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Thoughts ahead of United


After quelling talk of dressing room problems and anti-Mancini sentiment with the win at West Brom, far from being a ‘must win' game to save the managers job, the derby has taken on a greater meaning: two heavyweight challengers with not only points but talk of power shifts at stake.

The derby trash talking has already begun from both camps. From Kolo Toure's ‘bring on United' call, to Paul Scholes's ‘anyone but City' line and Patrice Evra's dismissive ‘(City are) all talk and no action' you do sense a real meaning to the game in excess of the usual derby hype.

If there was a feeling that derby games had lost a little of their lustre of late, the four battles in 2009/10 undoubtedly re-invigorated the clash of the two Manchester sides. United of course emerged on top last season, snatching late, late winners in not only both league encounters but also denying City a trip to Wembley with an injury time goal in the Carling Cup semi-final at Old Trafford.

The games last season were crucial affairs: tense, nervy affairs full of spirit, zest and passion - no doubt helped by the atmosphere generated in those night games in the Carling Cup. What is telling now though is that it is no longer merely local ‘bragging rights' at stake, and as proved last season victory or defeat in a derby now has far reaching ramifications in terms of league position for both sides than simple one upmanship at stake.

The victory over West Brom will no doubt have restored the spring in City's step, the manner of the win as important as the result itself, but United are testing opponents. By all accounts playing below par (or even having lost a step) this season, they do come into the game unbeaten and whilst reports of their demise are gleefully announced, they are often proved to be premature and they are nothing if not tenacious. Heading into the game, the stats seem to point in their favour too.

Despite the loss of Mario Balotelli through suspension, Mancini should have a full side to select from, with the two decisions being whether Aleksandar Kolarov or Pablo Zabaleta starts at left-back and whether James Milner or Adam Johnson will repace Balotelli (I suspect the latter in both cases). Despite talk of squad size and competition in every position, I felt that a dozen or so games into the season we would see around fourteen players that Mancini would primarily call on and this now appears to be the case.

There are three key areas for City heading into the game that will determine the outcome; Vincent Kompany and Kolo Toure to remain as resolute as they have been for the most part this season, the midfield trio to be dominant in possession and for the blossoming Tevez and Silva partnership to fire.

With derbies being tight, cagey affairs, the first two points are important to ensure ground is not lost and a degree of control on the game can be exercised, but where the margins of difference are narrow, it is a flash or spark of creativity, a single moment that can separate sides and this is where Tevez , and particularly Silva can shine.

Silva has been exceptional over the past month and has settled well into life in the Premier League. I hold no fear for him in this game and whilst City have the platform in place to compete and Tevez's importance and influence is undoubted (as illustrated in Jonathan Wilson's piece in The Guardian) in stretching and troubling the United defence, it may well Silva that is the difference maker in terms of winning or losing.