It’s red versus blue, Mancini against Fergie, as City face United. Many people claimed last season’s derby at Old Trafford was the most eagerly awaited clash in the history of the fixture as City, for the first time, were deemed as equals to United. This was in a season where City failed to qualify for a Champions League place by finishing 5th in the league and United continued to compete for domestic and European honours despite losing heavyweights Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez to Real Madrid and you-know-who respectively.
So if last season was anything to go by with the four derbies (2 Carling Cup ties) with United pipping City with last-minute winners on all occasions (bar one), it seems this could be the year that City establish themselves as not only city rivals for United but also title contenders.
Having said that, the Red Devils do currently sit pretty at the top of the Premier League with a game in hand on City and, as many have said before, this is all before Ferguson’s men have hit top gear this season.
What’s interesting about this season’s clashes is there haven’t been the war of words between players, fans and managers leading up to the game, there hasn’t been huge build-up and anticipation surrounding the games and the so-called ‘Noisy Neighbours’ seem surprisingly quiet. If they were to lose on Saturday they would be well-and-truly silenced.
For all of United’s troubles away from home, they have been formidable at Old Trafford this season only dropping points against West Bromwich Albion after Edwin Van der sar gifted the Baggies a point by dropping a howler. So City would do well to come away from the trip across town with some points on the board.
Italian tactician Roberto Mancini’s ‘dont lose’ policy has won him no fans so far this season with the former Inter Milan boss clearly setting his stall out to avoid defeat against the big teams. On the opening day aginst Spurs Mancini was clearly content to come away from White Hart Lane with a point and it seems the result has inspired him to continue in this vain against his other rivals. When playing United at home he deployed a very similar tactic, packing his midfield and playing on the counter-attack. It could be seen as a point gained but many City fans saw it as an opportunity missed.
The feeling was the same when the Sky Blues visited North London for the second time, this time to the Emirates and Arsenal where they tried their utmost to destroy Arsenal’s passing rhythm and played out for a gruelling and boring 0-0 draw.
Many expected the approach they took when they came up against champions Chelsea where they took the game to them from the start and fought hard for a deserved 1-0 win, but this wasn’t to be.
However, it’s worth noting that this City team is still a working progress and their manager is relatively new to the Premier League so cautiousness isn’t unwarranted.
You have to hand it to them, theyre still in with a shout for the title while reigning champions Chelsea lag behind and former top-four inhabitants Liverpool struggle to keep pace.
Saturday’s game could be the opportunity for Mancini and co to prove their worth as challengers to the big boys and upset the Premier League party.
With so much at stake – United going for a record 19th domestic crown and City for a first title in 43 years – there has arguably not been a bigger Manchester derby since 1974, when Denis Law scored an infamous back-heel goal against his old club as they were relegated.
Speaking about the game, Law said: “This is probably the most important derby there has been in Manchester for many, many years.
“For the first time in many years, City are a team the rest of the Premier League are going to have to watch.
“For the last 20 years or so, it’s all been United. But now, City are back as a team that people begin to fear. And that’s how it should be.
“You can see City will be a team that gets stronger and stronger as the years go on, and they will definitely become a threat to United. And with United losing at Wolves last weekend and City beating West Brom, suddenly the title is very much up for grabs.
“If United win, they’re eight points ahead with a game in hand. If City win the gap is down to two and it’s anybody’s title.”
While the Premier League endured arguably its most entertaining weekend ever, it went almost unnoticed that it was a great weekend for City as Chelsea, United and Arsenal all dropped points as they coasted to a comfortable 3-0 victory over West Brom.
This has increased the pressure on City somewhat. A win for United would virtually end City’s title hopes, leaving them eight points clear of their local rivals having played one more game. A City victory, however, would reduce the gap to two points and blow the title race wide open.