The Manchester Derby

By Cressida Smart

“The pressure people put on themselves and the rivalry between the teams is much more
marked. And I think that’s a good thing. As long as that rivalry remains within the spirit
of competition, it can only spur everyone on.” (Eric Cantona)

On Sunday 9 December, Manchester United will play Manchester City in the first of their
derby clashes this season. The match will see Roberto Mancini do battle with Sir Alex
Ferguson for the first time since City clinched the League title so dramatically on the
final day of last season. The last derby game in April was won 1-0 by City, with visitors
United not even having a shot on target.

Currently, Manchester United are in the driving seat, sitting at the top of the table with
36 points, three points more than their title rivals, Manchester City, who occupy the
second spot. Although they head to the Etihad Stadium three points clear of the League
champions, Ferguson is adopting a cautious approach, with his side having conceded 21
goals in 15 matches to City’s 11. United keep falling behind in games and conceding
goals – 32 in total now this season. They have conceded first in 10 Premier League
matches and have gone on to win seven and lose three, whilst last season they failed to
win any of the eight games when conceding first.

Glancing at the standings, it may appear that Chelsea and Arsenal are struggling and
that the title race is a straight battle between the two Manchester clubs this season. The
betting suggests it’s already a two-horse race for the title with Manchester United odds
on for the first time this season at 5/6 and City a 13/10 chance; Chelsea have gone from
7/2 to 14/1 in the space of a few weeks. However, Ferguson is not buying into that
assessment. “At this time in the season you can’t really say it’s a two-horse race,” he
said. “If you think back we were 12 points behind Chelsea at one point and when Arsenal
beat us in the league in 1998 we were 11 points clear.” Saying that, City can’t afford
to fall six points behind Sir Alex Ferguson’s side and, just like last season, the derby is
going to be a pivotal occasion in the title race.

On the face of it, City can look positively to the game on Sunday. They are unbeaten in
the Premier League (if they avoid defeat on Sunday they will equal the club record of 22
League matches unbeaten) but haven’t hit the heights of last season. They are looking to
win three successive league games against United for the first time since 1970. Victory
would ensure they return to the top of the table, thanks to goal difference, a developing
theme for the two Manchester clubs.

However, major changes have occurred since the two sides’ last meeting back in April.
Whereas United answered the call to arms and strengthened their squad with some
serious fire power in Robin van Persie, Manchester City have done very little to add
depth to their title winning team. Yes, signings were made during the summer transfer
window, but they can hardly be said to match the brilliance of United’s new goal
machine.

City could well argue that, with an already star-studded squad, no major signings would
be necessary. However, this is a false premise. Winning a league title is undoubtedly
difficult, but retaining it is much harder. Simply put, any signings should match those
of their rivals in order to stay one step ahead. Unfortunately for City this has not been

the case, signings such as Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair are simply not to be enough
for a team that wants to remain a likely domestic title contender, let alone a Champions
League winning side.

This is not the only worry City have going into Sunday’s game. They have not been
performing as well as they did last year. Their movement has not been as quick or slick
and several of their heroes from last season such as Mario Balotelli, David Silva and
Yaya Toure have not shown the same flair or impact they showed last season. That said,
City, unlike United, remain unbeaten in the League this season and have turned the
Etihad into a fortress, having not lost at home in the league since 20 December 2010.

Despite this intimidating statistic, Sir Alex Ferguson has surely learnt a lesson from
his last visit to the Etihad, where a defensive mind-set cost him the game. Now surely
the Red Devils will come out guns blazing, with Van Persie spearheading heading an
aggressive, yet intricately planned charge towards Joe Hart and the netting beyond him.
However, a weak defence has been spotted and noted by the Scotsman as he conceded, in
an interview with the BBC, that in regard to his side’s defending, “If we perform like that
on Sunday then God knows what’s going to happen to us.”

As Manchester’s Derby Day creeps closer and tension builds between the two sides and
their supporters, we will be told that it is too early to bill this game as a title decider, but
few will be convinced and many will know that this match will have some bearing on
where their side finishes on the final day of the season.

Should it be your side that emerges victorious, you will wear your team’s colours and
acknowledge all others who do the same. However, if your side is defeated you will most
likely refrain from wearing any of your team’s clothing for at least a week. “What in the
case of a draw where no one wins?” some of you may ask. Yet, even with a draw, the
result will favour one side over the other even if it is slight and one set of supporters will
leave the venue more satisfied than the other.

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