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Battle of Manchester – A preview

29 Apr

Manchester City vs Manchester United, Etihad Stadium, Premier League

Kickoff – 20:00 GMT (00:30 IST), 30th April 2012

So, it has all boiled down to this. The largest game of the season is upon us. A city waits with bated breath with the world watching on as Manchester City host Manchester United, in the title decider.

This season, has been one of the best I have witnessed. There has been so much pace, so much passion, so much craziness, so many incidents, so many unexpected results and a horde of drama. And, there’s still more drama. What better can it be than the title clash, between the long standing rivals in Manchester.

By December, Manchester City were literally steamrollering their way in the Premier League. They just had to turn up and demolish teams it seemed. And why not. Bankrolled by the Abu Dhabi group, and armed with some of the most fearsome attacking talents on display in the league, everyone’s favorites to win the title, was Manchester City. In the summer, Mancini used all the cash reserves at his disposal, to prise Sergio Aguero from Atletico Madrid, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy from Arsenal, to already add to the impressive array of players such as Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Adam Johnson, Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong, Mario Balotelli, Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Yaya Toure. The power battle in Manchester seemed to have completely swayed, towards the rising blue tide, when in one destructive balmy afternoon in October, City managed to put 6 past a hapless United, to record their biggest win at Old Trafford in nearly 56 years.

However, the story has not been all smiles. Cue the culprits. Messrs Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli. With big names come big egos they say. And it was inevitable. Carlos Tevez and Roberto Mancini had a public outburst in a Champions League group game against eventual finalists Bayern Munich, a game which they went on to lose 2-0. Supposedly, the Italian manager asked the Argentine hotshot to get ready for warmups. Tevez refused to oblige and faced the wrath of the Italian. Tevez posted a completely different version. According to him, Mancini took out his frustration on the striker, and hence his revolt. Yes, revolt. A revolt, which saw him jetting off to his native, without serving a notice to his employer. For months, Manchester City remained clueless to the whereabouts of Tevez, until he posted a picture of him on the internet, visibly fattened, enjoying a round of golf with his buddies.

If that was not it, City had internal squabbles to deal with. First, there were players who were publicly remonstrating against the manager, on being subbed, more so out-of-favour Bosnia striker Edin Dzeko. While he scored two late on at Old Trafford, in the 6-1 hammering, his form of late has waned, and he has had the temerity to display audacity, on being replaced. Another example is that of Serbian left-back Aleksandr Kolarov, who has never been able to hold on to his place in the squad. While this was going on, Mancini had to deal with another man with a light fuse, Mario Balotelli. While his fight with Jerome Boateng last season, was quite widely publicized, it did little to change the attitude of the enigmatic striker. He has had constant duels on the training ground, with right-back Micah Richards, captain Vincent Komapny, and with Aleksandr Kolarov, in a league game against Sunderland, and Yaya Toure, thereafter.

This has seen the title almost fall out of grasp from the Sky Blues, into the hands of the opportunistic Red Devils. While Carlos Tevez has returned and lost quite a bit of his belly, there were still problems with City, as they went on a poor run. They lost at Swansea, 1-0, and quickly made a comeback, in the next game, to rally and beat Chelsea 2-1. After that, they were held to a draw by Stoke City, thanks to a wonderful goal from Peter Crouch. In their next game against Sunderland, they looked like they were down and out, trailing 3-1, with barely 10 minutes to go. After the Balotelli-Kolarov push-and-shove, City managed to eke out a point, before completely being outplayed by Arsenal in their next game, and losing 1-0 thanks to a late Mikel Arteta goal. To compound their woes, Balotelli got a red card. They have, however pulled themselves back into contention, with a 4-0 thumping of West Brom, a 6-1 away win at Norwich, and a 2-0 win at Wolves.

