It’s that time of the season again where we make the journey over to Old Trafford. The nerves and trepidation are the same as any other year but there is one dig difference this time and I’m not sure I like it: City are favourites.
And quite rightly so. United have had an appalling season, stumbling from one disaster to another, with a manager more conservative than Iain Duncan Smith. But all that goes out the window tonight. United know a win would restore a fair amount of pride and give David Moyes some respite from the fans, many of whom have turned in recent weeks, the humiliation against Liverpool the final straw.
Vincent Kompany is back and will partner Martin Demichelis in defence. The Argentine has been hung drawn and quartered in the media and, in truth, on the terraces, but has just delivered two of the best individual performances of the season against Hull and Fulham and deserves to start tonight.
After his excellent showing on Saturday, James Milner could very well have played himself into the reckoning, a move which would allow David Silva to play just off the front man, a role I feel suits him. When he’s central and close to a main striker, he can do more damage, and given he’s our best attacking player by some distance, it makes sense to play to his strengths.
Edin Dzeko trained yesterday and has recovered from the illness that saw him miss the Fulham game, so expect him to start, although, Alvaro Negredo would be my preferred option. There were signs of recovery in his form on Saturday, with his touch and physical presence returning, with the only downside of the match his failure to score a goal. By God, he needs one.
The midfield is where City are undoubtedly superior to United, with Yaya Toure and Fernandinho the best midfield partnership in the league, and they should have too much for Marouane Fellaini and Darren Fletcher (or Michael Carrick, if he isn’t used at centre-half).
There’s no Nemanja Vidic, who is suspended, and Robin van Persie is out through injury. On the face of it, the Van Persie injury would seem to be a plus for City, but his absence may see Juan Mata used in his best position nearer the striker. Mata has been wasted by Moyes thus far, often played wide where his ability to roam and pick neat little passes is minimised, and if he plays more centrally tonight he could cause City problems. He’s so difficult to pick up when he has freedom to go where he likes and City will have to keep a very close eye on him.
Wayne Rooney will start up front and captain United and will be United’s biggest threat. He has 11 goals in this fixture, an incredible haul, so Kompany and Co don’t need reminding of the danger he poses.
City’s likely starting XI:
Hart – Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Kolarov – Milner, Fernandinho, Toure, Nasri – Silva – Dzeko.
Derby day. Does anybody actually enjoy it?
Written by Rob Pollard