Allen Hamilton

What: English Premier League
Who: Manchester United (1st; 54 points) vs Manchester City (3rd; 49 points)
When: Saturday 12th February, 2011, at 12:45 UK time
Where: Old Trafford, Manchester, England

Bouncing Back

Manchester United lost their unbeaten Premier League record last weekend away to Wolverhampton Wanderers which was, to be sure, a shock. While Sir Alex Ferguson has readily admitted that for much of this season his charges have been a good gear short of their maximum, the fact that their first loss came to relegation scrappers Wolves was a blow. However, if Ferguson had picked a game to bounce back in, this Manchester derby would have been high up his list. Local pride and the chance to all but end City’s title charge equal a perfect game to find their groove.

In truth, United have had little trouble with Manchester City since the oil money began to flow into the Eastlands club. As City have got stronger, United have raised their game. Not since 2008 have City beaten United in the Premier League, with the last five league meetings yielding four wins for the Old Trafford side. Even a victory in one leg of the League Cup last season was not enough for City, as United won the return, and if the run continues then talk of a mental hold over their rivals could grow.

United accept that to win this derby there will have to be a big improvement, not just from last weekend’s loss at Wolves, but also in general. "We feel we have played well at times this season", said United midfielder Darren Fletcher, while admitting that "we expect more – we expect more of ourselves all the time – there’s no ceiling on performance levels here."

Title Race Back On?

Just a week ago, Roberto Mancini would have glanced over towards Old Trafford and seen Sir Alex Ferguson sitting in his castle, seemingly impregnable. Now the 46-year-old Italian may spy one of the walls crumbling and the drawbridge half down. United’s loss to Wolves has not, in itself, opened proceedings back up. Four points clear of Arsenal and five clear of City – with a game in hand – United will still take some catching. But if City can visit Old Trafford and win, United have suddenly lost two on the bounce and, after Wigan visit Chelsea and Liverpool in their next Premier League matches. 

Defeats at home to City, away to Chelsea and away to Liverpool would not just threaten United’s hold on the title – there simply would not be a hold. The title race would be back on and Mancini’s side would be in the thick of it. It is a fact City well appreciate. "When you are on a good run like United were on and you lose, everything becomes harder", said Kolo Toure. "It shakes your confidence. Maybe that can happen to them, but derbies are different games."

City need to find consistency however, with their Italian boss often bemoaning his men taking the wrong mentality into games. Just four points from their last three league games, including a draw at Birmingham and a defeat at Aston Villa, is not title form. And Mancini could be forgiven for looking over his shoulder, desperate to cement a top four spot before dreaming of titles.


Recent form

Manchester United:
Southampton 1-2 Manchester United
(29/01; FA Cup)
Manchester United 3-1 Chelsea
(01/02; Premier League)
Wolves 2-1 Manchester United (05/02; Premier League)

Manchester City:
Notts County 1-1 Manchester City (30/01; FA Cup)
Birmingham 2-2 Manchester City (02/02; Premier League)
Manchester City 3-0 West Brom (02/02; Premier League)

Key absences

Manchester United: Rio Ferdinand; Owen Hargreaves; Antonio Valencia

Manchester City: Mario Balotelli (doubt); Nigel de Jong (doubt); Adam Johnson; Micah Richards

Players to watch

Manchester United – Ryan Giggs: Ferguson knows how important Giggs is to this United team and even at the ripe old age of 37 years the United manager did not want to lose the Welshman to Gary Speed’s new Wales set-up. Giggs therefore remains full-time at United and his experience in what could be a close title race will be crucial. A seasoned Manchester derby performer, Giggs knows all about these occasions and, more importantly, what it takes to win.

Manchester City – Vincent Kompany: There will be times at Old Trafford when City can expect to be under extreme pressure and a cool head will be needed. Kompany could well be vital to ensuring that City don’t ship too many goals at crucial times and his composure on the ball could help to get more than the odd attack under way. A Belgian international, Kompany has been at City long enough to appreciate the importance of these games.

Match prediction

There is little doubt that City have the power in their line-up to visit Old Trafford and win, an event which could well help to blow the title race wide open and send United into the kind of slump they have so far avoided this season. But question marks remain over the mental toughness of Mancini’s side and United have a record of success when the going gets tough. There should be goals, but United have enough to edge it. Manchester United 2-1 Manchester City.