Analysis of this Sunday’s Manchester derby. With both sides separated by just a single point a victory for either side could be crucial in determining who finishes higher in the Premier League table.
For a period of time, however brief, it seemed as though the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson had finally allowed Manchester United’s noisy neighbours to complete their ascension to the top of the English game. In just one year under Ferguson’s successor, David Moyes, United collapsed to seventh, looking as ramshackle and ragged as their neighbours had done over the previous twenty years.
In contrast, City regained the Premier League title they had relinquished the previous season. They also bested their rivals by a three goal margin in both fixtures, leading Moyes to proclaim – to the disgust of the United fanbase – that City were the side United should aspire to be.
That all seems a long time ago now. With City suffering three straight away defeats, and United riding high under new coach Louis van Gaal, the superior feeling built up in the last year has been slowly eroded away. Suddenly, one feels the red half of Manchester has the perfect chance to wrestle back their crown.
Of course, that will still take some doing. Beating a side containing the likes of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure is never an easy task and this City side can turn it on at any time. It all makes for a fascinating encounter at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Manchester City 1-0 Manchester United
Sat 22 Sept 2013: Manchester City 4-1 Manchester United
Tue 25 Mar 2014: Manchester United 0-3 Manchester City
Manchester United: L-W-W-W-W-W (15 pts)
Manchester City: W-L-W-L-W-L (9 pts)
Wayne Rooney v Sergio Aguero
This clash of two talismanic strikers could well decide who walks away with three points on Sunday. Both players have enjoyed plenty of historical success in this fixture; Aguero netting the winner the last time the two sides met.
It has not been a happy couple of months for the Argentinian striker, who has scored just once in his last six Premier League games. Since returning from a knee injury in January, Aguero has been a shadow of his free scoring, early season self. He will relish facing a United side he has scored against four times in his last four encounters. They may provide the perfect tonic for the slump he currently finds himself in.
On the other side, Rooney is currently in a rich vein of form. While miscast during the middle of the season as a central midfielder, he at one point endured a run of five games without managing a shot on target. However, since returning to the forward line, he has begun to find the net with regularity once again- scoring four goals in his last six appearances.
Ander Herrera v Yaya Toure
There is a growing sense of dissatisfaction among media types with the performances of City’s Yaya Toure. Perhaps born out of last summer’s much discussed “birthday cake” incident – which rightly caused people to scoff at his childishness – their appears to be a feeling that the Ivory Coast star is not necessarily giving his all to the club’s cause.
Whether or not that is the case, his eight goals prove that he remains a vital cog in the City engine and they will need him to be at full throttle for this encounter. He may not be the same player who was so instrumental in last season’s title success, but his goal against Crystal Palace on Monday was a timely reminder of how dangerous he can be.
Herrera, meanwhile, has arguably become United’s most important player over the last month. His brace against Villa took his goal tally to five for the season, while his link up play with Juan Mata has added some much needed creativity to the side. His performances make it hard to believe that he was languishing on the bench only a few weeks ago, while his emergence should serve as a warning to Louis van Gaal as to how quickly things can change in football.
City will be looking to secure a fifth successive victory over their local rivals for the first time in history. They will also be looking to end a run of three consecutive away defeats.