Soccernet Preview: Man City v Man Utd
Derided as "noisy neighbours" by Sir Alex Ferguson following a 4-3 win for Manchester United in September, Manchester City may not be directly challenging their rivals just yet, but with United slipping off the title pace and City on the brink of Champions League qualification, a subtle shift in the city's power dynamics may be occurring.
The writing was on the wall when City lured Carlos Tevez to Eastlands in the summer and with 28 goals in all competitions, Ferguson's decision to let him leave while retaining Dimitar Berbatov looks unwise at best. Tevez, nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award alongside Wayne Rooney on Thursday, will naturally be a figure of intense media focus in the build-up to the game following his spat with Gary Neville in the Carling Cup semi-final and habit for attracting controversy. Criticising Roberto Mancini's training methods will not have helped.
But it is not just the defection of Tevez that has lead some to sense a possible changing of the guard. United, eliminated from the Champions League and clinging onto any remaining hopes of a fourth consecutive title, can only cast envious glances at the huge resources afforded to City by owner Sheikh Mansour. Are United a team in decline, and City the new force in Manchester? It would be foolish in the extreme to write off Ferguson, but the blue half have rarely been as close to their much-vaunted rivals.
City, who have lost only once at home this season and have scored 14 goals in their past three games, sit one point above Tottenham in fourth. An out-of-form United, meanwhile, are four points behind Chelsea with four games remaining. Constrasting fortunes, both on and off the pitch, but the return of Rooney from an ankle injury could yet lift the gloom hanging over United.
Manchester City player in focus: Adam Johnson. Fabio Capello admitted on Thursday he is considering a late World Cup call-up for the winger who has made a sparkling impression following his January move from Middlesbrough. Boasting pace, skill and a direct dribbling style that unsettles opponents, Johnson has finally emerged from the shadows of Stewart Downing to suggest he is a superior player to his erstwhile Boro colleague. With three assists in two games, he is hitting peak form at the perfect time.
Manchester United player in focus: Darren Fletcher Ferguson always relies on his fellow Scot when a result is of paramount importance and, Rooney and Patrice Evra aside, none have served the manager as consistently well as Fletcher this season. The midfielder said the side had to "show character" after exiting the Champions League at the hands of Bayern Munich and will be the snarling driving force at the heart of the United midfield.
Key battle: Kolo Toure v Wayne Rooney. Stop Wayne Rooney and you stop Manchester United? The accuracy of that statement is open to debate but United certainly struggled without him when drawing 0-0 with Blackburn and if the City defence can subdue England's leading star - a task beyond most sides this season - then they will stand a much improved chance of getting something from the game. Toure suffered at the hands of Rooney during his time at Arsenal and is not City's most accomplished defender. How he copes with the Premier League's top scorer could define the tie.
Tactics: City have settled in a 4-4-2 formation in recent weeks with Adam Johnson and Craig Bellamy providing pace and invention out wide and looking to supply a front two of Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor. United will look to get the ball to Rooney as often as possible with Nani and Antonio Valencia cutting in from wide positions and Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher going head-to-head with City's two defensive midfielders in a real battle in the centre of the pitch. United are formidable on the counter-attack and their pace could unsettle a makeshift City defence.
Quotes: Roberto Mancini hopes Wayne Rooney plays in the derby: "He will be a danger, of course, but United have many fine players in their team - but we have beaten them once at home already and can do it again. I think it is best if both teams are full strength and then the side who takes the three points can truly say the best team won and there is no reason that cannot be us."
Rio Ferdinand explains Carlos Tevez did not overexert himself in training at United: ''Carlos is an interesting character. When he was at United, he saved all his energy for the games - he didn't really go over the top at training. He worked hard in the gym - he was a professional in that sense - but everything he did was geared towards the match at the weekend."
In the news: Carlos Tevez could never be accused of shunning publicity and, despite the best efforts of his club, the striker chose to speak freely once again this week. Tevez claims he did not sanction the infamous 'Welcome to Manchester' poster campaign which greeted his arrival at City and also said the club were too quick to dispose of Mark Hughes. Most troublingly for City, though, he also questioned the double training methods of manager Roberto Mancini.
"The players are not happy with this," Tevez told the Daily Mail. "We are at the end of a long season, we have big matches, we are tired but there are still double training sessions, morning and afternoon. Then, the next day, we train for two hours. I do not understand. But, please, he is the coach and I am the player. He is in charge. I am okay with him."
Manchester City team news: Pablo Zabaleta returns from a two-game suspension and is likely to replace Nedum Onuoha at right back. Stephen Ireland and Patrick Vieira have both been training this week. Wayne Bridge could also make his first appearance since March 14 having overcome an ankle problem, although the defender may start on the bench.
Manchester United team news: The key issue for United is whether Rooney can shake off the ankle injury that forced him to miss the 0-0 draw with Blackburn. If he doesn't, then Dimitar Berbatov will play up front. Ryan Giggs expects to be fit despite a hamstring worry.
Probable Manchester City team (4-4-2): Given, Zabaleta, Toure, Kompany, Garrido, Johnson, Barry, De Jong, Bellamy, Tevez, Adebayor.
Probable Manchester United team (4-5-1): Van der Sar, Rafael, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Fletcher, Giggs, Nani, Rooney.
Soccernet prediction: City are flying at present and appear full of confidence ahead of a fixture they no longer fear. Expect a high scoring draw, and plenty of cards.