LONDON – As much as both managers try to say there are still only three points available when Manchester United hosts Manchester City on Sunday, Wayne Rooney called it right when he said it is “a massive game of pride.”
It is third vs. first in the Premier League, Manchester’s traditional powerhouse against who Sir Alex Ferguson called “the noisy neighbors.” Two clubs who spent around £250 million between them this summer going head-to-head and either could end the weekend as the league’s top dogs and local bragging rights with a victory.
Both sides are littered with match-winners. Despite the absence of David Silva and Sergio Aguero, the blue half of the city have scored 11 times in their last two Premier League games. Louis van Gaal’s men come into the derby in mixed recent league form — a dismal display in the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal, and a convincing win by the same score line at Everton.
There are some mouth-watering clashes in store. Morgan Schneiderlin vs. Yaya Toure . . . Matteo Darmian vs. Raheem Sterling . . . Juan Mata vs. Kevin de Bruyne . . . Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial against Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi . . . with David de Gea and Joe Hart two of the top five goalkeepers in the world.
The last 10 Manchester derbies have averaged four goals per game and with both sides stronger going forward than defending. This trend should continue at Old Trafford. United ground out a 1-1 draw away to CSKA Moscow, using Marouane Fellini as a second-half route one target man. While Martial scored a 65th-minute equalizer, it is not the kind of tactic that will trouble the best in Europe.
United’s results have generally been much better than its performances; the Reds have been too predictable, with little spontaneity. Rooney needs more pace alongside him in attack to prevent him dropping deep to pick up some midfield scraps. The good news for United is that Martial has started his Old Trafford career impressively, scoring five goals in nine games while Mata, with three goals and four assists, is United’s player of the month and his contribution will be crucial against a City team that tends to err on the side of caution in big games.
Despite Manuel Pellegrini’s traditional pragmatism, in Sterling and de Bruyne the visitors have forwards with pace, invention and who can punish opponents on the counter-attack, which may just be the deciding factor in what promises to be an intriguing Manchester derby.
Sad reality : If Jose Mourinho’s children behaved like their father, one would hope he would scold them. For a 52-year-old to act in such a puerile manner is inexcusable.
The Chelsea manager is still angry, to say the least, that the Football Association fined him £50,000 and gave him a one-year suspended stadium ban for saying referees were afraid to award Chelsea penalties.
Last season Chelsea was third in the most penalties awarded table.
What really annoys Mourinho is that in his mind Arsene Wenger has described a referee as “naive” and “weak” yet has not been punished. So he has decided, it appears, to confront the authorities by continually using these words to see if they will take action.
Asked how he thought Chelsea had played after its 0-0 draw away to Dynamo Kiev, Mourinho’s immediate reply was: “The referee was weak and naive.”
The Arsenal manager did not call referee Mike Dean “naive” — he said the official had “shown naivete.” One for the pedants, there. To describe a referee’s decision as “weak” does not, the F.A. feels, doubt his integrity as Mourinho’s “afraid” quote did.
Mourinho’s childish game, if it continues (and all the signs are that he will not give in) will end with the F.A. charging him with bringing the game into disrepute and activating the stadium ban.
If this is what Mourinho the martyr wants, then he will have achieved his aim. It is sad that one of the truly great coaches of all-time will be remembered for his tantrums rather than his trophies.
Shifting positions: Michel Platini’s remarkable £1.35 million advisory contract with FIFA was sealed on a “gentleman’s agreement” with the soon to be ex-president Sepp Blatter.
Which begs the question: who shook hands on behalf of Blatter?
It must be the first £1.35 million deal put in place with nothing in writing, no solicitors or legal eagles involved; also, with no details of what Platini did for this vast sum. Given what has subsequently happened to the man and organization that runs world football the mind boggles.
FIFA could certainly do with a mountain of good advice right now, but not from Platini who, along with Blatter, is suspended while the contract is investigated. Blatter is under criminal investigation for his role in the deal.
All of which has placed the English Football Association in a difficult position and the hole it has dug for itself gets deeper and deeper. The F.A. continued to back Platini as its choice to succeed Blatter, its initial pledge based on the fact that the Frenchman admitted voting for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup — the only executive committee member to come clean about a decision that has plunged the sport into its biggest crisis.
For most, knowing that someone had cast a vote for Qatar would be enough to NOT throw their weight behind the candidate to rule world football. The English have always liked to be different, though.
However, in a rare outbreak of common sense the F.A. announced its support for Platini had been “suspended” until the legal process is complete. Yet normal service was soon resumed to add to a scenario that is spiraling out of reality when the F.A. also said it wishes Platini well “in fighting these charges and clearing his name.”
Sorry? Should its stance not be strictly neutral rather than say it hopes FIFA’s ethics committee cannot prove any wrongdoing against its initial chosen candidate?
Sooner or later, Blatter and Platini will have to come absolutely clean about their private deal and it must be hoped the evidence is made public in the new world of FIFA transparency. The trouble is, world football’s ruling body’s idea of transparency can still amount to privacy.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.
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