The Manchester Derby is a fixture that goes back to the twelfth of November 1881, so in effect this weeks match takes just days before the fixtures 129th birthday. Though United have had the upper hand in recent times, it seems that fate has dealt the Sky Blues an advantageous hand in the years leading up to this particular version of this historic rivalry.
The clubs are now polar opposites in terms of finances and in terms of player resources City do have the upper hand. This however is tempered by the fact that United are undefeated still and the team does not roll over to defeat as easily as City have on occasion this season.
City have looked very much the part on occasion though, seen in the gutsy and determined victory over Chelsea, who at the time, were already many peoples favorites for the title. They had in recent weeks lost Carlos Tevez though and his exemplary form had coincided with their best run. Without him, they were embarrassingly dismantled at home by Arsenal before losing away to struggling Wolverhampton Wanderers, who took the City side in their jaws and gave them a death shake they could not recover from.
With Tevez making a welcome return against West Bromwich Albion, providing an assist to Balotelli to boot, things look good for Mancini in the chance creation and completion ratio, with the Argentinian showing efficiency per chance created that many managers in Europe only dream of in their strikers ( maybe not Eintracht Frankfurt's manager though).
They have looked imperious at times, the wonderful midfield play of Yaya Toure, along with the flair of David Silva and the trickery of Adam Johnson. Carlos Tevez, the Tasmanian Devil like Argentinian, has been at his outlandishly brilliant best at times this year, the former darling of several clubs fans, including, Boca Juniors, Corinthians, West Ham and United themselves, his work ethic as much as his tenacious technical wizardry is his most admired trait. His presence will bring extra spice to a fiery broth, not only because of his dazzling form this season, but also because of his switching of camps to the blue side of Manchester.
Manchester United themselves remain without their most famous player, Wayne Rooney, who has been a flickering shadow of the shooting star he was last season, in which he blazed a trail to the world cup that was mysteriously extinguished before the tournament began.
When I say mysteriously, I mean there would have been obvious fatigue involved with such a campaign as United's and the EPL players all went without the benefits of the winter break, though mysteriously, many railed against the striker, condemning him as a flash in the pan and not fit to lace the boots of the great Pele, after people went as far as to call him 'the white Pele'.
'A player themselves, if they are anything truly special, never gets sucked into their own hype', is the old adage, though in this day an age, our stars seem to rise and fall at a much faster rate than ever before, as they are held up to the digitally enhanced space program laser microscope, and every deed and word is committed to print or film in some form.
The rumors have flashed around both of these excellent strikers in the weeks since the season began, and it is a shame only one of them is expected to take the pitch at Eastlands on Wednesday.
There is however a ray of hope for United in the stellar excellence of Javier Hernandez who has taken to the English game like a piranha to a drowned cow, gnashing and twisting brilliantly to carve himself a place in th hearts of the United faithful already, his stunning reverse header at Stoke underlining his rare class.
Dimitar Berbatov has also been at his half asleep brilliant best as well, his stunning control and exquisite touch scoring and providing goals this season, in a more consistent manner than ever before. This fixture would seem to be the place for the Bulgarians superior technique to come to the fore, though it will be interesting to see where he starts the match.
The formula for City this season has involved a smothering of the middle of the park that is as much to do with excellent and disciplined pressing, as it is with the superior skill ratio of City's midfield contingent. The forwards they can choose from are all technically proficient and capable of excellent moments of class, though in the weekend gone, young Mario Balotelli grabbed the headlines for his explosively insane entry into the English goal charts. His two goals merely a preclude to him going into a Berserker like moment of rage filled madness and getting himself sent from the field. A glimpse of the player, that truly introduced the EPL viewing public to Mario Balotelli and his brilliantly insane take on things.
One would expect Roberto Mancini to play the same system he did against Chelsea and seemed ready to play against Arsenal, that of stifling the opposition and hunting out weaknesses in quick drives forward. A defensive 4-5-1 could well be the order of the day for Mancini, even though it could well be masqueraded as a 4-3-3 as we have seen in recent weeks.
The Italian will be aware that he should have the edge in the midfield area, as he simply has more world class ball players to choose from. Though if Darren Fletcher can bring his A game to the match, he can cut it with the best, as even Xavi is known to have attested too.
The return of Tevez is huge for City, because not only does the Argentinian specialist bring his wealth of skill and desire, he will restore much to the morale of his team mates, merely by his presence alone. With so many potentially scintillating attackers in his squad, it is again a matter of Mancini finding the balance that will get him the performance he imagines when he looks at the line up on paper.
Several players have been in good form for City, Adam Johnson has been impressive for both club and country, but has struggled to get a run of consecutive appearances as others have been preferred. James Milner is another excellent player who was the toast of Birmingham with Villa last season, though he has found himself more consistently played in a deeper midfield role. Yaya Toure has been excellent at times, really showing that he at least is somewhere close in ability to the amount his ridiculous wages suggest. Several times the Ivorian has made lung firing runs up the field only to be let down by the person who was meant to supply the finish. He seldom had that problem at Barca. The ingredients are there for City, the question is, can Mancini display his knowledge of footballing cuisine?
Sir Alex Ferguson will have a plan that he imagines will be executable, as long as his players are capable on the day of playing to the standards that Ferguson expects. He will however be wary of his teams inability to provide a watertight defensive platform as they have done in recent years. So he will no doubt have some sort of defensive conundrum cooked up to match the 'Catenaccio' of his Latin adversary. Mancini's 'door bolt' being the key for him in terms of eliminating the opportunity for defeat, and moving through a game from this point.
United or City?
Is there a chance that either of these managers will set out to attack from the off?
It seems highly unlikely, as both of them are hideously aware of the ramifications of defeat in this fixture. For Ferguson it would be a blow, but he will no doubt have more ability to recover from it than perhaps Mancini will.
Ferguson will have highlighted this fixture at the beginning of the season as a must win, and he will be filled with burning intent when he makes his plans for the line up that will contest the match.
It would be thought that the greater chance of a truly attacking line up lies with the Scot, though he has in recent years moved away from the swashbuckling style of his teams in the nineties, to a more disciplined flourish. He will however be aware that he is in the position where he needs to gamble, merely because his club is in the red and they need to maintain a strong presence in the top competitions to have any chance of balancing the books in the near future.
So it could be Ferguson who elects to attack the home side, and Mancini will set his team up to wait, and hope that the disaster that befell them against Arsenal is not repeated.
Ideally we will see two teams going like rum enraged pirates, cutting, thrusting and swinging from the sails, the reality is, the cynic would say this could well be the most boring match you will see this season, punctuated by some controversy that decides the game.
The optimist however, should always prevail, and in this piece they shall, batten down the hatches people, and lash yourselves to the deck, there's a hurricane on the horizon, for two sets of crazed attacking loons are about to take to the pitch in search of there own little piece of history.