Only two days remain before the opening match of the 2011/12 English football calendar, the Community Shield.
The match between Manchester United and Manchester City will be the 160th Manchester Derby. While normally considered a glorified friendly, the Community Shield fixture this year ought to come with the bitterness befitting a match between the two Manchester sides.
While there are questions about who will play in the match because of players' injuries or extra rest time after international duty, many of the big names for both sides are likely to play in the match. My prediction for the match is a 2-1 United win, and the following is a few reasons why.
Manchester City made the most expensive move in the transfer window thus far with the signing of £38 million striker Sergio Aguero, giving city manager Roberto Mancini yet another option up front along with Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli and want-away Carlos Tevez.
It has already been announced that Tevez will not play in the match in order to give him a longer vacation after the Copa America, and Aguero might not be able to start because of a foot injury.
Should Aguero not get significant playing time, that leaves Balotelli and Dzeko up front, who scored nine and two goals for City last season, respectively.
Not only did neither of those two score much last term, but the fulcrum of City's attack, David Silva, had the best understanding with Tevez and won't be involved at all.
Even if Aguero plays for an extended period, he hasn't had the time to develop an understanding with his teammates to be particularly effective.
City get very little goal scoring outside of their strikers, so it will be interesting to see if Yaya Toure or some other midfielder can be influential in the attack.
Manchester United may be without Javier Hernandez for the match, but they undoubtedly have the edge in the goal scoring department. Some combination of Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen will probably start for United, and all of them provide a serious goal threat.
It could be said that Berbatov is inconsistent and Owen is lacking form, but if Berbatov gets hot he is absolutely devastating, and Owen has looked decent at times in the preseason.
Ultimately, Rooney will have a big role to play, as he has developed into a fine creative force, as well as a goalscorer. United also have an advantage in terms of wing players that can score and create goals as well.
While City's Adam Johnson can provide a threat, Nani, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have proven that they can play a major role in an attack.
In midfield, the pairing of Carrick and Anderson has looked solid for United (against admittedly weaker competition), and Park Ji-Sung always provides a strong performance and peerless work rate.
For City, first choices Nigel De Jong and Gareth Barry are fine holding midfielders. Yaya Toure will prove an important player if City's forwards can't get anything going, as he scored the only goal in his side's 1-0 FA Cup semifinal win against United last term.
In terms of defense, City have purchased some new players in Gael Clichy and Stefan Savic, and United spent over £18 million on England U21 center back Phil Jones.
All three players are depth additions at this point unless Clichy is preferred to Aleksandar Kolarov at left back, so if the best defenders are started on each side, they probably won't be much of a factor.
Among the stalwarts in defense for both sides United have the clear advantage. Assuming that Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand start together, they are one of the best pairings in Europe and are certainly better than what City have to offer, especially since Kolo Toure is serving a suspension.
At fullback, the United first choice combination of Patrice Evra and Rafael provide decent defending and excellent speed up the flanks. For City, Kolarov/Clichy and Micah Richards are all solid.
I don't see a strong advantage either way there. Most important for the defensive side of the match will be if Vidic and Ferdinand can put together a strong performance against strikers looking to regain form and a potential monster in Aguero.
While someone may be able to sneak in a goal for City, United should be able to learn from their FA Cup loss and effectively control the midfield threats of Toure and Silva.
Also, I expect United to unlock last year's best defense and come away with their 19th Community Shield