United won't be afraid to attack City on Manchester's big night
ESPNÃ¢ÂÂs man with the mic Jon Champion looks ahead to the weekendÃ¢ÂÂs Premier League action. Watch exclusive coverage of Norwich City v Liverpool on Saturday from 4.30pm on ESPN.
FIXTURES Sat 28 April Everton v Fulham, Stoke v Arsenal, Sunderland v Bolton, Swansea v Wolves, West Brom v Aston Villa, Wigan v Newcastle, Norwich v Liverpool Sun 29 April Chelsea v QPR, Tottenham v Blackburn Mon 30 April Manchester City v Manchester United
ThereÃ¢ÂÂs only one place to start this weekend, ironically where weÃ¢ÂÂll end it Ã¢ÂÂ the 162nd Manchester derby. This is the most important Manchester showdown since Denis LawÃ¢ÂÂs famous back heel for City that sent United down to the old Second Division in 1974, and I have a feeling that event may be superseded by the consequences of Monday eveningÃ¢ÂÂs meeting.
The game is wonderfully set up. The most amazing, most surprising score line of the season came in the reverse fixture Ã¢ÂÂ the 6-1 win for Manchester City at Old Trafford back in October Ã¢ÂÂ but remember Manchester United won at City in the FA Cup, so itÃ¢ÂÂs beautifully balanced.
Manchester City have managed to regain some momentum as Manchester United have lost theirs. They had conceded one goal in seven games and were looking rock solid, but then they let in four in 52 minutes against Everton. ItÃ¢ÂÂs a question of whether that momentum of Manchester City is enough to throw Manchester United, and itÃ¢ÂÂs one IÃ¢ÂÂve been wrestling with for most of the week and still havenÃ¢ÂÂt come to a firm conclusion. WeÃ¢ÂÂll just have to wait and see.
Manchester United have built their reputation on upsetting the odds in situations just like this where they are about to be knocked from their perch and theyÃ¢ÂÂve managed to discover some ingenuity that allows them to see it through. ItÃ¢ÂÂs going to be difficult to bet against Manchester United in a game such as this.
Despite the fact a draw would suit them, I donÃ¢ÂÂt think United are going to adopt a defensive approach. The only concession will be that Wayne Rooney might play a little bit deeper to make a 4-2-3-1 formation rather than a 4-4-2. Rooney will be able to drop back and help out in midfield a little bit more than usual, but I expect them to go and be positive.
The only other change will be at right back, where Rafael had a shocker last week, with the suggestion being that Chris Smalling will come in. This means they will have three central defenders in the back four. They are better off with the height, although height is something that they donÃ¢ÂÂt necessarily need against Manchester City, but that will strengthen them.
Key players from Manchester CityÃ¢ÂÂs point of view are ones that can potentially win the game for them. Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero fall into that category and we also have the possibility that Mario Balotelli could be involved. However, it is a stretch of the imagination to think that in such a pressure-cooker atmosphere he will be given any sort of role given his recent foibles. Elsewhere, Vincent Kompany is very important for Manchester City because he is arguably the best defender in the Premier League and the one thing they canÃ¢ÂÂt really afford is for United to score early on.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs a great showcase for English football because you know that every set of eyes on the planet will be set upon the coverage in the Etihad Stadium.
I donÃ¢ÂÂt have any gut feeling about the outcome of the match. IÃ¢ÂÂve wrestled with this as IÃ¢ÂÂve wrestled with every other game this season. Common sense suggests that City should win because they are at home, have the momentum and have already scored six against Manchester United earlier in the season. But then again, this is Manchester United, and normal rules donÃ¢ÂÂt apply where they are concerned. IÃ¢ÂÂm sure this United team is nowhere near as good as many of its predecessors, so have they got it in them to see off the challenge?
Another key game this weekend is ArsenalÃ¢ÂÂs visit to the Britannia Stadium, a trip they never, ever look forward to. Although, the Gunners do seem to have something in their bonnets going to Stoke City and the physical challenge that will be presented to them will be a good measure of whether theyÃ¢ÂÂve moved on at all under Arsene Wenger this season. There is a renewed incentive for Arsenal, with possibly only three Champions League places up for grabs thanks to ChelseaÃ¢ÂÂs European progress, which will should fire them up. ItÃ¢ÂÂs just one win in the last seven for the home side so I rather fancy Arsenal on this occasion.
Also now very much in the Champions League hunt are Newcastle United, who travel to a Wigan Athletic side just one point above the relegation line. For Alan PardewÃ¢ÂÂs men, how gutting would it be if they finish fourth and then find out thatÃ¢ÂÂs not good enough for the Champions League? But who says they arenÃ¢ÂÂt going to finish third? I think itÃ¢ÂÂs unlikely, but then again IÃ¢ÂÂve been saying itÃ¢ÂÂs unlikely theyÃ¢ÂÂll get into the top four all season.
