As the world fixes its gaze on the Theatre of Screams and the Manchester derby becomes the focus of Planet Football, it’s ironic that a mysterious visual impairment could yet be a key factor in the clash of Red versus Sky Blue.
The nigh on blind Andre Marriner won’t be visible at The Swamp as El Mancunico unfolds to a global audience of umpteen millions, but the results of his incredibly poor eye-sight will be clear to see as Sergio Aguero plays the role of City’s Invisible Man.
Not only did the Football Association, the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL) and the Premier League, happily accept Marriner’s – at best – dubious version of events in the Aguero-Winston Reid clash, they compounded the situation by appointing the ‘C’ word to officiate the first Jose versus Pep clash.
Mark Clattenburg – ‘affectionately’ known as Twattenburg to the City faithful – achieved a remarkable polar opposite to Marriner when refereeing City against Spurs at the Etihad last season.
He ‘saw’ something that nobody else in a packed capacity Etihad did, nor the viewing millions, or even the jaundiced pundits of the day noxious Niall Quinn, seedy Stan Collymore or rancid Robbie Savage.
Klutz Clattenburg ‘saw’ Raheem Sterling handle the ball with his back, and thus ‘justify’ awarding Spurs a penalty.
Clattenburg has a horribly long list of ‘previous’ offences against City, and yet apologists for this most arrogant and objectionable of referees point to the fact he officiated City’s glorious 6-1romp in Trafford Borough in 2011.
The simple fact is that City were so good that day, even one of Fergie’s best mates couldn’t save the Reds from the rampant Blues.
City fan’s apparent distrust of Clattenburg – and most present day referees for that matter – was further compounded when former ref Mark Halsey claimed he (Halsey) had been in match situations where he’d seen an incident, but was later instructed by PGMOL to say he hadn’t.
PGMOL deny Halsey’s accusations, but calls for a full independent investigation appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
Football’s powers-that-be, don’t appear to have an appetite for accountability and transparency when it comes to explaining inexplicable and errant refereeing decisions.
Maybe it’s naïve to hope that win, lose or draw, the outcome of the eagerly anticipated and much-hyped derby will be achieved by fair, rather than foul, means.
Flailing Elbows Fellaini will undoubtedly want to make his mark and impress the Not So Special One in United’s ‘dugout’, the only question being on which City player’s nose or cheekbone.
Microphone Head got away scot-free last time he smashed Pablo Zabaleta in the chops in a derby, even having the temerity to claim Zaba ran into his elbow!
Any recurrence, notwithstanding the current scrutiny of referees who really ‘Shudda gone to Specsavers’, would probably see Clattenburg claiming his wig slipped and temporarily obscured his line of sight.
United’s ‘Noisy Neighbours’ have kept a dignified silence in the run up to the derby, leaving it to the likes of Zlatan the egotistical Swede/Turnip, as well as Peter Schmeichel, the not so Great Dane, to indulge in tacky PR stunts and grubby sound bites, to slag off Guardiola.
To their credit, both Mourinho and Guardiola have sought to play down their deep rooted dislike of each other and focus on those tasked to preserve their respective team’s 100% winning records.
City are likely to give debuts to Chilean keeper Claudio Bravo and their prodigious German attacking talent, Leroy Sane.
The thus far, imperious John Stones, and the mightily impressive Nolito, should experience their first all-Manchester clash, albeit Pep’s attacking intentions remain a mystery at this stage.
Does he play Kelechi Iheanacho in the Aguero role? Does Nolito take on the main striking duties? Does the Catalan strategist go with a ‘False Number 9’ formation involving Silva, Sterling and De Bruyne?
Regrettably Ilkay Gundogan isn’t quite ready for his debut and despite Vincent Kompany being on the verge of full fitness, he won’t be risked.
There’s a certain irony that Eliaquim Mangala, who effectively had Ibrahimovic in his pocket over two legs with PSG last season, has left City.
Conversely, who, being of sound mind, would’ve put a quid on Aleksander Kolarov still being at the Etihad, after his abysmal showings at the back end Manuel Pellegrini’s reign?
Kolarov to his credit and the astonishment of a large section of City fans, has been transformed under Guardiola’s guidance, almost akin to the resurgence of Raheem Sterling – City’s Renaissance Man and Premier League Player of the Month for August.
As one who felt a certain sense of loyalty to Pellegrini, it’s remarkable to see how City’s new boss has galvanized talented players who had previously either lost their way or, more cynically, effectively downed tools, last season.
Pablo Zabaleta was one who the City faithful didn’t want to see leave, albeit he was blighted by injury and, as a consequence poor form, in 2015-16.
The fact all roads didn’t lead to Rome and AS Roma in Serie A, could be a blessing and Zaba could make it a hat-trick of Premier League titles.
Whether he gets the nod over Bacary Sagna at right back, and Nicolas Otamendi edges out Kolarov in the centre of defence, is another Pep selection teaser.
United, all height, mouth and muscle are the bookies favourites for the three points, but that won’t bother Guardiola who will have planned meticulously.
He knows the threat will most likely come from the air and it’ll be an encounter of contrasting styles – Mourinho content to defend, attempting to disrupt Pep’s possession style of rhythmic passing, and hit City on the counter.
Guardiola is one of the few managers to have the upper hand on Mourinho, having won seven and drawn six of their 16 head-to-heads.
Unlike Jose, Pep doesn’t literally poke his opponents in the eye.
A blinding City performance and three points will consolidate Guardiola’s superiority as the master, further reducing Mourinho to his Portuguese pupil.
By David Walker
As City and United slug it out in the derby a true blue warrior, Lee Welland, is fighting the biggest battle of his life to see off cancer. This article is dedicated to you fella – just like Pep, you’re a winner mate, and you WILL win through!
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu