A United front ahead of derby clash

Posted by Mark Payne

It has been a good week for David Moyes. Last Friday he was still waiting for his first win at Old Trafford. Seven days later, he has two. Concerns about his conservative approach were obliterated after 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj took the field against Crystal Palace, and then United tore through Bayer Leverkusen. With every passing fixture, the new manager appears to be growing into the job, and as Manchester City await on Sunday, Moyes is growing in confidence, too.

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"We'll go there and we'll try and take all the points," Moyes said Friday. It was a bold statement.

Last season, United emerged victorious only after the latest of late free kicks from Robin van Persie. The season before, Sir Alex Ferguson set up the team to defend and effectively cost United the title. As Moyes prepares to play his next tactical hand, he realises that damage control might not be the best strategy this Sunday at the Etihad.

It was important to restore pride after the Liverpool defeat, and two victories on the bounce remedied that. However, it was the manner in which United played Tuesday against Bayer Leverkusen, and the personnel who were chosen, that lifted the mood.

In the wake of United's 0-0 draw against Chelsea, it seemed that Moyes would set out his teams to stifle the opposition in big games rather than take the attacking initiative. By playing a team including Wayne Rooney, van Persie and Shinji Kagawa against the German side, Moyes revealed a desire to play from the front.

There can be no doubt that United will arrive buoyed from their midweek triumph, in which Rooney blasted his way into the headlines and the record books. Moyes described the squad as being in "good fettle" and is still clearly aggrieved by the difficulty of his first raft of fixtures. To be level on points with Chelsea and City after four games is respectable, and if all goes well this weekend, United could go ahead of them.

"The players are required to show commitment" in derby games, Moyes said. It was an overt rallying call to the players in his side who have emerged from the youth system. Sunday will be an occasion for experience and muscle. After Ryan Giggs was rested midweek, it seems likely he will feature in east Manchester in a midfield that also contains Marouane Fellaini.

Against Leverkusen, Fellaini looked very comfortable. United fans are absolutely delighted to see somebody with his demeanor on the football pitch in their shirt. His presence takes a lot of pressure off Michael Carrick and allows the Englishman time to pick out the runs of the forwards and wide men.

But it was all about Rooney in midweek, and the buildup to this game again centers on the striker.

Despite the return of Vincent Kompany, City cannot be happy about facing Rooney in this form. "He is untouchable," Carrick said this week.

If Rooney continues to fire alongside van Persie, United will have no choice but to attack in every game.

It seems fantastical that a player who seemed set upon joining Chelsea a few short weeks ago is now being linked with a new contract. The truth is, if United want to keep him, they will probably need to make Rooney the highest-paid player in the world. If he maintains his form, he will be worth it.

The important thing is that the squad head into the derby united. "The manager deserves this job," Rooney said Tuesday.

The intensity around the Manchester derby has certainly increased in recent years. This weekend's fixture is too early in the season to swing the title race either way, but it will be a good marker of progress for United and Moyes, and Manuel Pellegrini and City, too.

On the subject of Rooney's contract, Moyes indicated that he would take things "step by step." That seems to be the kind of sensible approach he is taking to managing Manchester United.

"Another two goals this weekend would be the next step," he said. It would be more than that; it would be a statement of intent. And that is what Moyes will set out his team to do.

Follow Mark on www.twitter.com/markjpayne


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