceptions (5) or tackles (6, all won). Against Chelsea last weekend, he made 4 interceptions (joint-top) and 8 clearances (top) – but he also committed two errors leading to shots on goal. Beware Aguero.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- United 0-3 City (PL, Mar 14)
- City 4-1 United (PL, Sep 13)
- United 1-2 City (PL, Apr 13)
- City 2-3 United (PL, Dec 12)
- City 1-0 United (PL, Apr 12)
Van Gaal may not get a repeat of the affectionate cuddling Mourinho doled out last weekend, but there's certainly respect from Pellegrini. Asked in a press conference about his new rival – almost two years his senior – the Chilean chose his words carefully as he nervously fingered an upturned glass: "He's [been] a very successful manager his whole career. He now has new challenges in Manchester United, a very strong team also. I wish for him a very good season, but I hope we can stay up from Manchester United this season."
Facts and figures
- Wayne Rooney is the top scorer in Manchester derbies, both overall and in the Premier League – 11 in all competitions and 8 in the PL.
- City have won the last 3 Manchester derbies in the Premier League. They have not won 4 in a row in the league since December 1970.
- Despite being only 9 games into the Premier League season, David de Gea is the only United player to have appeared in all 9 matches.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
A rather super Sunday, unless you're a defender. 3-2 City.
Back 3-2 at 22/1 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication