Manchester United vs. Manchester City: Previewing the Manchester derby

At this point in their season, Manchester United are simply playing for pride, and there will probably be lots at stake on Tuesday. For Manchester City, the derby is the first of many difficult matches on the road towards the top of the table.

Between the purchase of Manchester City by the Abu Dhabi United Group and Alex Ferguson's retirement, the derby between City and Manchester United was one of the best games in all of world football. The combination of the spectacle, what the game meant to the people, what the game meant in the Premier League table and the quality of the play on the pitch made it into a rivalry matched only by El Clasico in its status as must-see television for global viewers.

That day will come again, mostly because the two big sides from Manchester are two of the richest teams in the world. But Manchester United have struggled in their first post-Ferguson season to a degree very few predicted, and it wouldn't be surprising if City walked this edition of the Derby, nor would the damage to United be anything but psychological.

No one expected the Red Devils to contend for a title in David Moyes' first season, given how reliant United were on aging players in Ferguson's final years, but they were supposed to be better than this. They were supposed to stay in contact with the top four all season. Instead, their domestic campaign is all but over.

The fact that there isn't really anything left to play for won't make a bad loss on Tuesday sting any less for Manchester United fans, though. They're not going to finish in fourth place or win a trophy this season, but they'd certainly feel a lot better about the future if they could avoid a beating at the hands of their cross-town rivals, who will look very much like title favorites if they come out of Old Trafford with all three points.

This game has little value beyond sentiment for Manchester United, but it's a massive fixture for Manchester City, who have a lot of league games to make up due to their late runs in two domestic cup competitions. They sit third in the table, but will lead the league if they take seven points from their three games in hand. This is one of those games. After this, City play their regular weekend fixture against Arsenal, who are hanging on by a thread in the title race, but still in it, despite their 6-0 loss to Chelsea last weekend.

So, no, this is not the Manchester Derby of recent years. Wayne Rooney will not decide the title race with an iconic bicycle kick. But it's still the Manchester Derby, it's still a tough bump on the road towards a title for one of the teams, and it could rescue the season for another.

It will not be the highest quality game played anywhere in the world like it used to be, but it'll still be fun.

When they last met

Manchester City 4-1 Manchester United. It was ugly, and reminiscent of a 5-1 beating Alex Ferguson suffered at Maine Road in 1989. If there are talks about David Moyes' future this summer, he'd be wise to bring that one up to the board.

Team news

Robin van Persie is unavailable for Manchester United on Tuesday and might not play again for the rest of the season. He has a sprained knee and will miss at least a month, if not six weeks to two months. Nemanja Vidic is still suspended, leaving United thin in defense. All of Rio Ferdinand, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans sat at the weekend, and David Moyes hasn't indicated if any of them are fully fit. Antonio Valencia's eye could be a problem, but he's likely to play.

Manchester City are still without Matija Nastasic and Micah Richards, while Sergio Aguero has picked up yet another injury. However, the rest of the squad is fit and Vincent Kompany is available again after serving a suspension. Edin Dzeko has been ill, but is expected to be available.

Projected lineups (left to right)

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): David De Gea; Patrice Evra, Phil Jones, Rio Ferdinand, Rafael; Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick; Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valenica; Danny Welbeck

Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Joe Hart; Aleksandr Kolarov, Martin Demichelis, Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta; Fernandinho, Yaya Toure; Samir Nasri, David Silva, Jesus Navas; Alvaro Negredo

football formations

Key Matchups

Michael Carrick vs. Yaya Toure - There will be two other central midfielders on the pitch, but the worlds of these two are likely to intersect. Carrick occasionally looks like the man that makes everything go in midfield for United, but he's a liability just as often. He's not exactly quick, so he's not the best guy to have in a defensive position when he gives the ball away. Whenever United turn the ball over, it'll probably result in Toure running at (or by) Carrick shortly afterwards. It'll be interesting to see if there's anything that Carrick can do about it.

Juan Mata vs. Whoever he runs into - Between Robin van Persie's injury and the up-in-the-air status of Antonio Valencia, it's impossible to guess where Juan Mata is going to play. He could end up anywhere on United's attacking band of three, and he'll drift around a ton no matter where he goes. But a lot of United's play is going to run through him and he'll need to come up with some individual magic for United to create chances. Fernandinho and either Aleksandr Kolarov or Pablo Zabaleta are going to see a lot of him and they're going to have to force him into making safe passes, not penetrative ones.

Prediction

There was a time when playing at Old Trafford, in front of their home fans, meant something for Manchester United. They'd get the 6th minute of stoppage time from the referee and a late push from a raucous crowd, and those things helped their team in a way that can hardly be quantified. That magic has left this season. They are a mediocre team, Manchester City are a good team, and that's all that matters. 3-1, City.

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