Manchester City’s frightful week will get even more gory when they meet neighbours Manchester United at the Etihad on Sunday, according to the Old Trafford club’s supporters trust.
City have stuttered in recent weeks, first throwing away a 2-0 lead against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League before two domestic defeats on the bounce, to West Ham in the league and Newcastle in the Capital One Cup – losing their League Cup crown in the process.
Ahead of a day that truly splits the city in two, MM spoke with Manchester United Supporters Trust vice chairman Ian Stirling to sample the view of United fans before the biggest game of the season so far.
“It’s been a funny thing the derby in the last few seasons. We’ve never really had any type of revenge for the 6-1 and never really had any type of performance,” he told MM, in reference to the demolition at the hands of City in 2011.
“I’ll take a 1-0, in off someone’s backside. A good performance would be a plus, but let’s just come away with three points. That’s what it’s about.”
Stirling said new manager Louis van Gaal, the former European Cup winning coach preparing for his first derby encounter, had impressed him as United strive to fill the void left by long-time great Sir Alex Ferguson, the Scot who retired in 2013 after 26 years at the helm where he won 38 trophies.
“From what we see of Van Gaal he takes these derbies very seriously,” said Stirling.
“You could say at times with Ferguson it wasn’t the most important thing – because there were other bigger games.
“This is Van Gaal putting down his marker on the derby for the future, and if we beat them, we’re only going to be one point behind them, and that’s not a bad start to the season when you consider that City and Chelsea were supposedly going to run away with the league.”
Like any other derby, the Manchester clash has always been a significant marker in the seasons of both teams.
But since Sheikh Mansour’s takeover of United’s noisy neighbours in 2008, the games are now well and truly season defining.
And while Van Gaal’s start to life at the helm at Old Trafford has been tumultuous, United have steadied the ship and are now unbeaten in four league matches – although they are still likely to head across to the Etihad as underdogs.
After all, twenty-times league champions United currently have one point less than they did at the same stage last season under the much maligned David Moyes.
However, a win for the Reds would see them leap into the upper echelons of the Premier League table – the least that fans can expect after the club spent upwards of £150million in the summer.
Despite the array of attacking talent drafted in, including the likes of Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao, United’s defence has been the main cause of concern for fans.
Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo both arrived from Southampton and Sporting Lisbon respectively in the close-season, for a combined £43million, but both have yet to truly find their feet in Manchester.
Stirling conceded that attack is the only form of defence against City, who despite possibly losing David Silva to injury, still have a formidable forward line.
“Attack is all we’ve really got at the minute. It looks a bit nervy at the back. This is a derby though, so you can throw the formbook out,” he said.
“We’ve got a 19-year-old Luke Shaw who’s done ok, it’s building for the future. And with Rojo I think centre backs coming into Premier League teams very rarely slot straight in.
“We probably need one good centre-back as a signing, someone with experience.
“The defence will learn, but we need someone of that quality in front of De Gea, who’s been brilliant.”
United will have the added boost of captain Wayne Rooney being available for selection after serving his three-match suspension for a red card picked up against West Ham.
In his place however, Marouane Fellaini, who endured a miserable first season at Old Trafford, has impressed in the last two games.
After bagging a thunderous equaliser in the 2-2 draw at West Brom, the big-haired Belgian was instrumental in containing Chelsea’s midfield duo of Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic last weekend.
And Stirling says that the United faithful have been impressed with the midfielder’s determined performances, as well as insisting that the result is all that counts on derby day.
“[In a derby] it’s individual performances that count,” he said.
“Rooney will be raring to go when he gets back – he feels like he let the team down with the red card.
“Van Gaal’s got a history of bringing the best out of players, I think he’s instilled some confidence back in Fellaini. His performance against Chelsea on Fabregas showed this – he kept him very quiet.
“He didn’t have a great season last year, but it doesn’t seem to have broken him. But not many players did have a good season at Old Trafford so it must’ve been very difficult coming into that situation.
“So fair play to Fellaini, he’s giving his best and if he continues to perform like that he’ll have a future at Old Trafford. I think he’ll most likely start on Sunday.”
Image courtesy of Manchester City FC via YouTube, with thanks.