Both United and City saw their team lose earlier this week in Europe, but whilst we had confirmed our place at the top of the group after four games, the blues confirmed themselves as the worst performing English team in the history of Champions League football. There’s no denying they were in a ridiculously tough group but there’s no real excuse or explanation for their drab performances in Europe. If we’re honest, neither club has set the world alight this season and it’s annoying for us that City will have one less distraction. It certainly highlights how far away they are from being a top quality side though. Two years in a row they haven’t got out of the group. In the last 15 years we’ve played in four European Cup finals and in each of those years we’ve also won the title, something no other English team has managed since the change to the Champions League. The best teams can compete at the highest level, in the league as well as in Europe, and City’s failure to do this illustrates how far behind Roberto Mancini’s team is.
This isn’t just a dig at City, but at the Premier League in general, because no team in England comes close to the quality of our 07-08 side. United, City and Chelsea are the best three teams in England this season which is frightening when you consider how we’ve performed. We’ve all been below par and those two couldn’t even get past the group stages, a year after we did the same. It’s a far cry from 2009 when three of the four semi-finalists were English. We should be grateful of this though because if those two sides played as well as those players should we’d be screwed.
Even our best possible side would have struggled today but we’ve got nothing like our strongest side available. Captain Nemanja Vidic is still out injured and Anderson, one of the few shining lights of this season, isn’t available either. Add this to Shinji Kagawa, Tom Cleverley, Antonio Valencia and Nani, we’re going to be struggling to put together a competitive side. In contrast, City will be without Richards who doesn’t even make their first XI, whilst Milner and Clichy are in contention despite being doubts.
With the absence of wingers, it is likely we will play 433 again (take a look at this great article on our formation experiments this season), with Carrick, Fletcher and Scholes in midfield. This is obviously a concern, given the lack of pace that they offer, but presumably Ferguson is hoping what they lack in speed they will make up for in fight. City don’t have any local lads in their squad and Richards is the only player they have to have come through the academy. There’s no doubt our players have a much greater understanding of what derby day means to the club but whether this will be enough to compensate for our disadvantages is yet to be seen. If Yaya Toure is up for it it’s unlikely that Fletcher’s love for the club will nullify the Ivorian.
Ferguson got our tactics and team selection horribly wrong in the last derby and it cost us. In the end, the difference was Vincent Kompany being able to outjump and outmuscle Chris Smalling, but our performance was dire and we deserved nothing. As Ryan Giggs pointed out this week, a point from that game would have won us the league, so we don’t want to be looking back at Sunday’s game in May with the same regrets.
Our defence has been shoddy, our midfield has been injury ravaged, but thankfully we’ve had the best strikeforce in the league. Robin van Persie is looking a steal at £22m and Javier Hernandez has the best goals per minute ratio in the league. Whilst Rooney has been lacking in the goals department this season, he has assisted more goals than any other player in the league. In 11 appearances he’s scored or assisted 11 goals which is fairly good going for a player that has struggled for form. He will be our key player today. But us to get a result, he has to play well.
I would happily take a draw to retain our place at the top of the table but it’s impossible to predict what will happen. United are all over the place and haven’t played well for several weeks. There is no momentum because of the frequency of which we change the team around. You just have to hope that Ferguson gives one of his better team talks to get the players fired up and ready to make amends for the horrors that we witnessed in both derbies last season.
Some bwin bets for the game:
Fergie to tap his watch in second half injury time (90 mins or later) – Yes: Evens
Man Utd to score in injury time – Yes: 5/1
Tevez to be sent off – Yes: 10/1
RVP to score more goals than Aguero – Yes: Evens
Rooney to score more goals than Tevez – Yes: 11/10