“Is your blood red or blue?” I am asked by a man on the seat in front of me, as the 142 bus into Manchester’s city center continues down Wilmslow Road, his breath laced with alcohol. I answer.
“Well said son, we’ll have ‘em’ on the weekend” he says, standing ready to exit at his stop in Rusholme. When the doors open he faces me one final time and punches the air. “There is only one team in Manchester!”
Obviously his statement is incorrect as there are two teams, Manchester City and Manchester United, but to those who support a team who engage in Derby Day battles you will understand the statement. Should it be your side that emerges victorious, you will feel as if you own the district, or even the city itself, proudly wearing your team’s colours the following day and acknowledging all others who do the same. However, if your side is defeated you will most likely refrain from wearing any of your team’s clothing for at least a week. You wouldn’t want to incur mocking sound bites from any one passing by, now would you? “What in the case of a draw where no one wins?” Some of you may ask, but even with a draw the result will favour one side over the other even if it is slight and one set of supporters will leave the venue more satisfied than the other.
This certainly will be the case on Sunday when the final whistle blows at the Etihad Stadium. Currently it is Manchester United in the driving seat, sitting at the top of the table with 36 points, three points more than their tittle rivals, Manchester City, who occupy the second spot. Although, memories are still fresh from United’s last visit to the Etihad, where the tittle (from United’s perspective) was arguably lost and all “Red” minded supporters will ache to exorcise that demon this weekend.
On the face of it City can look positively to the game on Sunday. Victory would ensure they return to the top of the table, thanks to goal difference… a developing theme for the two Manchester clubs. However, major changes have occurred since the two sides’ last meeting back in April. Whereas United answered the call to arms and strengthened their squad with some serious fire power in Robin van Persie, Manchester City have done very little to add depth to their title winning team. Yes, signings were made during the summer transfer window, but they can hardly be said to match the WOW factor of United’s new goal machine.
An argument City could make might be that, with an already star- studded squad, no major signings would be necessary…but this is a false premise. Winning a league tittle is undoubtedly difficult, but retaining it is much harder, especially in a league such as the EPL, which has seen league rivals United and Chelsea strengthen their squads with ‘Galacticos’ style signings. Simply put, any signings should match those of their rivals in order to stay one step ahead. Unfortunately for City this has not been the case, signings such as Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair are simply not to be enough for a team that wants to remain a likely domestic title contender, let alone a Champions League winning side.
Although, this is not the only worry City have going into Sunday’s game. Quite frankly they have not been performing as well as they did last year. Their movement has not been as quick or slick and several of their heroes from last season such as; Mario Balotelli, David Silva (who now seems a doubt for Sunday) and Yaya Toure have not shown the same flair or impact they showed last season. That said, City, unlike United, remain unbeaten in the league this season and have turned the Etihad into a fortress, having not lost at home in the league since 20th December 2010.
Despite this intimidating statistic Sir Alex Ferguson has surely learnt a lesson from his last visit to the Etihad, where a defensive mind-set cost him the game. Now surely the Red Devils will come out guns blazing, with Van Persie spearheading heading an aggressive, yet intricately planned charge towards Joe Hart and the netting beyond him. However, a weak defence has been spotted and noted by the Scotsman as he conceded, in an interview with the BBC, that in regard to his side’s defending, “If we perform like that on Sunday then God knows what’s going to happen to us.”
As Manchester’s Derby Day creeps ever closer and tension builds between the two sides and their supporters we will be told that it is too early to bill this game as a title decider, but few will be convinced and many will know that this match will have some bearing on where their side finishes on the final day of the season.
The Manchester Derby kicks off at 13:30 on Sunday 9th December and can be seen on Sky Sports 1, Sky Sports 1 HD and Sky 3D with coverage beginning at 13:00.
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