You have to go back to 1974 when Denis Law’s infamous backheel meant blue relegated red to find a Manchester derby with more significance, and Sunday’s mammoth top of the table clash between United and City at Old Trafford could go a little way to deciding the destiny of the Premier League title.
Clearly the best two sides in the Premier League, the match between the two fierce rivals now has a significance that goes beyond local bragging rights. With City going into the match two points ahead of their rivals in first position, it is no exaggeration that the nouveau riche can take a noteworthy step towards a first Premier League title by doing what no side has done since Chelsea in April 2010 – win at the home of the champions.
United’s home record since is nothing short of incredible, dropping just two points (against West Brom in a 2-2 draw a year ago), giving you an indication of the size of the task facing Roberto Mancini’s men, even with the talent at his disposal.
Sir Alex Ferguson is similarly blessed when it comes to the quality of his squad, but this is where tipping goalscorers becomes a bit of a minefield without team news. With both teams having two players for each position, it is nigh on impossible to know who will start on Sunday. As far as United are concerned, I think there are only three guaranteed starters – David de Gea, Patrice Evra and Wayne Rooney – with form and fitness meaning the other eight places are up for grabs. To give some indication of this, Ferguson has chosen ten different back five combinations already this term.
Rooney has obvious appeal at 5/1 to score first given his fantastic form and his record against City, which includes the one he shinned in during last year’s fixture (come on, you know he shinned, don’t pretend otherwise) but if he starts I will be looking towards Portuguese wing wizard Nani at 15/2 to open the scoring and 2/1 to score anytime as an interesting play.
Now well and truly out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow, Nani is as effective a winger as there is the league and has proved himself as true big game player. He has scored three league goals already this season, two coming at home to Arsenal and Chelsea, but more significantly came off the bench to score twice against City in United’s 3-2 Community Shield win in August. Add the fact he opened the scoring in this fixture last term and I’ll be on Nani should he get the nod.
A successful £25 free bet on Nani to score first would return £212.50, with the free bet available to new customers who sign up for a bwin account.
How do you try and second guess City’s team with so many variables? For me, the main issue is Mancini’s approach. Will the Italian set out for a point as he has in so many of the games away from home against better opposition? Or will he relish the chance to open up a five point gap? It is the difference between, say, James Milner starting in place of Samir Nasri.
One man who will surely start is Sergio Aguero. The Argentine came off the bench to score the winner against Villarreal on Tuesday night, the little magician’s ninth of the season. At 6/1 to score first and 8/5 anytime, he has to be City’s best shout although I also like the look of the 11/1 (3/1 anytime) on Yaya Toure to score first, albeit at a small stake.
Toure scored the winner in the FA Cup semi final between the sides in April, has an eye for goal and I have a feeling he may well play in a more advanced role than he has so far this season, with Mancini going for a midfield two of Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong.
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