The Manchester Derby is never short on emotion. When the red of Manchester United and the blue of Manchester City take to the same field emotion and intensity are a given and bad blood is a good bet. The derby has also provided the English Premier League with matches that have a big impact on the rest of the league, but usually it has come on opposite ends, with the result affecting United at the top and sometimes City at the bottom.
With their new ownership that has shelled out an incredible amount of cash on players City is now towards the top of the table themselves and the match has huge league-wide implications, but just at the top of the table. The Manchester Derby isn't just a must-watch for the emotion and atmosphere anymore. Now it's a must-watch because of the title and Champions League implications as well with some of the best players in the world duking it out.
A look at United and City is a look at some of the world's most expensive players. It cost an estimated $850 million for the two clubs to acquire the players on their respective rosters. United has the league's top scorer, Dimitar Berbatov, who has netted 19 times this season. City has the league's second leading scorer, Carlos Tevez, who has 18 goals to his name. United's Wayne Rooney and Nani are tied for second in the league with 10 assists each and no club has allowed fewer goals than City this season. There's plenty of quality on these teams.
Unfortunately, last time these two teams played, most missed the quality in the match. Each side was very organized and moved very well together. There were sensational defensive performances, most notably Nemanja Vidic for United and Vincent Kompany for City. There was a lot to like about the match, but excellent defending and very little ambition from City led to a 0-0 draw many labeled "dour." That match came in November and at Eastlands, while this time the match will be at Old Trafford.
Last time the two clubs met, City was working out some issues and did not have Edin Dzeko. For those who criticized City's unwillingness to attack, this match may be different and a more in-form Rooney might be what United needs to crack the City defense. It's unlikely that either team gives much away in the back and despite some talking about United bringing in a young centerback to groom for Vidic as he ages, the Serbian might be in the best form of his life.
One area where United had success against City was in the midifeld where they played through Michael Carrick in the center and overloaded the center of the park so Yaya Toure couldn't get forward and Nigel de Jong was forced to play hero with several key tackles. United lacked quality in the final third, but a revived Rooney should help with that and the Red Devils have more than double the goals at home than they do away so that spark that was missing at Eastlands to break down the City defense could very well be there.
It's tough to figure out exactly what worked for City in the attack last match because they didn't try to go forward much. David Silva was the closest thing that the Citizens had to a threat and he did well to push the United defense back, but when he tried to link up with anyone else, the bodies weren't there. If City chooses to start Dzeko, that could change and even if he isn't there to get on the end of balls, he draws enough attention to create space for the deeper runs that City has had success with in the last two months.
United is coming off of their first league loss of the season, a 2-1 defeat at Wolverhampton, while City had their way with West Brom, 3-0. United's stumble last week brought them back to the pack and they sit just four points clear of Arsenal at the top of the table. City is in third place, five point behind United and five points clear of Chelsea and Tottenham, but all of the other clubs in the top five have a match in hand on City so they can end up out of the top four as easily as they can end up pushing United.
For United, the Red Devils could find themselves in real trouble if they can't get three points against City. After Saturday's Manchester Derby, the team will have two matches against fellow top five teams remaining and both are away from Old Trafford. Their remaining match against suddenly resurgent Liverpool is also away so if they drop points to City they will have lost their edge in the title race. A win though, and they maintain their cushion and edge to win a 19th First Division or Premier League crown.
With all of the other top five clubs having a match in hand, City can ill afford to drop points. A loss at Old Trafford and wins by Chelsea and Spurs will put them just a point away from dropping out of the final Champions League slot with that match in hand still hanging over them. Just like that match in hand would be hanging over them, the axe would be hanging over manager Roberto Mancini's head.
With all of the money that he has spent at City he needs to guide the club into the Champions League and with trips to Stamford Bridge and Anfield still on the schedule, a loss will make the Champions League anything but a sure bet. A visit from Tottenham Hotspur at the end of the season will give the Citizens a chance to make up crucial points, but they couldn't defeat Spurs in a similar match a year ago at Eastlands. A win by the Citizens will put them just a point behind United though, making them legitimate title contenders. Saturday's match could determine whether City are playing for the title or the Champions League the rest of the way.
Manchester Derbies are always filled with passion and intensity. When the two teams come out of the tunnel, both set of supporters will be in full voice and Old Trafford will be electric, but the match is much more than that this time around. The result of the match will set the two clubs' courses for the season's final three months. It will also help determine the top of the Premier League table and the millions of dollars associated with it, which makes sense for teams that cost $850 million to assemble.