Derby day. Whether Tyne-Wear, split by Stanley Park or across the Black Country, it’s the 180 minutes of football no fan really looks forward to every season. Until it’s over that is. The week leading up to a derby match is filled mainly with dread, nervous excitement and bravado, climaxing with the result.
Pride has just as a big say in it: whoever’s on the losing end has to face the barrage of social media and text abuse from friends, as well as turning into work the next day and burying their head in their laptop to avoid the goads of fans victorious. Naturally, if the boot’s on the other foot it’s one of the sweetest three points the Premier League has to offer. A lot is at stake.
This Sunday is the 166th Manchester derby: it’s all change in the dug-outs, with both sides having appointed new managers. With David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini each experiencing derby day for the first time, there’s an extra air of heightened uncertainty lingering around Manchester. Although it’s still early days in the 2013-14 season things couldn’t be tighter table-wise, with the two clubs locked on seven points and City just edging it with a superior goal difference.
Last season United managed to take all three points from the game at the Etihad Stadium: after going 2-0 up from a Wayne Rooney double, goals from Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta levelled it for the Blues. With the game looking like a well-fought draw, an injury time free kick from Robin Van Persie was fired into the goal after taking a cowardly deflection from City midfielder Samir Nasri, who’d decided to turn his back on the free kick instead of manning up and defending like the rest of his team-mates.
At Old Trafford, the corresponding fixture was ultimately irrelevant in the race to the Premier League title, but City triumphed as 2-1 winners with goals from James Milner and Sergio Aguero. Phil Jones set Twitter alive with his spectacularly beautiful gurning face as he attempted to intercept the Argentinean’s shot: the hashtag #tweetyourphiljonesface was the one of the highest trending topics of that evening back in April earlier this year.
City fans will be the first to admit that Everton away has always been a dreaded fixture as the Toffees always seem to beat us at Goodison Park. It will be interesting to see if David Moyes was the reason behind that and if he brings the jinx with him to his tenure at Old Trafford.
The return of captain Vincent Kompany from his groin injury is a huge boost to City going into the game. His presence in the back four in the midweek opening Champions League 3-0 win against Viktoria Plzen in the Czech Republic was calm, commanding and reassuring. Without him the Blues lack a natural leader: his importance can never be underestimated and his presence could prove to be the difference on Sunday.
David Silva also looks to be returning from injury in time for the derby so Pellegrini will have a welcome selection headache to deal with. I also don’t think it’s fair to bring up Roberto Mancini’s record in Manchester derbies: Pellegrini deserves to be judged individually with no added pressure needed. He’ll have been well versed on the history of the fixture and know how important the three points are before taking his seat on Sunday.
One of the biggest questions City fans will want answering is who the Chilean starts with upfront: will he go with Edin Dzeko or Alvaro Negredo? Will he play three attacking midfielders with one striker? Will Yaya Toure score yet another peach to add to his already impressive collection so far this season? So many questions will all the answers coming at 4pm on Sunday.
Don’t ask me to predict the score: I can’t. I daren’t. I wouldn’t want to curse it. But one thing’s for certain: the days, hours and minutes leading up to the clash on Sunday will be filled with a nervous trepidation. It can’t be helped. This is what it’s like. This is derby day- welcome to Manchester, David Moyes.