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Match Preview: Battle of Manchester – Part 1: The managerial showdown

It’s that time again when we brace ourselves for the showpiece game of the Premier League. Although one side has stood the test of time under the reign of a wily Scot, we have seen a change in their opponents for the past two decades now. Etihad Stadium will erupt on the 9th of December as Mancini’s defending champions welcome the Premier League stalwarts and their cross-town rivals, Manchester United.

The showdown which even with its derby flair, never came to prominence in the Premier League era until the Shiekhs drove their way to the blue half of Manchester and deliver their first league title in 44 years – pipping United in the final minutes of the season to make it special. Once termed as noisy neighbours   by Sir Alex now admits the fact that it is the most important fixture of the season for United. This season, again, the Manchester clubs have raced past the other competitors to carve their own separate battle ground at the top of the table.

Building-up to the potential title decider of the season, we will dissect every subplot that enlivens this captivating fixture. Today, we take a look at the decision makers of game that pull the strings from the touchline. It’s time to add another chapter to the Mancini-Fergie rivalry saga.

Persisting headaches

Sir Alex Ferguson

Midfield hassle

For Sir Alex, there have been plenty of problems to deal with in conjuring up the right plan for the derby. There’s the central midfield combination which Ferguson has fiddled with for a couple of seasons now, but it’s only now that the opponents are exploiting that loophole every other weekend. With Paul Scholes and Carrick at the helm, United have two good passers, but none who can pose as an efficient foil. Other alternatives that have come to the fore in recent times have been Cleverley and Anderson but it’s the latter’s injury that makes things more difficult for the Scot. In recent fixtures against Man City, United have been left wanting for a midfield presence to counter the threat of Yaya Toure and it could again be that battle which could bring misery for Sir Alex’s side this weekend.

Disappointing defending

Another annoying element of this United side is the inconsistent play from the back line, as Sir Alex’s boys have conceded 21 goals in this season’s 15 league games – a staggering figure you couldn’t associate with any other United side in the Ferguson era. Though, much of it was due to the lack of alternatives for Sir Alex’s side, going into this big game, United have Jones, Smalling, Ferdinand and Evans fit for the game – certainly something that comes as a lot of relief for the gaffer. Conceding three in the opening stages of the game at Reading sent some alarm signals for the United manager and one would expect him get things right in this crucial game.

Goalkeeping conundrum

De Gea or Lindegaard? A question that has harrying the United fans for quite some time. Although the manager calls it a headache he’d prefer to live with, he’d still want one of those ‘keepers to cement their place in the side. While De Gea fails to exude confidence in the aerial battles, Lindegaard couldn’t be termed a spectacular choice either. The Scot would want one of them to build some momentum on the field, but maybe it’s the lack in confidence in both of the contenders that has kept him pondering every single week. For this key fixture, it may come down to who starts the midweek Champions League game for the side as Ferguson would look to give a the player at least some essential game-time before the big clash.

Roberto Mancini

Tactical turmoil

A ‘three-man defence’ and the obsession of Mancini to get it right for the champions have been the theme of City’s early season stumbling. Result? A chaotic defensive setup that is constantly outplayed by their opponents before the Italian gets it right to save the day – more often than not. City’s inability to keep conceding consistently is baffling considering they had the best backline in the league, until last season. It was probably Mancini who wants to renovate their side’s playing pattern which was visible with the introduction of Matija Nastasic in the central defence, a ball-playing defender from Sebia. Mancini has been constantly trying to impose his philosophy which has disturbed the pairing of Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott at the heart of defence, with the latter facing long spells on the sidelines for no particular reasons.

Monotonous mainframe

With the departure of Adam Johnson to Sunderland and only Scott Sinclair recruited to strengthen the depleted wings, Mancini has been facing torrid spells of late, often criticized for his inability to conjure a potent Plan B for his side. The effervescent genius of David Silva will be missing again in the derby, as it has been for most of the season, which has made vertical movement on the field extremely difficult for the side. Without the services of the Spain midfielder, the Italian coach has, at times, been responsible for his side’s monotonous displays which has also led the fans boo the home side off the field a couple of times already.

On the back of these rather unsolved chalkboard problems, it will be fascinating to see how Mancini could manage his lot to another resolute outing at home against their fiercest rival.

Forward line dilemma

The ever amazing duel with his compatriot Mario Balotelli, the enigmatic Edin Dzeko who produces results off the bench yet fails to impress when given a start, adding to it an inconsistent run from the Argentine duo and it could be a fidgety season for the manager. Although the goals are coming to carry them unbeaten in the league this Sunday, when compared to their opposition, Mancini is still struggling to make the most out of his wide range of options. His man-management skills were always going to be put to the test when all the strikers were fit enough to stake a claim for first team spots and for now, the Italian is struggling to cope with their tall egos.

The brighter side

The managers have had many doubts in their minds before the big game, yet there are other aspects of their side which have kept them from losing their mind in what has been a frantic season for the Manchester clubs. While Sir Alex can take heart from the goal-glut on the back of some fluid attacking displays that has brought several comebacks off some disheartening defending, Mancini could boast about his side’s ability to stand unbeaten in the league even when things often failed to work for them. Moreover, both managers have had to devise rescue operations to garner some crucial points and in Edin Dzeko and Javier Hernanadez, the managers have had the perfect super-subs to take care of the business.

Stat-check

- There have been a total 10 meetings in all competitions between Sir Alex and Roberto Mancini and the former leads by 5 wins to 4, with the only other game ending as a 0-0 draw.

- Out of those 5 wins for Sir Alex’s men, 3 of them have been on the back of stoppage time goals.

- After promising the fans that the league won’t come down to goal difference again, Sir Alex has made sure to counter the problem this time around with 37 goals scored already this season.

- Mancini’s side, even on the back of so many tactical turmoils, are the only remaining unbeaten side in the league. Add that to the best defensive record with only 11 conceded in the 15 league games this season.

What to expect

With Mancini keen to give Fergie everything he’s got on and off the field, the managerial bout could stretch right from the media interactions to the touchline. As Brian Kidd said last year, Mancini and Ferguson are cut from the same cloth – and one could hardly disagree with that with the respect to the current scheme of things across the Manchester clubs. Expect another couple of rounds of tantalizing mind games from the duo, with Sir Alex looking to apply the pressure to succeed towards the Italian’s corner. The Italian on the other hand will look to back his side on terms of the psychological edge ahead of the derby and a fortress that the Etihad Stadium has been for the home side in the past calendar year.

The two tacticians on the touchline certainly have aces up their sleeves and it will be down to the right timing that fetches a result for one of them. While the shrewd old Scot will look to wrestle through with his relentless verve, Mancini’s resilient approach has kept his side afloat, time and time again.

This is definitely a one of a kind clash of the masterminds – one that you just cannot afford to miss!

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