The 172nd Manchester derby is very nearly upon us! Nervous yet? You should be.
Ahead of City’s trip to Old Trafford on Saturday lunchtime, we went behind enemy lines and spoke to Darren from theunitedpages.com to get the low down on United’s start to the season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and whether United fans secretly wish Pep Guardiola, and not Jose Mourinho, was their manager.
TC: Hi Darren. So, how do you feel about United’s start to the season?
D: Absolutely delighted. There is a real sense of optimism around Old Trafford again that hasn’t been evident since Sir Alex retired. Granted, I think both yourselves and us would have been happy when the fixture list came out as those first three games were very winnable. The real test is Saturday though. Somebody is going to have their bubble burst!
TC: Jose Mourinho wasn’t the most popular figure at Old Trafford not very long ago but your fans seem to have taken to him quite quickly since he was appointed manager. Why do you think that is and is there still any hint of resentment towards him?
D: I know plenty of United fans that were dead against Mourinho, right up until he was appointed. United, for all the derision from others, do have a great fanbase though and they were prepared to put their original feelings to one side and give him a chance. I’ve always felt the only man to replace Sir Alex was Jose Mourinho. I remember a conversation I had with some other United fans during Mourinho’s original spell at Chelsea and I said then we would have to try and get him at some point. The names that the other people were putting forward were Paul Ince, Steve Bruce or Mark Hughes. Even without the benefit of hindsight they seemed nowhere near the calibre required to be United manager. It has been made easier that Mourinho is following Louis Van Gaal and David Moyes rather than Sir Alex but already he has made an impact. From a club that seemed to be lacking in focus and direction we’ve gone back to being the United of old, with a clearly defined plan and the ability to attract top players again. Everyone has been swept up in the Jose charm offensive.
TC: United had a great summer transfer window this time around. What have you made of the new signings and who has looked like the best one so far?
D: Most important of all was we identified the players we needed and went and got them. No fuss, no players using us for an improved pay rise at their current club. That in itself was like a big signing to United fans. For the past few seasons we had the football world laughing at us for chasing players that were never going to come or paying over the odds for players that weren’t of sufficient quality. Its early days but already Zlatan has impressed. He’s a fantastic target man and takes a load of pressure off our team when we’re defending. Knowing you have that outlet is such a bonus.
Eric Bailly is another that has really impressed. I’ve got to be honest and admit I’d never heard of him ’til we signed him but he has been fantastic. A proper dominant centre half in the old English style of centre halves. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling need to look at how he plays and take note! Its too early to really give a correct assessment of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, or even Paul Pogba for that matter. Both come with undoubted ability and in the case of Pogba we’ve always known how good he was. Should never have let him go but glad he’s back.
TC: Much to our annoyance, many United fans have long insisted that your real rivals are Liverpool, not City. Is that the case or has City’s increased stature in recent years made the Manchester rivalry fiercer on both sides of the city?
D: For me it’s always Liverpool. That is no slight against yourselves and there is no doubt that you are currently a way bigger club than them. Its just bred into me to absolutely despise them. It goes back to being a kid at school and everyone supporting Liverpool, they were winning everything and United were a bit of a joke club. That becomes really hard to take. At the end of every season they would be lifting the league title or in the latter stages of the European Cup and that is so desperately where I wanted United to be. I was 18 before I saw United win the league and 19 before I saw us play in the European Cup. I think about Liverpool fans growing up now and it’s beautiful how that has turned to them going without. Like I said, there is no doubt that the biggest games in the Premier League this season will be United v City and City v United but there is something about Anfield and ‘that song’ that gets my blood boiling. When you lot won the league in the last minute in 2012 I was gutted but nowhere near as gutted as I was when I thought Liverpool were going to win it in 2014. I was cheering you on. I think 95% of United fans were.
TC: What have you made of City’s start to the season?
D: You’ve done what has been expected of you really, same as us. I can’t say I’ve seen a great deal of you apart from the game in Europe when you were superb. It would have been interesting if your games against Sunderland and West Ham had been away instead of at home as those are the sort of games I think you might struggle in. At this stage of the season it’s very rare anyone is flying and you’ve had a new manager and new players so the maximum you can ask is to win your games and you have.
TC: Be honest now, who would you rather have as United manager; Mourinho or Guardiola?
D: It’s a tough one. Like I said earlier, a lot of United fans did not want Mourinho and felt Pep was the perfect fit for United. Obviously as soon as it was announced that he was going to City, there was a lot of “he’s crap and we didn’t want him anyway” going on. You have to laugh don’t you! I still feel Mourinho is a better fit for us and where we are right now. If we had got Pep after Sir Alex retired then brilliant, success on success. Thing is though we’re in a bit of a slump so we need someone with a proven track record in the Premier League and a knowledge of how to win in England. Your lot can afford to give Pep time to build something and make his mistakes. When it was first rumoured that Mourinho had been offered the United job I was invited on BBC 5 live to give my opinion and I said that Guardiola and Mourinho were the best two managers in the world. You had Guardiola so we had to get Mourinho or we risked falling behind. I stand by that.
TC: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday?
I think that Jose will have a plan for you. I expect us to be quite physical as I do think that your side lacks a bit of size and physicality and we can exploit that. Not sure about starting Claudio Bravo in this game either. Doesn’t take much insight to say that we’ll be putting everything into that little area in front of him but behind his defenders and challenging him to come for it. Delighted Agüero isn’t playing as we tend to struggle against him. I’m going 2-0 United and Zlatan making the difference.
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