Can City claim some pride despite all but losing title?
By Aaron Leggott
At the start of the season, people looked at the fixture calendar and eyed this clash as one that could decide where the title would be heading in May. Fast forward eight months and those same people are probably thinking differently.
With eight games left to play, Manchester City find themselves a huge 15 points behind their cross city rivals and all connected with the club have all but given up any hope of retaining the title.
However, there is still the small matter of a Manchester Derby to play - and everyone knows that these fixtures always mean something, especially considering how City have improved over recent years.
|Last season's Old Trafford Derby clash was a good day to be a City fan!|
Roberto Mancini has declared that all his players (apart from Micah Richards, Jack Rodwell and Maicon) are ready for selection, with Sergio Aguero expected to make his first start since his injury.
United are set to welcome back Wayne Rooney - who missed their last two matches through a groin strain - whilst Rafael has also overcome a similar problem.
On the other hand, Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans remain doubts and this will be a huge boost for a City side who will have fond memories of Old Trafford after last season's 6-1 mauling.
The defeat hurt United, and they will be determined to get revenge in their own backyard and all but secure the title against the team that challenged them for large periods of the season.
I think on the balance of our season, we have a much more important game next weekend when we go to Wembley to play Chelsea - who of course beat United on Easter Monday in their replay.
But we all know how much Derby Day means - in fact, I'd even argue that United fans are even more desperate to get one over on us after the emphatic title win last season.
Anyway, I am hoping that the players use this game as the perfect warm up to Sunday's semi final. They know themselves that we aren't 15 points weaker than United after a number of them have come out and stated during the week.
It took a fortunate deflection in the reverse fixture for us to lose a six point advantage, something which I thought was crucial in hindsight. Had we held on at 2-2, after being 2-0 down, I reckon we'd be a lot closer to them. (Below is a video of the highlights from the game)
But you can't take any credit away from them. They are on course for a record breaking season and on the balance of play, United deserve to win the league. Ferguson has made his team hard to beat and there has been a determination to reclaim top spot - whether that be down to the fact they want to take it away from us or not - it has been impressive.
All we can do is finish the season strongly and get ready to attempt to take it back off them next season. I am predicting some big names coming through the door in the summer, so hold on tight Blues - it's going to be a cracker.
Prediction: 2-1 City
Ahead of the game, I spoke to United fan Adrian Garratt to get his thoughts on his team's title challenge, Robin van Persie and the upcoming clash between the sides.
With eight games left to play, United are all but Champions - is it the fact United have been so ruthless, or City very poor?
Adrian: After last season I'm still not saying we're champions until it's 100% confirmed but if we threw it away from here I may stop watching football.
I feel like it's a bit of both in all honesty. Watching United, there has been games where we've been terrible defensively but immense going forward - with Reading away and Newcastle at home coming to mind. Up until Vidic's return it was much a case of you score three we'll score four but since he's been back we've tightened up at the back and look more like the United everyone knows.
25 wins out of 30 though shows how ruthless we've been and our never say die attitude has been put to the test a lot this season, for example the Derby at your place. I feel City haven't hit the heights of last season due to the lack of improvement in the summer - it seems when teams have sussed out your game plan you lack a plan B and Mancini is reluctant to change his ways other than his controversial three at the back, which I'm not too sure about.
The last meeting between the sides saw Robin van Persie grab the winner - how vital has he been in taking the title away from City?
Adrian: In all honesty he's been the difference in the two sides this season, he's had a little stutter of late but up until February he was head and shoulders above anyone in our squad. He's pretty much scored in every big game this season in the league (Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool home and away, City) and his general link up play has been brilliant. If he's not scoring he'll be providing an assist or playing a big part in most goals. We've scored a lot more from corners this season due to his delivery, rather than Nani who can't get past the first man. I feel had City got Robin rather than us then the table wouldn't be the same.
Starting United XI?
Adrian: (4-3-3) De Gea, Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Jones, Welbeck, Rooney & Van Persie
Who is the key player in your team and why?
Adrian: Well I think the obvious answer would be Van Persie but I feel Nemanja Vidic has a huge impact on the squad. It's no coincidence that our six game clean sheet run has coincided with his return. He seems to add a calmness to the back line that isn't there when he's missing. Jonny Evans has been brilliant this season but we seem a lot more solid with Vidic back and that's down to his experience.
There were times before Christmas where everyone was expecting United to concede first which shouldn't happen at a club like ours - now we don't look like letting anything go through us. Also, a big mention to Michael Carrick who is a unsung hero, A couple of seasons ago he was the scapegoat of the squad and after the Munich quarter final defeat in 2010 was criticised heavily but he has turned myself and a lot of other reds around with his performances. He has been a class act this season.
Who do you see as City's biggest threat and why?
Adrian: I feel you have three huge threats - these being Yaya Toure, David Silva & Sergio Aguero. If I was to pick just one out of them it would have to be Yaya. He seems to add something extra to your squad and you can really tell when he isn't there, such as when Everton beat you a couple of weeks ago. His drives from midfield are brilliant, he can take a ball from one box to another and I feel no one else in the premiership can match it.
|Dangers: Yaya Toure and Silva are both big threats|
Strength and pace is something he has in abundance, although I would question his fitness at times. He is a player that United are missing as we lack goals from the midfield area. He doesn't shy away from the big game occasions either as your cup run of 2011 shows and of course his performance at St James' Park last season. I feel he is probably the best central midfielder in the league currently and if he's on his game on Monday we'll struggle to deal with him.
And finally... prediction for the game?
Adrian: I feel we owe city for last seasons drubbing at Old Trafford and although I don't expect the 6-1 scoreline to be turned around I fancy us to win. I would hazard a guess at 3-1 United but any win will do against yourselves.
Thanks to Adrian for answering the questions - but let's hope he is wrong with his prediction!