Manchester City’s most recent Premier League outings have resulted in landslide victories of 6-1 and 5-1 – score lines that resonate well beyond wins over Newcastle United and Bournemouth.
Of course, the figures also add up to City’s biggest ever league wins over their hated foe from Trafford Borough – 1-6 on January 23rd, 1926, more recently the famous ‘Sick Swan’ on October 23rd, 2011 – both on enemy territory, plus the equally memorable 5-1 pasting handed out to Fergie’s lot at Maine Road on September 23rd, 1989.
When it comes the ‘dating game’ it appears the 23rd is a time of the month conducive to City bloodying United.
One can only hope being two days awry this time around won’t make a difference, and the Sky Blues can open up a five point advantage over the Reds…just as they did four years ago.
Only Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Aleksander Kolarov are available from the 14 players who made United bleed like skewered pigs, in that most joyous of humiliations.
Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri, David Silva and Sergio Aguero are all sidelined by injury, whereas Pablo Zabaleta was an unused sub on the day, with Micah Richards earning Man-of-The-Match honours.
Louis Van Gaal will be mightily relieved the two best players in the history of Manchester City are missing, but even in the absence of Aguero and Silva, LVG seems to be getting his excuses ready should United lose.
The arrogant Dutchman could be playing ‘mind games’ but his negative pre-match utterances don’t exactly ooze confidence and belief.
A trip back from Moscow, a day less to prepare, City’s two point and nine goal advantage plus the Blues sitting two places above Manure, LVG has no end of mitigation if Manuel Pellegrini make it seven wins out of the last nine league derbies.
Bizarre to think that City have won six of the last eight league encounters, but prior to that they’d won just six of the previous 42 – how times have changed.
Having coasted past a depleted Bournemouth and squeezed out a last ditch win over a very impressive Sevilla, City now face their sternest test since international duties robbed them of their finest goal maker and taker.
But in Kevin de Bruyne they have a potential match winner who offers an outstanding combination of goal creation and execution.
If the brilliant 24-year old Belgian can add to his five goals and four assists in City’s colours, LVG’s worst fears could easily be confirmed.
Since the start of last season – a campaign that saw KdB a German Cup winner with Wolfsburg – ‘Prince Harry of the Etihad’ has chalked up 23 assists in 41 Bundesliga and Premier League appearances – the best return by any player in Europe’s top flight leagues.
KdB will be one of potentially half-a-dozen City derby debutants.
Raheem Sterling and Wilfried Bony will most likely make the starting XI, with Nicolas Otamendi possibly partnering Kompany for the first time, assuming the skipper is finally restored to his rightful position in City’s Ministry of Defence.
Such a move might be considered harsh on Eliaquim Mangala, who is looking a much improved player this season. Equally, Pellegrini could plump for Mangala to try and counter the pace and physical presence of another derby day novice, Anthony Martial.
Kelechi Iheanacho will be available after his midweek exclusion from the Champions League squad and young Patrick Roberts could join him on the bench.
Expect Fernando, Sagna, Demichelis and Caballero to make up the rest of the subs quota, with Zabaleta, Fernandinho and Navas all nailing starting berths.
Zaba was given a torrid time on Wednesday night against Sevilla’s outstanding Ukranian winger-cum-striker, Yevhen Konoplyanka.
City’s Argentine ‘legend’ has looked a little out of sorts since returning from his early season injury lay-off. City need him back to his best, if not, Sagna could yet get the nod.
As the Premier League’s top scorers with 24 goals in nine games, City’s recent problems have been at the back, conceding 13 times in the last eight outings.
The stats scream out for Kompany’s return, not only for his high quality performances, but also his leadership and motivational qualities.
Never mind the media tittle-tattle speculating that a rift has developed between manager and captain. Pellegrini denies any ill feeling after Kompany played for Belgium against City’s wishes, having missed five games with a calf injury.
City won’t be washing any dirty linen in public, Kompany & Co are more focused on a return to the clean sheets achieved in the first five PL games.
If City don’t concede at The Swamp, the strong likelihood is they’ll emerge with maximum points.
The main uncertainty is which Manchester United will turn up? Recent Jekyll & Hyde showings have seen contrasting 3-0 outcomes at Arsenal and Everton, illustrating the Reds’ inconsistencies.
It’s an intriguing derby match-up.
Even without their talismanic duo, City still have what it takes to achieve their 50th league derby win, do a number on ‘The Dark Side’ and give rise to a Blue Moon.
By David Walker
6-1 COMPETITION TIME
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