It’s Friday. Divert your mind from alcohol and this evening’s pub crawl and take time to consider why @AmyEustace thinks David Moyes has far more to lose in this weekend’s Manchester Derby…
Manchester derbies are a hoot; especially if you’re a neutral. They’re a chance to revel in the off-the-wall competitiveness that occurs when a very successful team meets an absurdly rich one incredibly eager to imitate said success – the new kid in town squaring up against the self-appointed playground king.
That dynamic is a constant, even though Manchester City have etched their name alongside United’s as recent Premier League winners. Despite having apparently bottomless coffers, and boasting names like David Silva and Sergio Aguero on their books, Manchester City still feel very much like the underdog. Both Manchester managers are debutants in this particular local derby, though, so superiority is very much up for grabs come Sunday afternoon.
October 26th 1986 was the last face-off between the red and sky-blue sides of the city not to feature Sir Alex Ferguson. On that day, Ron Atkinson took his United side to Maine Road, where they led up until a Mick McCarthy equaliser. The match ended 1-1. Atkinson was sacked a week later (paving the way for Fergie’s arrival), and City were relegated the following summer. 27 years on and some United fans are experiencing for the first time in their short lives what City fans have been through fourteen times since that derby day – that New Manager Smell.
Regular readers will recall that I’m not exactly David Moyes’ biggest fan. He has the personality of a cream cracker. Nonetheless, I was as curious as anyone as to how he would fill Ferguson’s eminently large shoes and what he would do with a bigger budget. It’s too early to judge, of course, but despite a poor performance against Liverpool and without making any radical changes to his predecessor’s squad or tactics, he has made a decent start.
Keeping Wayne Rooney was a ‘priority’ fulfilled, according to United. Apart from that, though, the summer was a story of failed bids and last-minute scrambles that left many supporters with a bad taste in their mouth.
The club’s future felt so safely guarded in Fergie’s hands that, in his absence, fans are especially precious. Some were so unsettled by their lacklustre transfer dealings during the summer that they wrote letters of complaint to the club. Nothing can be done to gloss over their transfer window train wreck, but a win against City would at least spare some more terrace blushes.
Fans and the manager alike can take heart from Moyes’ personal record against Sunday’s opponents. At Everton, even during City’s recent ascent to the top of the Premier League, his record against City at home and away was outstanding. In 22 games across all competitions, Moyes won 12, lost 6 and drew 4. Seven of those wins came since City struck oil in 2008. Overall, that’s a win percentage of 55 per cent.
In the same stretch of time (since Moyes became Everton manager in 2002), City have faced United 28 times and have won 10, drawn 4 and lost 14, which gives them a win percentage of 36 per cent. In their last four league derbies, however, City have won three and lost one. Those victories included that memorable 6-1 slasher movie remake at Old Trafford.
City are also starting afresh with a new coach but they had a fruitful shopping spree during the window. Their typical free spending behaviour, however, hasn’t helped them avoid a few teething problems this season. At home they’ve ran riot – they thumped Newcastle 6-0 and notched up a comfortable 2-0 win over the ‘Hull City Tigers’ – but on their travels they were undone by Cardiff and held to a scoreless draw by Stoke. Luckily for them, they face their neighbours on home turf.
City’s squad is ever-evolving for the better. They now have a fluid, dynamic attack centred on Edin Dzeko and the plethora of strikers that Manuel Pellegrini can rotate around him. They also boast a more creative midfield, which on any given day could include David Silva, Stevan Jovetic, Yaya Touré and Jesus Navas. Their alternating defence has recorded three clean sheets out of four this season – and another in Europe this week against Victoria Plzen. They haven’t faced a side as highly ranked as United though, so the derby will prove a stern test for Pellegrini’s Premier League mettle.
Marouane Fellaini gives United some much needed physical presence in midfield, a presence paramount to nullifying the threat of Touré – a player they have struggled to contain in previous derbies – and if Wayne Rooney’s return from head injury is anything to go by, he’s raring to go.
Rooney could either terrorise City’s defence or spontaneously burst into flames. He has either scored or assisted 40 goals in his last 44 league appearances for United, and an almost-hat trick against Bayer Leverkusen during the week will have boosted his confidence. Gabriel Clarke got him nice and riled up in his post-match interview, plus there are positive signs of a potent strike partnership forming between him and Robin Van Persie, instead of the Englishman operating in the supporting role he was given last year.
There’s plenty of fresh meat to dine on in this derby, but Manchester United and the new man in charge arguably have far more to lose from another defeat to one of their potential title rivals. With a set of fans already sensitive to any signs of weakness, putting the rabble next door in their place is of the utmost importance.
City can just chalk it down to yet another experimental phase – Moyes simply doesn’t have time to mess around.
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