The top two sides in English soccer are set to face-off this weekend, but Manchester United and Manchester City hardly need league positions to motivate them in this derby fixture.
As the only unbeaten side in the Premier League, Roberto Mancini’s men will go all out in their attempt to defeat the team many consider to be the only real threat to City’s championship defense. However, a loss for the Red Devils would see them cede first position to their neighbors, something Sir Alex Ferguson would be loathe to do after his team has recorded a series of clinical wins in recent games.
Although both clubs are within touching distance of each other in the league table, the upcoming derby will be contested by two very different squads.
With the rapidly improving Matija Nastasic taking cues from skipper Vincent Kompany, and Joe Hart’s return to form, City boast the best defensive record in the league, a far cry from the leaky United defense who have conceded almost double that of Mancini’s team.
The Red Devils have yet to be punished for their slipshod defending because of the goals scored by on-form duo Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, but their inability to convert for most of the game against West Ham should be sufficient warning that the team will not always be able to rake in the goals after they fall behind.
Perhaps the only consolation for United are the lackluster performances put on by the City attack. With the exception of their 5-0 hammering of Aston Villa, two of the strikes coming courtesy of the penalty spot, they have struggled to break down opponents, though one could certainly acknowledge that clubs such as Chelsea and Everton were always going to prove a challenge.
Nevertheless, I am expecting Ferguson to put a damper on United’s attacking ways in this fixture, simply because they cannot afford to concede a high number of goals against the defending champions.
Regardless of the Red Devils’ impressive comeback record, City are certainly not Reading. Mancini’s team will come out on top in the game and the table if United let in three goals against them, as they did when playing the Royals.
Besides the highly anticipated Manchester derby, all eyes will also be on Arsene Wenger, a man who is no doubt under immense pressure. I have never seen the Frenchman so down and frustrated in all his years in the Premier League, although that is hardly surprising with Arsenal enduring their worst-ever start.
Wenger allayed fears that he had lost the support of the fans by insisting it was only a small portion of supporters who led demonstrations against him prior to their defeat to Swansea, but the mob of angry fans will most definitely grow if the team fails to see off West Brom emphatically this weekend.
Since I am expecting the Baggies to prove quite an obstacle for Arsenal, I believe it will only be a matter of time before the Gunners board and Wenger comes to a mutual agreement that his managerial services are no longer what the club needs to move forward. The 63-year-old’s love for the club is unquestionable, but his methods are out-of-date and have turned Arsenal into a rather predictable, one-dimensional team.
Former Liverpool and England International Steve McMahon is a soccer expert with ESPN. Catch him on The Verdict at 7 p.m. and on ESPN’s coverage of the Barclays Premier League.