The highly anticipated Manchester derby will bless the Premier League this weekend with both Manchester clubs leading the table. With a six-point gulf between City in second and the next-placed teams, Chelsea, Tottenham and West Brom, the title race seems to be resolving itself into the two-horse affair everyone predicted it would be. So it appears the title is going to stay in Manchester, and with United three points ahead, the derby at the Etihad could be a showdown of some significance.
It’s difficult to work out whether City or neighbours United are in better shape ahead of this clash. Mancini is frustrated his strikers are not scoring goals but happy that City have the more solid defence. Ferguson is exasperated at United’s defending but relieved he possesses a free-scoring attack that is constantly getting his team out of jail. City do not lose any games – they are unbeaten now in their last 21 Premier League fixtures – but United win more and hold a three-point advantage. Rarely this season have either of them put together compelling 90-minute performances, but they are clearly the two best teams in the country. Given home advantage, unbeaten status and their record of two league wins against United last season, City will start as favourites.
Manchester City were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw against an impressive Everton outfit at the Etihad Stadium last weekend. Marouane Fellaini’s eighth goal of the season had put David Moyes’ men in front in the first half before Carlos Tevez equalised from the penalty spot two minutes before the break after Fellaini was adjudged to have brought Edin Dzeko down in the box. In the course of a 15-game unbeaten Premier League start, already one better than last season’s opening run, City have conceded only 11 goals: 10 fewer than United. Only Stoke City’s concession of 12 is comparable in the league. However its clear that City’s strikers are struggling to score goals. The flow of goals which marked the start of last season’s campaign is absent from their play with Sergio Aguero and Tevez struggling, Dzeko only scoring when he comes off the bench and Mario Balotelli’s goal at Wigan last week his first in the league this season.
Wayne Rooney found his goalscoring touch as Manchester United twice came from behind to win 4-3 at Reading last weekend and move three points clear at the top of the Premier League. If Manchester United go on to win the league, as they have done on four of the previous five times when they have led the table at the start of December, it will not be a victory built on solid defending. Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side are doing it the hard way, and the return of captain Nemanja Vidic cannot come soon enough for a defence that was all at sea again against Reading. They were all the result of poor defending, but, fortunately for United, a goal from Anderson and two from Rooney got them back in it, and Robin van Persie pounced for the winner. The Red Devils have the best away record with six wins out of their 8 travels, scoring an impressive 18 goals. The electrifying Antonio Valencia will also return to the squad after recovering from injury.
United have won two of the last four visits to the Etihad, drawing one and losing 1-0 last season in the other. City have looked dodgey defensively when playing the bigger teams in the league and especially in the Champions League where they have failed to record a home win in three matches. Teams that take an attacking approach, like Everton did last weekend, put them on the backfoot easily and keep their talented midfielders quiet for most parts of the game. United have the quality in attack to get goals here and are tipped to break City’s two year unbeaten home record.