ChelseaÃ¢ÂÂs home match with Queens Park Rangers on Sunday may well be overshadowed by the controversial handshake situation between John Terry and Anton Ferdinand, but it is an important game in its own right for both clubs. ChelseaÃ¢ÂÂs best hope of getting in the Champions League is to win it because theyÃ¢ÂÂre four points off fourth place in the league. Roberto Di Matteo has recorded ten wins, four draws and one loss, so that has put him in pole position to be the new long-term Chelsea manager - or at least as long term as any Chelsea manager can be. QPR have proved rather adept at hunting down the big fish of the Premier League in recent weeks, albeit at home, as theyÃ¢ÂÂve lost their last five on their travels. If they were to get a point they could rely on winning their remaining home fixture against Stoke and that might be enough. QPR believe theyÃ¢ÂÂve got it in them to win it, so letÃ¢ÂÂs see.
Another game with consequences at either end of the table is Tottenham HotspurÃ¢ÂÂs home encounter against Blackburn Rovers. Spurs at QPR last week were slow and predictable. They have a large squad but they have only got two fit centre backs and theyÃ¢ÂÂve only got one fit forward in Jermaine Defoe. Emmanuel Adebayor and Louis Saha have been injured and they lost Ryan Nelsen at the back last week at the last minute, so they are rather empty in their key areas. Having said that, they do face a Blackburn side that doesnÃ¢ÂÂt travel well - theyÃ¢ÂÂve lost five in a row before beating Norwich last week and theyÃ¢ÂÂve only got 31 points, which doesnÃ¢ÂÂt seem anywhere near enough. TheyÃ¢ÂÂve got to win two of their last three games to have any chance. They finish at Chelsea so maybe their best bet is to perform as theyÃ¢ÂÂve rarely performed this season at Tottenham, then Wigan at home a week on Monday. Wigan seems to be their potential escape route, but a difficult one.
Vying with Rovers to steer clear of relegation are Bolton Wanderers, who go into their clash at Sunderland off the back of four wins in seven in the Premier League. If they were able to replicate that form over the season as a whole, it would put them in the top half very comfortably. Kevin Davies has had a fuller role in recent weeks and has played his part in that mini renaissance under Owen Coyle. If there is a good time to go to Sunderland, this is probably it - they do seem to have taken their foot off the gas. Three of their last four games have ended 0-0 and they havenÃ¢ÂÂt scored in 405 minutes in the Premier League now. Bolton have shown themselves adept at putting a side with confidence in decline to the sword at Villa Park midweek, but they may have to settle for a point at the Stadium of Light.
With the relegation fight getting ever more tense after every game, Aston Villa have been reeled back into the scrap off the back of a sequence that has seen just the one win in 13 games. They are now just three points clear of danger and SaturdayÃ¢ÂÂs opponents, West Brom have found a vein of form of late. Roy Hodgson is tapping on the shoulder of Harry Redknapp in the England managerial stakes and hopes to get the call if the leader of the race falls. A lot of credit goes to their central defenders, Gareth McAuley and Jonas Olsson, who between them have held the side together on many occasions this season. I would expect West Brom to win this and that would leave Aston Villa in all sorts of trouble.
Elsewhere this weekend, Norwich City have the incentive of knowing they will go level on points with Liverpool if they win this weekendÃ¢ÂÂs encounter at Carrow Road. It would be extraordinary if they did, given the disparity in resources between the two. Liverpool have a dreadful record in 2012 in the league. ItÃ¢ÂÂs three wins in 15 Premier League games, which is nowhere near good enough. Places are up for grabs in the FA Cup Final though, and the likes of Craig Bellamy and Maxi Rodriguez will be looking for an impressive display to try and force their way into DalglishÃ¢ÂÂs plans for the Wembley final, and that is probably the factor that gives this game any sort of edge.
Their Merseyside rivals, Everton, will aim to follow up that remarkable 4-4 draw at Old Trafford with a home victory over Fulham on Saturday. But the Cottagers have won three of their last four games, and are aiming to match their best ever Premier League finish of seventh, which is still perfectly attainable. Everton are tough nuts to crack though, especially at Goodison Park. They have been defeated only three times in 19 in all competitions and if thereÃ¢ÂÂs one manager that will keep his team going all the way to the bitter end, itÃ¢ÂÂs David Moyes.
Finally this weekend, Swansea City are on a run of only one win in six in the Premier League, but they can realistically expect to make that two wins in seven against a Wolves side with eight defeats in nine games. Doris de Vries must be thinking Ã¢ÂÂwhat if?Ã¢ÂÂ, as he took the strange decision, in retrospect, to leave Swansea at the end of last season and join Wolves last summer.
Jon Champion is lead football commentator for ESPN, broadcaster of the Barclays Premier League. ESPN will provide live and exclusive coverage of Norwich v Liverpool from 4.30pm on Saturday.