Sir Alex gave us another glittering example of British delusion this week when he reportedly said the Liverpool-Manchester Utd derby had become as big as Spain’s El Grande Classico. I have a lot of respect for Fergie so I am guessing he said this to give reporters a sound bite for a slow news day. Real and Barca have 13 European titles between them. They have, arguably, four of the world’s best five players between them. For the last 15 years, Zidane (Juventus), Kaka (Milan), Cannavaro (Juventus) and C. Ronaldo(Man Utd) are the only players who have won the World Footballer of the Year award while not playing for either of the Spanish giants. (Incidentally, they all subsequently moved Madrid a season or so after they won the award) See list here
English fans will argue that derbies aren’t about the players involved, but the passion of the fans, the hatred the clubs have for each other and so forth. Even if this argument was taken into account, anyone who witnessed the five Classicos last season would be mad to say they didn’t have passion, hatred, atmosphere and all other adjectives the English use to excuse their football deficiencies. A Madrid official made some doping allegations against Barca. Mourinho made some silly noises about a UEFA and UNICEF conspiracy. He poked Barcelona’s assistant coach in the eye! If that’s not hatred, then I don’t know what is.
Anyway, at the end of the day, I’d think most people love derbies because of the drama, controversy and what have you, but most crucially because of the quality of football on display. Derbies tend to push teams to elevate their game. Everton could be fighting relegation but when they play Liverpool, they will look like they are vying for the title. Lest we forget derbies are more intense when the teams involved are in the same league in terms of ambition.This is why I don’t think I am alone in thinking Sir Alex now considers the derby versus City to be more important than the north western derby against Liverpool. (The team he selected to play ‘Pool last weekend tells us a lot) Derbies with Liverpool were important when they were contenders, now those with the Citizens are crucial because they are the ones challenging the throne. I can’t wait to see United’s team sheet this Sunday (I’m positive Jones won’t be the holding midfielder) as they face City in what could be a season defining game, particularly for the latter.
Despite the manner in which they have swatted away opposition, City have played only two games against quality teams this season, and their credibility as ‘Big Boys’ has taken a hit in both. They were given a sound spanking by Bayern and held, at home, by Napoli in the Champion’s League. Maybe it was teething problems, but surely they should have seen off the group whipping boys Villarreal without having Kun Aguerro rescue them at the death. Sunday will be the first time they get a real test in the league this season so I dare say the pressure is on City, to show us that they not like the playground bully who swats his way through the smaller kids until he meets someone his size and cowers away.
It will be very interesting to see which line up Mancini opts for. History will suggest that despite the embarrassment of attacking gems at his disposal, he’ll be cautious and crowd the midfield with goons like Nigel De Jong. I would like to see him deploy his attacking troika of Nasri, David Silva and Sergio Aguerro to test United’s shaky defence. If Mancini doesn’t go negative, the key man for City would have to be David Silva. I have noticed that in all the matches City have struggled, the little Spaniard hasn’t been at his imperious, outrageously sumptuous best. He really struggled in the games against Bayern and Villarreal and City looked labored. When he’s on song, he is, for me, the best playmaker in the league.
|The City wizard|
United have a slight advantage going into this one. The obvious reason would be because they are at home but I think we also need to consider the psychological edge over their rivals. Since the arrival of Sheik Mansour, United seem like the only team that City have absolutely failed to get the better of. In a way, if City won, they would take that monkey off their backs, thereby going some way in entrenching themselves in the ‘Big Boys’ club.
As a neutral, I look forward to a draw, with a couple of goals. On a personal note, it would be nice if Silva and Nani scored. They are both in my fantasy team.
Thanks for reading.