So it’s here – derby day – but which of Manuel Pellegrini and David Moyes will emerge as the thoroughbred and which the donkey, when Manchester has its first novice handicap for 66 years?
Ok, novice isn’t quite appropriate given the vast experience accrued by Messrs Moyes and Pellegrini in top flight football, be it in England, Spain, Argentina, Chile and, would you believe Ecuador?
But if we were playing bingo it would be a case of clickety click and a full house at the Etihad because it’s nearly six score and ten years since both side of Manchester’s footballing divide had ‘Manc’ derby ‘virgins’ in the managerial stakes.
It was 1947 when Matt Busby’s reds and Jock Thomson’s blues drew 0-0 – both being new to their respective posts. History would go on to show who the winner was in longevity terms (I’ll give you a clue it was a jock but he wasn’t called Jock!)
Of course Moyes has been exposed to titanic struggles between the warring blue and red factions of Liverpool for well over a decade now, whereas Pellegrini has had El Classico – admittedly not a geographical derby – but arguably the most glamorous tie in world club football when Real Madrid go into combat with Barcelona.
He has presided over the notorious River Plate clashes in Argentina’s Primeria Division where almost anything goes, including water cannons and tear gas if the local rivalry gets a little out of hand.
The Etihad will more than likely play host to some smart arse Manure follower showing off his new flares – no…they’re not coming back in fashion anytime soon – it’s just the red interlopers always seem to smuggle them into the South Stand – a damning testimony on inadequate turnstile checks or sympathetic stewards of the United persuasion.
The Dark Side have been fortunate to scramble two 3-2 victories out of their most recent trio of visits when they sneak across from Trafford into the Manchester heartlands.
The FA Cup win owed much to a disgusting refereeing display and the oversized mouth of a merkin-wearing Shrek impersonator, who effectively had City Commander In Chief, Vincent Kompany sent off for messing with his Nani.
Last year’s corresponding fixture saw a Frenchman found wanting in the heat of battle as Samir Nasri decided to hide behind a much bigger Bosnian, and let a dodgy effort from a Dutchman steal all three points after a spirited City comeback from 2-0 down.
Of course the two Red triumphs were punctuated by City winning, neigh, destroying United when Baconface of old rolled up oozing timidity, as Forza Mancini steamrollered an insipid Manure collection into the dirt.
It’s almost as if playing at home in this fixture has become a disadvantage in recent years as City now regularly roll up and bag maximum points from The Swamp – what is it in the past two years…oh yes an aggregate of 8-2 since 2011.
In fairness, City have more to worry about from 3G, rather than Shrek – who thinks he’s Harry Potter – with his fancy forehead scar inflicted in a spat with Beaker – sorry, Phil Jones. Reports suggest the Muppet-like figure of fun and ridicule will be staying out of the fray.
Sorry I digress – back to 3G – Gollum the Glaswegian Gargoyle – Mr Moyes to you! He has a record even better than United’s historical 42% win rate in derby encounters, having beaten City while with Everton, a horrible 12 times out of 22 with a further four draws and just six losses.
He did so with a brand of physical and effective football that would surely go down like a lead balloon with the Old Trafford purists, if that’s not a contradiction in terms?
Now Sir Funeral Face has taken his rubicund features out of the frame, it’ll be interesting to see if 3G can bite the Sky Blues where it could hurt them.
But while we’re on statistics, ‘Our Manuel’ has a 100% win record against Gollum, having knocked the Toffees out of the Champions League preliminary encounter in 2005, when Villarreal beat Everton 2-1, both home and away’ for a 4-2 aggregate win.
Pellegrini has been doing his best to keep the traditional ‘mind games’ nonsense going by getting inside the heads of his own team, claiming this is a ‘must win’ match.
I don’t believe he believes that for a moment with another 33 Premier League contests to be fought after Sunday, but it is a way of instilling self belief in a team adapting to a new style of play and accommodating four new recruits.
With both teams experiencing the highly unusual and not overly pleasant sight of looking up Liverpool’s rear, one of them can springboard to the top of the PL – or as near as damn it – with a win.
Both are buoyed by comprehensive midweek successes in the Champions League and with both teams just hitting their stride patterns, it promises to be a crackerjack of a coming together.
David Silva could be ready to return to scatter his magic dust in the midfield – if Pellegrini feels he can dislodge Samir Nasri after the Frenchman’s more than adequate performance in Plzen.
Can you imagine redemption on the Richter Scale if Nasri was the game-winning hero after his rank cowardice of last December – Tres Bon, magnifique – it sure would get my vote!
The return and influence of Vincent Kompany cannot be overstated, The Belgian Boulder is the rock of City’s defence and also the catalyst to releasing Yaya to go hunt for red meat up field.
Aguero looked as sharp as City’s new third kit on Tuesday night, whereas Joe Hart is back to his best, rivalling his skipper in the hard mineral stakes following some rock like displays.
If City’s spine shows real backbone and the side comes out prepared to play fast tempo football they can and will blow United away. Every City fan – and I do mean, EVERY City fan – knows that we are at our best when we play quick, first touch football.
And it’s hardly a secret that the best way to keep United at bay is to nullify what is an effective attack by making it defend. City could have a clean bill of health, although doubts remain about Richards and Clichy.
United claim Jones is a no-show – too bad, we all love the Muppets – and doubts linger (apparently) about Welbeck.
City have scored in their last 52 PL home games, so if that little run still has legs and Vincent and friends can keep a clean sheet, then it should make for a Sunday Roast as the Sky Blues serve notice that they want their trophy next May…silver service of course!
By David Walker