United hunt elusive Manchester derby win
MANCHESTER, England (AP):
The Manchester derby was a fixture that filled the blue half of the city with dread during United’s glory years under Alex Ferguson.
Now, it’s United fans who are starting to fear the worst when one of English football’s biggest matches comes around.
City are looking for a sixth win in their last seven Premier League games against United when the fierce rivals meet at Etihad Stadium on Sunday. City beat United 4-1 and 3-0 last season and dished out United’s heaviest ever Premier League loss in 2011, a 6-1 thrashing at Old Trafford.
It’s a very different story to the period from 1990-2001, when United never lost to City as Ferguson laid the foundations of his trophy-winning empire.
Both teams need a win to keep on the tail of undefeated leaders Chelsea, which hold a four-point lead over second-place Southampton and also play in a derby against west London rival QPR tomorrow.
City, six points behind Chelsea in third, are going through a poor run of form that continued with a surprise loss to Newcastle in the League Cup on Wednesday. United are in eighth place, 10 points off Chelsea, as they continue a rebuilding job under Louis van Gaal.
Here are some things to know about this weekend’s games in England:
After serving his three-match ban for kicking an opponent, Wayne Rooney was due to be back for United this weekend.
However, there is a doubt surrounding the England striker’s fitness after he was seen apparently limping at a promotional event at Old Trafford on Monday. United haven’t officially given an update on Rooney’s condition.
Fellow striker Radamel Falcao could also be back for United after missing the 1-1 draw against Chelsea on Sunday because he was hurt in training three days earlier.
If Rooney and Falcao are declared fit, they could join a three-man frontline with Robin van Persie that was last fielded by Van Gaal in the 2-1 win over West Ham on September 27.
Rooney is the record scorer in Manchester derbies, with 11 goals.
As if no wins in three matches wasn’t enough of a concern for City manager Manuel Pellegrini, he also saw playmaker David Silva limp off against Newcastle with a twisted knee.
The absence of Silva would be a major blow for City, with the Spain international one of the team’s best players in its inauspicious start to the season.
Fellow playmaker Samir Nasri returned against Newcastle after six weeks out, but isn’t up to full speed. City will rely heavily on Sergio Aguero, the Premier League’s joint top scorer, for goals.
For all of the attacking might on show on Sunday, there will be just as much scrutiny on defences that have kept just two clean sheets each this campaign.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini focused on strengthening his defence in the offseason by signing right back Bacary Sagna on a free transfer and centre back Eliaquim Mangala for £32 million (then $54 million), as well as a defensive midfielder in Fernando.
But Pellegrini has not yet settled on a regular back four as he integrates his new signings and Mangala, English football’s most expensive defender, is struggling to adapt.
Van Gaal has had to contend with a slew of defensive injuries that saw him first try a three-man defence and then revert to four at the back. He hasn’t fielded the same defence two matches running and Phil Jones is now sidelined with shin splints.
While United’s attack looks strong, the defence remains a work in progress. It means there shouldn’t be a shortage of goals at the Etihad.
DROGBA ON A ROLL
Diego Costa isn’t the only inspired signing in Chelsea’s attack for this season.
Didier Drogba returned to Stamford Bridge for a second spell at the club and faced a tough task reproducing his exploits for Chelsea from 2004-12, when he scored 157 goals in 342 appearances and was always the man for the big occasion. But he hasn’t lost his eye for goal.
Filling in while Costa and Loic Remy were injured, the 36-year-old Drogba scored in each of the last three games against Maribor in the Champions League, United in the league and Shrewsbury in the League Cup. He also played the full 90 minutes against United and Shrewsbury, despite the games being only two days apart.
“If I was a kid player and I played with this guy on my side, what more could I wish for?” Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said.
Costa may be fit after illness and injury for the QPR game, however, and would surely be selected over Drogba.
Just like last season, Southampton has made a strong start to the Premier League. The question is: Can they keep it up this time?
Ronald Koeman’s side is the nearest challenger to Chelsea after nine games and is looking for its sixth win in seven league matches when it visits Hull today. Not bad for a team which was ripped apart in the summer, when many of its top players like Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Luke Shaw left.
Also today, Liverpool travel to Newcastle and Arsenal hosts last-place Burnley, the only team without a win in all of England’s four leagues.