The stage is set…

It’s here. The battle for bragging rights is upon us, once again. As a United fan, this fixture brings about a mixed feeling of excitement and anxiety. This is not to be confused with the mixed feeling I had when it so happened that Falcao would be joining us. No, not that type. This is the anxiety brought about by expectation. For so many years, Manchester has been red. Bright solid RED. There was never a doubt in mind whenever we’d face City. Sure, there would be the occasional upset here and there, but they were few and wide. Only until recently have times been difficult against our noisy neighbors, with City bagging maximum points in our last four encounters (OUCH).

For some reason, when the fixture came around this season, I was still hopeful for a win at the Etihad. We weren’t exactly playing well, as I still struggled to understand what this “philosophy” LVG kept on rambling on was about. At the time, it didn’t make any sense. None whatsoever. Nothing was working. Van Persie was misfiring, Wazza was in midfield, and Smalling earned himself a new nickname: SmallBrain. The only positive thing that came out of that match was that United managed to hold City with ten men, and only lost by a solitary goal.

This time round, I’m not hopeful. I’m expect-ful (yes, in my world, that is a totally LEGITIMATE word). The improvement in the past five games has been phenomenal. They’re finally getting it. The passing is accurate, the defence is tighter than the Arsenal jersey, and the finishing has been immaculate. Of course there is room for improvement, but I surely cannot complain considering the horror show we had to endure at the beginning of the season (Damn you, Leicester City)

Looking at the stats coming into this one, I can definitely say things are looking up. United head to this one in good form, having won 5 games off the spin, only conceding two goals within that time. The form at Old Trafford has also been well above average, so that’s something to smile about. The same cannot be said about City, as they have only won two of their last five.Their away form has been terrible of late, so that should serve as good motivation. There also seems to be problems on the front line, as their star hit-man Kün Aguero has not scored in any of his last six competitive appearances for City. I’m tempted to feel relieved by this, but I don’t trust this fella. He has a nasty habits of coming up with goals when his team needs him the most. After all, it is a distinctive feature of all world-class players, as I mentioned in my previous post.

KEY BATTLES

The midfield will be a fiery battle-zone, as both teams are set up to dominate possession and shift the ball side to side, waiting to pounce on an error or a misplaced pass. LVG is kind of unpredictable though, he may also opt to attack from the very beginning, and getting his team to press higher up to pressure City. Whoever dominates the midfield stands a better chance of going ahead early and even winning. There are 6 players in particular who can win it for their side:

  1. Ander Herrera Vs David Silva- Herrera has started to establish himself as an exquisite pass master, dictating play from midfield and popping up with goals. Most notably, he provided that defense-splitting pass that led to Mata’s first goal at Anfield, as well as bagging a tidy brace against Villa last time out. I am seriously beginning to enjoy watching Herrera. What’s not to like about a player who either scores a goal, creates an assist or provides a key pass every 60 minutes?  His overall play is neat and he doesn’t mind doing the defensive work. He also loves a good tackle. In fact, according to Metro, Ander averages 2.5 tackles per game, which is far better compared to Silva (1.2). He is slowly beginning to convince me that he has the potential to fill the gap Scholes left in midfield, but hey, lets save that for another day. Silva is also equally adept in that attacking role, but what lets him down is his defensive contribution. Silva has more of a free role, which in turn leaves city vulnerable, especially since his counterpart Toure is equally pathetic at defense and breaking up attacking football. Currently, Silva has more goals and assists than Herrera, but you get the feeling that it’s just because Herrera got onto his groove a little bit late in the season. It will be an interesting one to watch.
  2. Marouane Fellaini vs Yaya Toure- This will also be interesting to watch, as I feel that Fellaini will be the one deployed to quail Toure’s physicality. Both players are quite aggressive and I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up getting booked for a rough challenge or two. Things are looking up for Felly, though, as he is a serious aerial threat, and is proving himself to be a good finisher with his feet. Fellaini has also been putting in his defensive shift, something that Toure has always struggled with. Toure has been performing abysmally compared to last season, and seems to be fizzling out. His performance against Crystal Palace was daft, except for his long range shot late in the game. He will have to improve if he is to give his team a chance. I get a strong feeling he may start this one on the bench.
  3. Juan Mata vs Jesús Navas- Admit it, you never thought you’d EVER see Mata playing on the wing. It’s just one of those things that takes time to understand the reasoning behind it (like women). But strangely enough, he’s performed extremely well there! He sure lacks pace, but makes up for it with his creativity and intelligence. I can’t stop replaying how he slowly kept on drifting away from Moreno at Anfield. However, Mata will need to be alert and defensive, as City may look to exploit that right flank. The other natural (and terrifying) winger is Navas. Hes got blistering pace while on the counter and possesses good crossing skills. He will also need to backtrack a bit if he is to offer his team any good.

With that being said, this is set up to be an thrilling game, as the 3 points could prove to be crucial in the ‘rat race’ for the coveted Champions League spot. As usual, I’m expecting a win,my prediction being 2-1 in favor of United. They have to win it for me, because if City do the unthinkable, they will be the first team in Premier League history to beat United five times in a row! *gasps*

Nobody wants to see that.

At all.

See you on the pitch!

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One thought on “The stage is set…

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