Maybe it’s because of the underwhelming football both sides have played in recent weeks, or the typically congested winter fixture list, but this season’s first Manchester derby seems to have received relatively little fanfare.
Despite the lack of hype, the Sunday showdown, “United vs. City,” “Ferguson vs. Mancini,” or “Red vs. Blue” (however it’s billed), has all the makings of a classic goal-fest.
From a Red Devil perspective, the likes of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney have been firing on all cylinders going forward, but defensively, the team has looked very shaky indeed.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have conceded 21 points in only 15 games this Premier League campaign, including Reading putting three past them at the Madejski Stadium last weekend.
Not one player can be absolved of blame for these troubles as United’s earlier defensive injuries have mostly resolved themselves.
In selecting a starting XI to take down City, Chris Smalling is the man given a break from the action.
The reliable Jonny Evans will likely keep his place in the back line alongside a returning Rio Ferdinand, who was rested in the Champions League tie against CFR Cluj midweek.
Full-backs Rafael and Patrice Evra pick themselves, the latter having really begun to kick on form-wise in November.
With wingers Antonio Valencia and Nani out injured, the team will be severely tactically restricted. Rather than persisting in the 4-3-3 that Sir Alex deployed against Cluj, the return of the famous diamond formation may be exactly what is needed for the derby.
According to PhysioRoom.com, Tom Cleverley and Anderson are also out for the game, which makes the inclusion of Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher in midfield a no-brainer.
I’ve gone for youngster Nick Powell to complete a central midfield trio—the 18-year-old has not looked out of his depth once when included in the first team this season. Rather, he thrives when given the opportunity.
The three midfielders will be needed to drop back and help contain City’s David Silva, Carlos Tevez and Samir Nasri during the game, and must make sure not to be caught out of position en masse at any time.
In attack, Robin van Persie has been the fashionable choice for the Red Devils’ player of the season so far, but Wayne Rooney has been irrepressible in an attacking midfield role he has made his own.
The two will need to be on top form Sunday to get the best of Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany.
The final spot in the XI goes to Javier Hernandez, United’s Mexican magician.
Despite looking relatively impressive midweek, the Red Devils’ other premier forward Danny Welbeck misses out due to his continued lack of reliability in front of goal.
The Englishman is perfectly capable of getting into dangerous positions with the ball at his feet, but is still yet to develop the final product any striker needs to cut it at Old Trafford.
Oh, and if David de Gea is fit, he plays—no two ways about it. Anders Lindegaard is a worthy backup, but he must remain just that if the Spaniard is to have any hope of developing as a player.
So there you have it—a Manchester United XI picked with the intention of getting the best of the reigning Premier League champions.
A victory Sunday would give the Red Devils a significant six point lead in the standings heading into a December/January period that the team typically prospers in.
Who do you think should lineup for Manchester United against City this weekend?