Nerves on edge ahead of Manchester derby

Posted by David Mooney

It's crept up on us once more. Just like that enormous spider that scuttled under the sofa three hours ago that has suddenly re-emerged into the living room and leapt onto your hand, the Manchester derby awaits this weekend from out of absolutely nowhere. And it's left victims shrieking and reaching for a glass to stick over the top of it.

Like all Manchester derbies, I'm dreading it and have been avoiding thinking about it -- so much so that when I started this blog and decided to use that spider analogy, I began to research the species of wolf spider often found in the UK, rather than concentrating on this weekend's fixture.

Did you know, for instance, that the wolf spider has been known to walk on water in order to hunt insects, by spreading its legs and distributing its weight across a wide area? They also employ this technique to escape predators, especially when...

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. Manchester derby. Sorry.

- Kompany happy with Rooney return

This weekend's game is probably one of the hardest derbies to read pre-match, given so much has changed at both clubs over the summer. United are under the stewardship of a new manager and have had a solid, if unspectacular, start to the season. Meanwhile, City are under the stewardship of a new manager and have had a solid, if unspectacular, start to the season.

With the two clubs being a bit unsteady on their legs so far and having very similar records to each other up to this point, it's reasonable to expect some level of caution from both camps. Each will look at an early win as one to kick start their season, and the worry is we'll end up with two teams who are too afraid of losing to risk really opening the game up.

And the last time this fixture was played with both sides going into it with a new manager was back in November 1971 -- as Malcolm Allison, who had taken the reigns of City from Joe Mercer a month earlier, hosted Frank O'Farrell's United, the Irishman having taken control of the Reds in the June of that year.

1971 was a strange year for the UK. It saw the country's population grow by 2.1%, which is the largest rise the nation has ever experienced in a single 12-month period -- and nobody really knows why. The effect of the post-war baby boom had already tailed off and...

Sorry. Distracting myself with facts about the year 1971 seemed to ease the ever-increasing nerves for a moment. Back to the derby.

That game at Maine Road the last time both clubs had changed managers finished 3-3 -- and City had had to fight back from first 0-2 and then 2-3 down. It was also the match where Francis Lee, unimpressed by George Best's reaction to a tackle, theatrically dived in front of the referee to indicate what he thought had happened.

Incidentally, including caretakers, that's 29 managerial changes for City.

For this weekend's game, one of the biggest dangers from a City point of view is that the Reds have managed to keep Wayne Rooney. Paired with Robin van Persie, it's almost a certainty that the visitors will score: Rooney's got the joint highest goals tally in Manchester derbies (with City's Francis Lee and Joe Hayes), scoring 10, while van Persie has netted twice in his last three visits to the Etihad.

But it's not all bleak. City's home record against the Reds in recent times hasn't been particularly bad.

Bad, however, is the seventh studio album from Michael Jackson, released in August 1987 and almost five years after his best-selling album Thriller. To date, it's sold something in the region of 30 million copies and is thought to be...

Sorry. Looking at the stats isn't easing the nerves.

Anyway, since moving to the City of Manchester Stadium, the Blues have faced United there 12 times and have won five (drawing one and losing six -- though one defeat has a long list of mitigating circumstances, starting with 'why on earth has Chris Foy sent Vincent Kompany off for a perfectly good challenge?!'). In those games, it's the home side with marginally the better scoring record -- 15 goals for the Blues and 14 for the Reds.

Bizarrely, though, in the five years since City's takeover in September 2008, they've done better in the Premier League at Old Trafford than at Eastlands -- winning just one of the home derbies, when Kompany's header put City back on top of the league in April 2012.

And it's probably that 2011-12 season where the Manchester derby really began to step up to another level. Before then, it was always disappointing to lose the match, but, in the grand scheme of things, it didn't particularly matter who had the bragging rights. City were battling to stay up and United were after the title -- if either side could dent their rivals' hopes, then it was a small victory.

But, these days, the derbies could decide the title. City's Premier League win of 2012 was down in no small part to knocking the Reds for six. And because they mean so much more, fans bite so much more of their fingernails, sit further along the edge of their seats, and pace more frantically up and down at the bar at half time.

Both clubs will be there or thereabouts in the title push at the end of the season and this will be a crucial game in deciding who will be crowned Champions, even this early on in the campaign. And with it being all change on all sides, who knows what's going to happen on Sunday? All I know is that I'll be shaking like a leaf and distracting myself from the game for most of the afternoon.

Now, the phrase 'shaking like a leaf' is a simile based on... Sorry. I'll stop.


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