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Two years ago it was a Carling Cup semi-final. Last year it was an FA Cup semi-final. Now it is a Premier League title decider. Of sorts.
This is a fixture that barely needs any introduction at the best of times, but with such significance now placed upon it, the hyperbole has reached an astounding level in this week’s build-up. The most important game of the season. The most crucial fixture in history of the Premier League. The most momentous encounter in football. Ever. It’s time for the hyperbolic cliches to stop and for the action to commence.
Put simply, a victory or draw for Manchester United and the title race is effectively over. The Blues need to secure a win and have the form, confidence and belief heading into this explosive match. Anything but three points for City and our hopes will be dashed. Until next year.
Focusing now on team selection, and Roberto Mancini has a fully-fit squad available. Nine of the team virtually pick themselves, with only the rightback role and a midfield spot up in the air. With regards to the place in defence, both Pablo Zabaleta and Micah Richards are excellent contenders, though with the match taking place at the Etihad Stadium, I’d expect the Englishman’s extra attacking strength to swing the vote in his favour.
Samir Nasri’s position is the only other one I believe is uncertain. The Frenchman has found some form recently and has a key trait of scoring hugely important goals but in terms of overall contribution, he’s often lacking. Therefore, Nigel De Jong and James Milner are in with a shout, the former’s ability to provide cover for the defence an option (whilst at the same time enabling Yaya Touré to operate from a more advanced role), but I’d be tempted to select Milner for his workrate, desire and ability to provide help in dealing with the considerable threat of Antonio Valencia.
Here is the side Mancini may select:
The pattern of the game may well depend on the mentality of United. If Alex Ferguson opts to pack the midfield and leave Wayne Rooney on his own up front, that may actually help as the striker’s ability to drop off the front and find spaces between midfield and attack could cause us huge problems. As touched on above, Valencia on the right wing is a huge threat and his battle with Gael Clichy will be an intriguing, and potentially defining, one.
Referee: Andre Marriner – He is yet to referee City in the Premier League this season, though has officiated three United games, of which they have won two and drawn one.
Prediction: MAN CITY 1 – 1 Man Utd – It is such a challenging match to predict, but I feel that due to the importance of the game, it will be a scrappy, tense and ridiculously nerve-wracking 90 minutes. Goals to be scored by Wayne Rooney and Sergio Aguero.