Manchester Derby: United looking to reclaim top spot

Manchester derbies are always among the biggest matches of the season, but when United and City face off on Sunday, it’ll be the biggest match of the Premier League season thus far, without a doubt.

City and United come into this weekend’s titanic tilt at Old Trafford occupying the top two spots in the Premier League table, and the chances are high that it will stay that way through the course of the season. Manchester United statistics would appear to give the edge to the hosts, most notably the fact that United have won a club-record 19 straight home Premier League matches. However, City will bring not only a boatload of talent, but also a boatload of confidence, into the match, so it’s sure to be an exciting and tense 90 minutes.

Manchester United had one of these such matches just last weekend, as they visited Liverpool. As ideal as it is to beat your rivals at every possible opportunity, Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Anfield isn’t a result to look down on. United had lost in their previous three visits there and that a solitary point in such matches could make all the difference (see: 2009/10 Premier League title race).

All the same, United fans can be forgiven for wondering ‘what if?’ about Saturday’s match, given the softness of Liverpool’s goal and a squad selection that saw Danny Welbeck start as a lone striker and Wayne Rooney, Nani, and goalscorer Javier Hernandez begin the afternoon on the bench. United come into Sunday’s match off of the heels of Tuesday’s hard-earned 2-0 win at Otelul Galati, in which Nemanja Vidic was sent off in his first start in more than two months and Rooney scored two second-half penalties to deliver a valuable three points.

This weekend’s starting XI should be a mixture of the lineups Sir Alex Ferguson went with in the last two matches and one that’s more reminiscent of the starting XI from the thrilling, come-from-behind 3-2 win over City in the Community Shield in August. The talismanic Ryan Giggs will miss the match due to a hamstring injury, but Vidic and Rio Ferdinand can both be called on again after dealing with injuries this season, and it looks like Tom Cleverley will make his return to the side after being out for more than a month due to an ankle injury suffered at the hands of Bolton’s Kevin Davies.

Cleverley’s return will be a welcome one for United, given that he was in fine form before he went down.  If he does start, it should be next to Anderson, as that duo had stated their claim as United’s best central midfield partnership prior to Cleverley’s injury.

While Manchester United’s starting XI will look a lot like the one from that classic encounter at Wembley, the same can’t be said for City.  Sergio Aguero, who was an unused substitute in that match, and Samir Nasri, who had yet to make his move from Arsenal, have been key parts of City’s early-season success.  Aguero leads City with nine goals in all competitions, while Nasri leads the Premier League in assists with six.  

Edin Dzeko, who scored City’s second at Wembley, David Silva, who was one of City’s top performers that afternoon, and Yaya Toure, scorer of the lone goal in City’s FA Cup semifinal win over United last season, are all going to be key factors on Sunday as well.  However, one person that won’t is Carlos Tevez, who, as it stands, looks unlikely to play for City ever again.  

If United’s former loanee was going to be taking part in Sunday’s festivities, it could, quite naturally, be a top storyline.  But there’s enough of a storyline in the magnitude of the match, with City two points ahead of United in the table and looking to prove that they are indeed for real, and United aiming to show that their status as the Premier League‘s top dog is well and truly intact until further notice.  

And while both sides have allowed only six goals each thus far, it will be all about the attacks on Sunday.  City lead the league with 27 goals scored with United not far behind with 25, and the Premier League’s top three scorers will all be on the pitch, in Rooney, who tops the charts with nine league goals, followed by Aguero on eight, then Dzeko on six.  

It’s worth mentioning that none of the eight teams who’ve scored more than 20 goals after eight Premier League matches have gone on win the title, but United and City appear to be the teams to beat, while the only other likely title contender, Chelsea, have exactly 20 goals through.

Though City appear to be as good – and as confident, if Nigel de Jong’s comments are any indication –  as they perhaps ever been, it still remains to be seen if they have the temperament and mettle to get the necessary results in these kinds of matches, whereas those intangibles have been a driving force behind United’s success recently and historically.  That’s been the difference in United’s several tight wins over City in recent seasons, and with there being a high possibility that the match could be decided late yet again, it could be the difference in United maintaining their bragging rights over City and returning to the top of the Premier League table on Sunday afternoon.  

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