While the ‘noisy neighbours’ have been, well, noisy, Manchester United went about quietly picking up the pieces since the 6-1 home humiliation. Having started the season, in a more emphatic fashion than their cross town rivals, early games indicated United’s dominance. They first brushed City 3-2 in a thriller at Wembley in the Community Shield, before garnishing it with results like the 3-0 beating of Spurs, the 8-2 crushing of Arsenal, a 5-0 thrashing of Bolton at the Reebok and a 3-1 win over Chelsea, before it all came crashing down to earth in the Manchester derby.

Like I said, they slowly picked up, eking out results. They edged Everton, Sunderland, Swansea and Aston Villa, all 1-0, before coming into their stride, come December. Consecutive 5-0 wins over Fulham and Wigan were sealed, but then it seemed to go horribly wrong. United, who had earlier crashed out of Europe, finishing 3rd in what seemed to be a straightforward group, suffered two losses, at the hands of lowly Blackburn at home 3-2, and a 3-0 loss, away to Newcastle.

When doubts were raised if Fergie and his men were up for it, they responded in typical fashion. First they knocked out Manchester City from the FA Cup, 3-2 at the Etihad, in a controversial game. Then, they went on a fine run in the league, winning 11 of their next 12 games. This included 2-1 wins over Arsenal and Liverpool, and a comeback at Stamford Bridge, after going 3-0 down, to secure a point. This has seen them overturn in what was once termed an unassailable lead, to a 8 point advantage of their own.

However, the unpredictability of results this season has been such, that nothing can be taken for granted. Wigan Athletic outplayed and deservedly beat Manchester United, and then, Manchester United gave away a 4-2 lead, with minutes to go against Everton, to draw 4-4, and tip the scales somewhat equally in favour of both Manchester clubs.

3 points is the difference. The permutations are massive. If Manchester City win, they will go on level with points with United, and ahead on goal difference With games against a topsy turvy Newcastle and relegation threatened QPR, you can almost see them through with winning the title should they win tomorrow.

However, anything but a City win, and one can be sure of the Red Devils coasting towards a 20th league title. They face Swansea at home and Sunderland away on the last day of the season, and with both of them in holiday mood, it could be rollover.

Let’s have a look at the teams then. While Roberto Mancini says, he could play Mario Balotelli, to induce that surprise factor, I feel he will stay on the safer side and play the Argentine duo of Aguero and Tevez, who have 9 goals between them in the last 3 games. What has been a feature to City’s game is the way they have played their midfield of late. Having played James Milner and Adam Johnson on the wings, for most of the campaign, they have narrowed down their play in the last 3 wins. Now, they play a rather more central 4-2-2-2 formation, with Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure/Nigel de Jong in defensive midfield, David Silva and Samir Nasri in attacking midfield, and of course Tevez and Aguero in attack. While this system is quite open for Manchester United to attack on the wings, City’s defensive midfield will hold the key, to help out Richards and Clichy. Vincent Kompany has been majestic this season, and so has Joe Hart. They will have big roles to play tomorrow.

Manchester United, on the other hand, will look to the brilliance of Wayne Rooney, the astuteness of Scholes, and the pace of Valencia and Nani to counter City’s threat. Defence is a major worry for the Red Devils, having leaked 4 against Everton, all of them being the result of poor defending. Rafael looks a major liability, and Rio Ferdinand and Johnny Evans are yet to convince everyone that they are a good defensive team. David de Gea seems to have overcome all the early criticism of him, to become a fine shot stopper as of late. It will be interesting to see if Fergie goes with two upfront in Rooney and Welbeck, or he aims to win the battle in midfield.

It is going to be much more than a game tomorrow. It could be the turning point in City’s history. A moment for them to finally emerge out of United’s shadow. Their turn to have bragging rights in the city. Or will a certain Scot again brand his iron fist and paint the town red.

It is going to be a treat and you certainly wouldn’t want to miss it.

Enjoy the game wherever you are. 🙂

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Posted by on April 29, 2012 in General

 

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