A couple of months ago, United and City played in “the most important Manchester derby for years”, as the two clubs battled it out to reach the League Cup final. United were fighting to retain the trophy they had won last season whilst City had their eye on their first trophy in over three decades, knowing the final was set to be played on the 34th anniversary since they last won any silverware.
Ahead of the game, Manchester United captain Gary Neville gave his usual column to the Maltese Times, where he talked about the up-coming game and mentioned Carlos Tevez. His comments were reasonable, claiming Tevez had been a good player for United but we couldn’t justify spending £47m on a player who had just scored 5 goals for us, but this lead to the game becoming even tastier than it already was.
“The manager over the years has made many decisions with regard to players coming and going and he has almost always been proved correct,” Neville said. “Over a period of 20 years he may have got one or two wrong, and I think he has admitted that himself, but he knows exactly what he’s doing and he understands when a player’s time is up. I can’t disagree with his decision on Tévez. He was a good player for us, but if the financial demands are too big then that’s just the way it goes. Other good players have left this club in the past. It’s not the first time it’s happened.”
Despite living in the country for four years, Tevez can’t speak English, so had to rely on his teammates’ interpretation of what Neville had said. Unfortunately for him, their translation wasn’t too accurate, purposefully or otherwise, leading Tevez to brand Neville a “moron”, “disrespectful” and a “boot-licker”. Tevez scored two goals in the first leg and celebrated excessively in front of the United captain – an action he probably regretted a couple of weeks later.
With 20 minutes to go, United were 2-0 up thanks to goals from Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick, but City pulled one back and there could only be one player to do it, Tevez. The game looked as though it was going to extra time before Wayne Rooney stepped up to score and put us through to the final, which we then went on to win.
It didn’t matter to City, we were told, because now they were going to win the FA Cup, but a fortnight later they were knocked out of that too.
Following the League Cup semi and our home game victory, City will obviously be looking to even the score. Saturday has now become “the most important Manchester derby for years” because both teams have so much to play for. United are still chasing the title whilst City want that fourth spot. Spurs picked up a massive win against their local rivals Arsenal this week to take them within one point of City, meaning the pressure is on them.
City beat 9th placed Birmingham 5-1 at home last weekend and 18th placed Burnley 6-1 the week before, so are coming in to the game full of confidence, whilst United will travel to Wastelands on the back of some really disappointing results, in the league and in Europe.
So now is the time for our lads to step up to the plate. At this stage, it could be too late for the league anyway but we need to put ourselves in a position that will see us ready to pinch it off Chelsea if they slip up. We need to make sure we don’t finish any lower than 2nd in the league. And for the sake of future title challenges, we need to make sure that City don’t get in to Europe.
Despite not winning the league for 50 years, Champions League football for Chelsea meant their money could lure in the best players in the world. City’s money alone cannot do this, as shuns from Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Yaya Toure, Samuel Eto’o, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Maicon etc. prove. Fortunately, the best players tend to be interested in silverware and playing for a prestigious club as well as getting a big salary. They want to play on the biggest stage and be in the running for the best prizes, collectively and individually. So if City can offer players Champions League football as well as ridiculous wages, it won’t just be the good, greedy players queueing up to join City, like Robinho, Adebayor, Barry etc. but the great, greedy players (like Drogba, Essien, Robben etc. at Chelsea).
It’s hard to predict which team Sir Alex Ferguson is going to put out for this vitally important game, particularly given that Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs are all injury doubts. Assuming we have our best team available, we can expect the familiar 451 formation.
The boss might want to throw Rafael back in to the thick of it after his sending off against Bayern Munich, particularly because his pace would be much better suited for quelling the threat of Craig Bellamy. The inclusion of Gary Neville, who has already handled Ronaldinho admirably this season, would certainly add some spice to the tie, particularly if he stuck the boot in to Tevez. Patrice Evra will be reinstated at left back following John O’Shea’s forgettable performance against Blackburn – he wasn’t bad, he just ‘did a Michael Carrick’ and failed to really add anything down that left flank. Jonny Evans last played for United a couple of weeks ago in our 4-0 victory over Bolton when filling in for the injured Rio Ferdinand. It’s possible he will be called upon again this weekend to partner Nemanja Vidic at the back.
We should expect Nani and Antonio Valencia on the wings, Rooney, if fit, to start up front, but the central midfield area is more hazy. Darren Fletcher was rested against Blackburn so will get the nod but the other positions are more difficult to tie down. The boss tends to fancy Park Ji-Sung for the big games so we will probably see him but he also likes to get some of the local lads in for the derby. If Giggs is injured, will Ferguson fancy Paul Scholes alongside Fletch? Or will he go for Michael Carrick, who has been desperately disappointing in terms of having the cutting edge to change a game from the centre of the field? I’d like someone with a bit more grit for the derby but then maybe Scholesy has a bit too much and could be sent off in the first half! Interestingly, Owen Hargreaves has been tipped to have a spot on the bench but whether he will be used or not is a different matter.
If we come out against the City the way we did with eleven men against against Bayern Munich, then we have nothing to fear. We are the better side and are capable of much better football. The issue is whether we perform like that or we perform how we did in the first half against Chelsea.
I have faith that our manager has prepared our lots properly for this game and believe that we’ll come out and get the win. The title may be gone but we need to keep fighting until the end. Come on reds.