“There probably will not be a time when Ferguson, as United manager, will enter a derby game as the underdog. But for the first time in 40 years tomorrow, his club have something to fear in Manchester City and he knows it” – Ian Herbet

There probably will not be a time when Ferguson, as United manager, will enter a derby game as the underdog. But for the first time in 40 years tomorrow, his club have something to fear in Manchester City and he knows it   Ian HerbetComment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “United have lost two significant players from last season. Any team would be affected by that. But you can’t afford to lose players of that standard and not replace them – and I don’t think they have replaced them.” – Mark Hughes.

Runner-up: “I don’t think the derby [could be as big as games against Liverpool]. To me, Liverpool will always be the derby game [for United] because of the history. When I came down here they were the kingpins of England, they had won four European championships. They had won quite a few league titles, too, in that period from Bob Paisley right through to Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish. The system they had operating and started by Bill Shankly was phenomenally consistent. That was my aim, to do well against them, to try to turn that around, so it is hard for me to go against history. The history is there with Liverpool and therefore the challenge is there.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.

{openx:29}

Today’s overview: Although still over 24 hours away, the Manchester derby has the fourth estate in a frenzy of excitement this Saturday.

For Ian Herbert, the gap between United and City is rapidly narrowing. “There probably will not be a time when Ferguson, as United manager, will enter a derby game as the underdog. But for the first time in 40 years tomorrow, his club have something to fear in Manchester City and he knows it.”

Henry Winter prepares for all the individual battles which the derby will bring. “Bellamy versus Nemanja Vidic. Nigel de Jong versus Darren Fletcher. Wayne Rooney versus Joleon Lescott. Ferguson against the world. Duels abound.”

Poetically, Oliver Kay believes Sunday’s Manchester derby could serve as a watershed moment in the history of City. “City, transformed and energised by the boundless wealth and financial backing of Sheikh Mansour, have an opportunity to plant a flag in enemy territory, to prove that there is more to their new-found confidence than a high-profile poster campaign in the city centre.” Similarly, Alan Smith speculates about the morning after should City leaves Old Trafford with the points. “Should they get the better of United on the champions’ home patch, then we can really start talking about an exciting new order. Never mind simply gatecrashing the established top-four clique, City instantly turn into genuine title contenders.”

There probably will not be a time when Ferguson, as United manager, will enter a derby game as the underdog. But for the first time in 40 years tomorrow, his club have something to fear in Manchester City and he knows it   Ian HerbetPerma-tanned pundit Terry Venables delivers some highly insightful opinions ahead of the derby, including “Mark Hughes CAN lead his team to victory against his former club and manager – even without Emmanuel Adebayor,” and “I feel the game will be won and lost in midfield.” Top predciting!

In an in-depth interview with Manchester City boss Mark Hughes, David Conn uncovers that Sparky was on the verge of walking out the club during the reign of Thaksin. Kolo Toure also airs his thoughts on City before the Manchester derby by speaking to Daniel Taylor about being City’s new captain and why he believes United are intimidated by their local rivals.

Flipping focus on United, there is a conflict of opinions as to how to assess Wayne Rooney’s contribution to Manchester United this season.

Kevin McCarra yearns for Wayne Rooney to reach the peak of his powers. “Considering his uncanny gifts, he has still to fulfil himself. Rooney has all the necessary skills of an attacker, but is yet to be England’s footballer of the year or the world player of the year. He does not turn 24 until next month, but his moment ought to be approaching.” By contrast, Mark Lawrenson praises Rooney for activity leading his team so far this season. “Rooney has quite simply gone up a notch in the last year or so, he’s taken his game to a whole new level. His shoulders are broad enough, big enough and strong enough to handle the new weight of expectation thrust upon him.”

There probably will not be a time when Ferguson, as United manager, will enter a derby game as the underdog. But for the first time in 40 years tomorrow, his club have something to fear in Manchester City and he knows it   Ian HerbetAfter a lengthy absense Joe Cole is ready to return to action with Chelsea and Jamie Jackson considers how the England international will be brought into the Blues’ side. “It is conceivable that Lampard’s flexibility may allow Ancelotti to move him to the left or right and allow Cole to play behind Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka. But apart from Florent Malouda, Chelsea have few other specialist attacking wide players, and they have appeared too narrow on occasion this season. So his ability to dribble suggests Ancelotti may ask him to operate close to the touchline while utilising his penchant for cutting inside.”

On Chelsea’s opponents on Sunday, Tottenham, Ian Winrow reports how Harry Redknapp remains keen on bring Patrick Vieira to the Lane. “It seems certain Redknapp will revive his interest in Vieira in January, offering the promise of regular football in the build up to the World Cup finals in a bid to convince the player to put aside his Arsenal loyalties and join their rivals.”

Andy Townsend delivers one of the more outlandish (and dumb) criticisms of the day by suggesting Arsene Wenger is in the wrong for having managed to have Eduardo’s suspension overturned. “For the good of the game, the best thing he could have done would have been to accept Eduardo’s ban. Instead Arsenal used a forensic team to get the decision overturned and now there will be more players who try to get away with what Eduardo did.”

Amazingly there is almost no transfer gossip this Saturday, but in their place other rumours fly across the backpages.

There probably will not be a time when Ferguson, as United manager, will enter a derby game as the underdog. But for the first time in 40 years tomorrow, his club have something to fear in Manchester City and he knows it   Ian HerbetThe Daily Mail’s Christopher Davies gossips that “David Gold, the Birmingham City chairman, has dropped the biggest hint yet that he, PLC chairman David Sullivan and chief executive Karren Brady could mount a takeover for West Ham United.” Over in the Mirror, Simon Bird informs readers that Alan Shearer is open to offers away from Newcastle, while John Cross can’t help himself from scribbling that “Frank Arnesen is still scouting Benfica winger Angel Di Maria – even though Chelsea have been hit with a transfer ban.”

Des Kelly rips into Fernando Torres for the Spaniards new autobiography. “There is Torres, the musical aficionado, on The Beatles: ‘What can I say about the legendary band? There’s not much I can add.’ And he proves true to his word. Torres tells us his favourite TV programmes are Super Nanny and Dog Whisperer; that he has been to Costco and once spent an evening putting together IKEA furniture. It all made me nostalgic for the emotional rollercoaster of Alan Shearer’s seminal work where he detailed an afternoon he spent creosoting his garden fence. Why did Torres bother to pollute the environment with this? As books go, it’s not even writing. It’s typing.”

Changing tracks, irst it was a crackdown on the WAGs, now the England players have cancelled their pre-World Cup party.”

Finally, Leo Messi has agreed a new mega-money deal to keep (arguably) the world’s best football to Barcelona for a while to come. Robert Dineen reveals that details of the deal noting “Lionel Messi has signed a two-year extension to his contract that ties him to Barcelona until 2016. The deal makes the Argentina forward the best-paid player at the club and increases his release clause from €150million to €250m (about £225m).”