Man City and Man United search for better form on derby day
Manchester City face Manchester United on derby day on Sunday, with both sides battling for a top-four finish in the Premier League.
Both sides have suffered indifferent league form in recent weeks but each has plenty of incentive to claim Manchester bragging rights, especially after their first meeting of the season finished 0-0.
Simon Curtis (City) and Scott Patterson (United) preview the game.
What's the main reason for your club's dodgy form?
Simon Curtis: Injuries and end of empire for City. Manuel Pellegrini is presiding over the final days of this magnificent first generation as the likes of Yaya Toure, David Silva, Pablo Zabaleta and perhaps even Vincent Kompany are coming to the end of great careers at the Etihad. It has been a difficult campaign, with the impending arrival of Pep Guardiola casting long shadows over everything.
Scott Patterson: Injuries and team selection. United have been without so many key players for large chunks of the season, meaning there's no continuity in the starting XI. They're playing with different players every week so it's hard to get any rhythm established. As much of a problem, though, if not a bigger one, is the starting team Louis van Gaal puts out even when players have returned. The fans can't work out what he's trying to do.
How much of a power shift has there been in Manchester?
Curtis: Significant. "Not in my lifetime" was Sir Alex Ferguson's mantra and it (City winning the league) ended up happening before he had even left the building. United have struggled to come to terms with the shift, which has been fast, overpowering and not a little bit embarrassing in its nature. That City are well-run and obviously planning meticulously for the long term must make red blood curdle. However, these things are cyclical and we must all accept that a change of the guard was long overdue. United's knee-jerk reaction to the problem does not reflect well on them, however.
Patterson: Without question, there have been big changes in Manchester but City are a long way away from emulating Ferguson's United. They haven't even won back-to-back titles yet and it's hard to argue that the two titles they have won in the eight years of Sheikh Mansour's ownership is a good return for the £1 billion investment. United have won more league titles than City in that time... As it is currently, there's only four points between them. City aren't great, while United are even worse and both clubs could be without Champions League football next season.
Pick each team's weak spot.
Curtis: City's troubles at the back did not start with the midweek disaster against Dynamo Kiev -- all season they have let in goals that should have been kept out -- but, for this game it has again become a focal point with Kompany missing and Nicolas Otamendi facing a race to be fit. The prospect of a Martin Demichelis-Eliaquim Mangala axis would be truly terrifying if United were not so impoverished in front of goal.
Patterson: Having a combination of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera would make for a decent midfield but, for whatever reason, Van Gaal opts to play Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick. United also struggle for attacking options, having let four strikers leave the club this season and only signing one. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are exciting to watch but they're both years away from their best.
City: Win this match or the Champions League quarterfinal? United: Win this match or the FA Cup?
Curtis: Even a derby win will see Pellegrini's men still trail far behind Leicester and Tottenham. However, hope springs eternal and both these sides know how a seemingly unassailable lead can be hauled back. In any case, one can never contemplate losing to United, so it is impossible to trade for something else. Clearly, though, City's priorities lie elsewhere and the further progress they make in the Champions League, the more positive will be Pellegrini's legacy.
Patterson: The FA Cup, without question. Finishing in the top four has gone and beating City would only likely mean that West Ham are playing in the Champions League next season. It's been nine years since we even played in an FA Cup final, let alone won it, so getting to Wembley again would be great.
Where will this match be won and lost?
Curtis: The battle royale between City's makeshift defence and United's shot-shy attack will be something to behold but the truly vital skirmishes will be in midfield, where Yaya Toure, Fernando and Fernandinho must take a grip. If this area can be controlled then City's forward line should be good enough to seal the points, though they need proper service and must avoid the profligacy in front of goal that has been seen too often this season.
Patterson: If Van Gaal's plan is to match City's midfield with Fellaini and Carrick, then that's where the game will be lost for United. Even without Kompany, City could start a central defensive partnership of Otamendi and Mangala, which cost £70 million. Hopefully the pace of Martial and Rashford can cause some damage there.
What is your prediction?
Curtis: Manchester City 2-1 Manchester United
Patterson: The same; 2-1 to City.