It's the big one. The unmissable one. The one they're calling the biggest game in Premier League history...
It would’ve been impossible not to have read, heard and seen the hyperbole amassing over the past seven days, and yet even so, it’s still tough to properly put tonight’s game into perspective. Forget the mind games, the fact is victory for City could not only shatter Man United’s season, but jet-propel the blue half of Manchester into an era of domination. Defeat, however, is likely to end City’s rejuvenated title challenge, decimate what’s left of their team spirit and ultimately send Roberto Mancini packing; back to Italy with a large pay-off, if not a tail between his legs.
The ramifications of tonight’s result at the Etihad are likely to stretch wider and longer than I could feasibly assess in a betting column, but that Sir Alex Ferguson has called it the biggest derby game in Premier League history is testament to its billing. The rebranded top division of English football has never seen the like of this game, the notion of a genuine title decider, supplemented by more plotlines than a Scandinavian crime drama.
But while we will all inevitably sit glued to the TV screen at 8pm this evening regardless of any vested interest, there is plenty of value on offer in the betting stakes…
Super Mario Balotelli is in contention again after a three-game ban, but it's unlikely to be always him on this occasion as he'll struggle to displace in-from Argentine duo Aguero and Tevez. Micah Richards is also available after a hamstring injury and was colossal in the previous FA Cup meeting in January. For United, Rafael’s daydreaming tendencies against Everton last week are likely to cost him his place, with Messrs Smalling and Jones prepped for the right back berth. Elsewhere, Fergie could choose to bolster his midfield with Giggs or Park at the expense of forward Danny Welbeck.
City have recovered from a rocky March and early April to record resounding victories in each of their last three games, scoring 12 and conceding just one in the process. United’s league form was impeccable between mid-January and the defeat at Wigan two Tuesdays back. Then came that draw at home to Everton. Nevertheless, they’ve won nine of their last eleven in the EPL.
What The Gaffers Say:
“We have a chance because they lost points against Everton, but I think it will be difficult overall to win the league. They have one difficult game against us, then they have two easy games. It is clear we have a chance – and we want to take that chance – but I don't know." Roberto Mancini.
“If we lose, City will probably go on and win the league, while if we draw we’ll then be strong favourites for the title. But we’ll still be trying to win the game. There will be no talk of trying not to lose the game.” Sir Alex Ferguson.
Recent Head to Head
Ferguson is insistent that neither of this season’s previous meetings between the two sides will have a bearing on the mentality of his troops. But for a team that is used to bossing the entire league, let alone their home town, being on the receiving end of a 6-1 home stuffing will have been about as palatable as a pair of chargrilled kangaroo’s testicles. Not even Barcelona have embarrassed United like that.
I believe City have got inside United’s heads this term. In fact, even when the reds trumped the blues in the FA Cup in January, it was Mancini’s 10 men who came out of the game with the most credit having fought back admirably in the second half. It was the most glorious of defeats, and one that yet further enhanced City’s psychological advantage.
Recent clashes have seen goals aplenty at either end, and while nervousness could be a factor – and these overhyped contests seldom live up to the billing – I’m backing the big score and particularly like the look of over 4.5 goals at the generous odds of 5.25.
Given his acrimonious departure from Old Trafford, and his topsy turvy path at City since, there will be few bigger nights in the career of Carlos Tevez. The Argentine has undoubted abilty, but more pertinently he is driven, motivated and brave in possession. By this I mean he is not one to hide, to pass the buck or allow nerves impact his performance. On a night of high pressure and fierce intensity, it is characters like him who come to the fore, and I think Roberto Mancini knows as much. Carlito is 4.00 to be the game’s highest scorer, and for those script-writers among you, he’s 40.00 to achieve ultimate redemption with a hat-trick.
City simply have to win, a draw is no good for them. Furthermore, while the draw would suit United just fine, it’s not Fergie’s style to set his side out purely to avoid defeat – to stifle, contain, be cagey and shut up shop. Therefore, this will go one way or the other, and a double chance on either team winning is a safe bet at 1.33.
The first half may well start without much sensation, but City will go for broke at some stage. On their day, City are a better side than United’s current crop and, for me, this will be their day. I believe the psychological edge will favour City, and with Tevez’s contribution written in the same galaxy of stars as Torres’ in the Camp Nou, I’m backing City to win at 2.15.
Paul Scholes often saves his best passing for games like this, but he also traditionally saves his worst tackles for the big stage. Furthermore, the craft of Silva and the power of Yaya Toure are set to challenge Scholes beyond the level he’s faced since returning. The ginger genius is at 2.40 to get a card at any time, which is a licence to print money as far as I’m concerned.
Manchester City 3-2 Manchester United