Stoppable force meets movable object

Posted by Mark Payne

Man United celebrate after Robin Van Persie put them 4-3 up at ReadingGettyImagesRobin van Persie will be aiming to add to his goal tally in the derby

For ninety minutes this Sunday, the eyes of the world will focus on the city of Manchester and the biggest game of the season so far. Last season's top two will do battle to lay down an early marker in what is looking to be a two-horse title race already. In what has been a hugely entertaining, but not very competitive division this year, it seems likely this match will follow the season's script.

Manchester United's injury list is long and troubling, it also contains their most talented midfielders. Anderson, Nani, Valencia and Kagawa will sit out this match and Tom Cleverley has been rated 'doubtful'. Expect to see United line up with Carrick and Fletcher and one other in midfield, possibly Scholes. The manager may be tempted to play Ryan Giggs in the centre; the fans are praying he doesn’t.

Tactically, United have to react to their recent defensive debacle against Reading. They seem destined to pack the midfield and will try to hit City on the counter attack. Ferguson’s men will be happy to let City keep much of the ball and try to choke their play outside the 18-yard box. It is a risky strategy and the fact that Bebe is likely to make the subs bench speaks volumes.

So far this season, City’s strikers have let them down and they are desperate to score. Their celebrated attacking trio of Tevez, Ballotelli and Aguero is as good as it gets, but each has had a disappointing campaign. Mancini readily acknowledges this, “Our problem is our strikers”. This is in sharp contrast to United’s problems.

Fergie had won a key battle against City this season before a ball had even been kicked. Robin van Persie signed for Sir Alex and it would appear that Mancini still hasn’t quite gotten over it. “You can have some problems in the transfer market, for us, the market was really difficult.”

Robin van Persie has no such feelings about the summer. “I am coming into work with a big smile on my face every day. It is not really work, it is my hobby. I love football but everyone has been so nice to me and I have been having the time of my life here.” He knows he is in the right place.

The likelihood of a substitute settling this game seems high. With City trying to score and United trying to defend, the attrition cannot last for the full length of the match. Both sides will revert to type at some point and, as legs tire, the poachers will be sent on from the bench.

The award doesn’t exist, but if there were a ‘Substitute of the Season’ trophy, only two men could be considered in 2012/2013. Edin Dzeko and Javier Hernandez have been absolutely lethal coming into games of late and both can score goals under pressure. It seems a reasonable bet one of them could do the same this weekend.

For United, this is a completely different rivalry to the one with Liverpool. There is a clear cultural line drawn with the Merseyside city. With Manchester City, many fans live with or are related to followers of the opposing side. There is absolutely nowhere to hide if you are beaten. That is what made last year’s title defeat so challenging. When you can’t even make your coffee in the morning without being reminded about bloody Aguero, it can be annoying.

Recent results in this fixture give City a psychological edge whilst this United side need to prove that they can learn from their mistakes. They have made plenty already this campaign. Looking through Manchester United’s historical fixtures there are no heroic draws, no stalemates in hostile territory that are celebrated. It is always the victories that this club cherishes. With City unbeaten at home for two years, a win on Sunday would join the pantheon.

Follow Mark on www.twitter.com/markjpayne

Possible United line up:

De Gea

Rafael, Evans, Rio, Evra

Fletcher, Carrick, Scholes , Rooney

Welbeck, RVP

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