It's not unusual for one of the Manchester clubs to be at the top of the table coming into a Manchester Derby. It is, however, unusual for the club on top to be Manchester City. Both sides have been playing excellent football this season and both remain unbeaten in the league. In fact, Manchester United remain unbeaten in all competitions; a 2-0 loss to Bayern Munich is all that separates City from perfection.
While it may be too early in the season to be calling this matchup make or break for either team, should one team manage all three points from this fixture they may well grab the psychological edge over their title rivals. Manchester United came from behind to beat City earlier this year in the Community Shield and one has to wonder how much that second half capitulation weights on the Citizens.
Roberto Mancini and his City team head to Old Trafford Sunday with every intent of cementing their place as the top club in Manchester. City, however, have not had much luck at Old Trafford of late. In the last fourteen Premier League meetings between the two clubs at the Theatre of Dreams, United have won nine, drawn four, and lost only once back in 2007.
The team Mancini selects will give us some insight into his state of mind. Normally known as a manager who prefers defensive responsibility, Mancini has forsaken that approach for all-out attack this season. It is that approach that saw them ripped to shreds by a rampant Bayern Munich side. Don't be surprised if the likes of Gareth Barry or James Milner are introduced to the squad to counter the attacking power of United. The Italian may be content playing for a draw and then going for it all in the return fixture in April.
Thanks to some careful management of his players over the last two matches, Sir Alex Ferguson will be able to name his strongest available squad for this match. Wayne Rooney should be back in the starting XI for United and the center defensive pairing of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand should both be ready to go. Ferguson is still without Tom Cleverley and Rafael da Silva, but has plenty of talent available to cover for that.
Questions also remain about how Sir Alex will choose to align his squad for this match. Will he opt for a more fluid attacking 4-4-2 as he did in the first three weeks of the season or will he opt for the 4-4-1-1 formation that delivered Manchester United the title down the stretch last season? Given that this fixture is at home expect the Scotsman to go all out using Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Ashley Young, and Nani and foregoing the players he likes to play when using a more conservative approach, like Ji-Sung Park and Ryan Giggs.
Game Date/Time: 1:30 P.M. local (8:30 A.M. ET), Sunday, October 23, 2011
Venue: Old Trafford
TV: Fox Soccer Channel (USA), Sky Sports 1 (UK), Rogers Sportsnet World (Canada)