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Wednesday 14 November 2018

Resurgent Red Devils plan to silence noisy neighbours

PARTY POOPERS: Chris Smalling celebrates after scoring Manchester United’s winner in last season’s thrilling derby at the Etihad Stadium. Photo: Getty
PARTY POOPERS: Chris Smalling celebrates after scoring Manchester United’s winner in last season’s thrilling derby at the Etihad Stadium. Photo: Getty

"What a waste of money," chanted the Manchester City supporters as their team inflicted a crushing 5-1 defeat on visitors Manchester United.

It was September 1989 and United's manager, Alex Ferguson, knew his job was at stake.

With Gary Pallister, the most expensive defensive signing in the league at the time, found wanting for two of City's three first-half goals, even the distraught Man United fans were vocal in their disapproval of Ferguson.

"I was close to putting my head in the oven," insisted Fergie, months later.

In a Manchester derby the stakes are higher than in most other games of the season, often making these matches the most unpredictable on the fixture list.

A Manchester derby match is nothing if not uneventful.

Supporters on both sides have memories, good and bad, seared into their subconscious.

For example, there was the day in April 1974 when former Man United great Denis Law, playing for City against his old teammates, back-heeled a ball into the United net at Old Trafford to give City a 1-0 victory that confirmed Man United's relegation.

The goal still haunts Law, who says: "I was totally depressed. I'm always remembered for it. That's a shame."

In April 2001, an unspectacular 1-1 draw at Old Trafford was propelled into the history books by a notoriously dangerous tackle by Roy Keane on City's Norweigan Alf-Inge Haaland.

The knee injury effectively ended Haaland's career.

While not all derbies have been as dramatic, when the red and blue of Manchester clash the encounters are invariably compelling.

Dominant

Historically, Man United have been the dominant side, winning 62 of their league encounters compared to City's 45.

However, Manchester City are current champions having won the title at a canter.

For the last two seasons there's been a new dynamic at work in this tie, the battle of the managers, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho. Men with a history of personal, not always discreet, rivalry.

Guardiola had his first Manchester derby win in October 2016 when City left Old Trafford with a 2-1 victory. The second tie of the season was 0-0.

City enjoyed another 2-1 win away in the first half of last season.

The tie at the Ethiad Stadium in April was set for Guardiola's triumphant City to seal a historic league title win by beating their arch rivals in front of a jubilant home support. From a City fan's perspective, title wins don't come sweeter than that.

Indeed, their once-in-a-lifetime party was already getting underway at half-time as the dominant home side enjoyed a 2-0 lead.

But down in the dressing room, Jose Mourinho was explaining to his players how they would feel like clowns if forced to watch City being crowned champions.

His players came out for the second half adamantly resolved to avoid the embarrassment of having to look like patsies. Within ten minutes they'd drawn level with a couple of goals from Paul Pogba.

Thirteen minutes later Chris Smalling gave Mourinho's team a shock winner.

A few weeks ago, City supporters would have been relishing a faltering United squad turning up for Sunday's derby.

But, despite a shaky start to the season, which sees United seventh in the League, trailing leaders City by nine points, United will be coming into this tie with a renewed sense of belief in their ability to win difficult matches.

City's intense possession-based football, decisive passing and devastating finishing has seen them score 33 League goals in 11 Premier League matches so far this season. By comparison United have scored just 19 but leaked 18 in their 11 games.

The task facing the Red Devils is daunting. City have conceded just four goals in the league this season so United will have to somehow find a way to make their opponents' net ruffle.

Having rediscovered the joys of 'Fergie time' in Turin, with their late Champions League win against Juventus, Manchester United can be expected to have a sharp sense of purpose on Sunday.

This being a Manchester derby, the perennial advice still applies. Expect the unexpected.

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