By Elijah Sofoluke
Sir Alex Ferguson has been preparing for the biggest game of the season for Manchester United. He is facing a noisy neighbour who has had an upturn in form since the return of their prodigal son, Carlos Tevez. Only a few weeks back, Manchester City were eight points behind Manchester United with little games left but have somehow, through the Red Devil’s complacency and their own persistence, pulled back to three points behind. I have taken a look at the tactics of both teams to see how the game may pan out.
The 4-4 draw with Everton showed the defensive ineptitudes that United fans, like myself, thought we left behind when our 14 match unbeaten run began. Alas, Everton and Wigan have exposed the defensive frailties and Manchester United fans are going into the game less than confident about a clean sheet.
That is why I believe that it is Ferguson’s best interest to start the game with a 4-3-3 as a win is not a necessity like it is for the opponents. What provided me with the biggest dilemma is who would sit in front of the defence out of Jones, Scholes and Carrick.
Jones has too much energy and positioning naivety to play there without the fear of him giving possession cheaply. So from there, it is a tossup between Scholes and Carrick and really there is nothing separating them apart from Carrick having younger legs to track Carlos Tevez as he tries to find that integral space between United’s defence and midfield.
Our most important player – Antonio Valencia.
The Ecuadorian has been in stellar form this season and it will have to continue if United seek to get a win in this game. Recently, his form has been on a decline having been kept quiet in games against Aston Villa and Everton by Eric Lichaj and Sylvain Distin.
His mazing and rumbustious runs are likely to cause Gael Clichy problems but in a foot race, which Antonio so dearly loves, he will come up against a LB with extraordinary pace in good form, so will have to put in a real shift.
How will United set up?
Whenever Manchester United play with the 4-3-3, we have this innate philosophy to be able to control the midfield action zone and keep the majority of possession, like we did against Liverpool in the FA Cup 4th round.
However, in the games we have played the 4-3-3, our wingers have not been our best two and this would be different on Monday. Nani and Valencia will make sure that Rooney will not be isolated and Jones will provide similar support from the midfield area. Of course, if we are in need of a goal, then having Welbeck and Hernandez on the bench will be players that will be able to support Rooney by being closer to Manchester United’s top scorer.
The Manchester City team pretty much picks itself except for the RB position, so the shape of the team may be different to the graphic shown. Micah Richards has had a magnificent season that has been littered with disappointment as Fabio Capello failed to call him up to the England squad when he showed the capabilities but it seems that previous England manager’s opinion may be shared with the Man City manager, something to do with them studying at Coverciano, the Italian coaching school, perhaps.
Against Chelsea, Stoke and Arsenal, Zabaleta has started at RB. In fact, in both games against these London clubs, Zabaleta has been preferred to Richards, which may indicate the Mancini sees Zabaleta as having more defensive aptitudes than his rival at RB.
Manchester United’s wingers are among the strongest in the leagueand that could push the former Inter Milan manager into starting the Argentine over the Englishman. Another contentious decision that may wonder through Mancini’s mind is how he will set his team out.
Man City have mostly started with the 4-2-3-1 formation with Barry marshalling the back four and Yaya Toure bombing up and down providing the energy in their midfield. Nonetheless, would it be more suitable to start with 4-3-3, with an extra man in midfielder like Milner, who turned out a stunning performance at Old Trafford in the opposite fixture, or De Jong, who has been often left out to compensate for the extra attacking prowess. This is a game Man City has to win and starting with 4-3-3 would only increase the morale in Manchester United’s camp.
Their most important player – Carlos Tevez
Fast forward a few months and Manchester City’s mid-season struggles, Tevez has the chance to become the modern day Denis Law with an outstanding performance like the one he did when he faced his former side in the Carling Cup first leg, in 2009.
If Man City does indeed play 4-2-3-1, then Tevez would take up his position behind his Argentine counterpart, Sergio Aguero. Before his return, Aguero would have to do all of the legwork by himself, which he is capable of, and this took away from his game. Tevez’s reappearance means that Aguero can stay between the two centre backs, where he does his best work.
How will City set up?
This season has seen Man City attacking ability unleashed, when this was held back last season, and it has seen them be atop the table for most of the season. The way Manchester City played last season was something that was indicative of an Italian manager and yet that has changed this season, when really City’s play is just another rendition of the many Italian philosophies.
Italy’s play in the 2006 World Cup was counter attacking football, mainly concentrated through the middle of the park and when the counter attacking opportunities were not there, they would be comfortable enough in possession to keep it away from the opposition and Manchester City’s football is extremely similar to what won Italy the World Cup during that campaign.
My Prediction – Man City 1 – 2 Manchester United
This is the biggest game of the season. This is the biggest Manchester Derby since Brian Law’s back heel consigned Manchester United to relegation to the second Division in the 70s. It will be fiercely contested. The Blue Moon will shine bright in the corner of the Etihad but a section of the stadium will shine brightly red while the anthem of Blue Moon rings around the City of Manchester stadium.
The first half will be nervy, United will keep possession but will not look threatening up front because of the 4-3-3 formation and Man City will have breaks in the halves. The second will come to life and United will, hopefully, edge it to essentially secure the title.