Manchester United v Manchester City, Carling Cup semi-final second-leg, January 27, 2010
Manchester City hold the slenderest of leads over their city rivals as action switches to the Theatre of Dreams on Wednesday night and the second-leg of the Carling Cup semi-final prepares to kick into life.
The Citizens narrowly edged United on the own turf 2-1, as former Red Devil, Carlos Tevez, notched a double against his former employers after Fergie’s boys had struck first through Ryan Giggs.
In truth though, United were worthy of at least aÂ draw from the first leg. The reigning Carling Cup winners sustained an aggressive and threatening late bombardment on the shaky City defence, as Mancini’s backline held on by their fingernails against the late onslaught. Unitedâ€™s wide men, Valencia and Evra, had the beating of City’s full backs, and if it wasnâ€™t for a goalline clearance from Nedum Onuoha and a string of saves from Shay Given, United would likely have got something out of the game.
As it is, the away goal scored by United may be pivotal, and should the second leg finish 1-nil to United then Fergie’s charges will advance to Wembley on the away goals rule. (Manchester United are 10/11 to reach the final, City are 21/20.)
That said, a narrow match between the sides seems unlikely as tensions between the warring factions have boiled up in the aftermath of round one. The Tevez versus Neville spat has descended into schoolyard tomfoolery with the grown men taunting eachÂ other with one-finger salutes and verbal cusses, while off the field concerns are high that violence could break out between rivals supporters with nine thousand City fans set to be in attendance at Old Trafford.
For City, it has to be expected that Roberto Mancini will go all out to try and secure the club’s first final appearance in a major trophy for 29 long years.
Doubts remain over whether Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor will be included in the starting eleven after their recent absences at the African Cup of Nations. Elsewhere, Roque Santa Cruz and recent signing Patrick Vieira are both sidelined with calf injuries.
On the plus side, midfielder Stephen Ireland is likely to return to the team following his recovery from injury, and he could replace Robinho in the starting eleven as the Brazilian packs his bags to walk out of City.
Tactically, Mancini will likely field either 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1 formation, in which massive questions will be asked of the visitors’ backline to keep Wayne Rooney quiet after his four-goal haul against Hull. (City are 4/1 to keep a clean sheet, 1/8 against.) That could see Onuoha and Kompany line-up at the heart of the backline, while extra defensive support will arrive from defensively minded midfielders, Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry.
Offensively, City have a multitude of options with which to cause United problems. Martin Petrov, who impressed against Scunthorpe on the weekend, will probably be dropped for the returning Craig Bellamy, while Shaun Wright-Phillips is mooted to return on the right flank. Up-top, Carlos Tevez will be asked to lead the line. (City are 3/1 to score in both halves, 1/10 against.)
Turning to United, as far as injuries go, matters have finally started to improve for Sir Alex Ferguson with just John Oâ€™Shea, Owen Hargreaves and Nemanja Vidic definitely ruled out for the semi. Without Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans should link up again in the heart of the defence after keeping a clean sheet against the Tigers, while Wes Brown looks certain to start at right-back after Rafael came unstuck at Eastlands giving away a penalty. (United are 4/1 to keep a clean sheet, 8/15 against.)
Ryan Giggs is set for a recall in midfield, while Nani could hold onto his place on the right side after the Portuguese forward had one of his best performances ever in a United shirt last weekend.
Player of the season Wayne Rooney will no-doubt lead the attack, but we will have to wait to see whether any of Michael Owen, Dimitar Berbatov and/or Mame Biram Diouf will also make the starting line-up come kick-off.
If the hype is to be believed, this fixture could well be the match of the season so far, with passion and local bragging rights adding extra fuel to an already raging fire between United and City. Hopefully the match will live up to it’s billing, and if so spectators could be in for a goal-glut (11/10 to over 2.5 goals & 10/11 to be under) as well as a healthy splattering of yellow and even reds cards. (11/8 to be a sending off, 4/11 against.)
101predicts: Manchester United 3 – Manchester City 1 (15/1)
Full match odds here.