Its two top-flight clubs, City and United, are 1st and 2nd in the English Premier League, respectively, and the race for the title will likely involve both all the way to the finish line.
United, the current holder, has traditionally been a force. Its local rival, City, has just started to get itself in order thanks to quite an influx of cash and is now a serious challenger to its crosstown championship-winning pal.
With things going so well for both sides in the league, one might expect them to skate through the early phases of the Champions League as most of the top teams usually do each season. The group is a formality, after all. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case so far this season as both have struggled.
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United, a yearly participant in the world's biggest club tournament, has suffered through 270 minutes of frustrating group play. First a deserved 1-1 draw against Benfica. Then it uncharacteristically surrendered three second half goals at home in a 3-3 draw with Basel. Most recently, it relied on two awarded penalties to beat minnows Otelul Galati 2-0 in Romania.
"I think that in a lot of these away games you have to work to get victory. It’s not easy and they made it very difficult for us, but we had the possession figures that shows that we were in control of the game," said a slightly agitated Sir Alex Ferguson following the 2-0 win.
Champions League newcomer City first drew Napoli 1-1, then experienced the debacle of all debacles in its 2-0 loss to Bayern Munich. Its first win came in the most recent matchday when it barely snuck past Villarreal thanks to an extra-time winner compliments of Sergio Aguero. The Yellow Submarine sits in 14th place in La Liga at time of posting.
“Europe seems to be so different for us so far compared to the Premier League but it was deserved and maybe this will be the one that unlocks all of the [team’s] capabilities for the Champions League hopefully," noted City captain Vincent Kompany his team's struggles on the continent.
So as both teams struggle to get footing in the Champions League they'll be buoyed by the fact that their next domestic opponent will be a team that brings out the best in them, one that pushes them harder than any squad in the EPL . . . each other.
Easily the most anticipated match of the young EPL season, the Citizens of City will travel the five miles west to take on the Red Devils of United at Old Trafford in what should be a first class affair.
What recent history has told us, particularly since City's pockets deepened, is that these two clubs may dislike each other, but also really enjoy getting together on the pitch, with United having the edge in league play of late (as shown below). With any derby there is a requisite intensity that comes with it, but in the Manchester Derby, the stakes are slightly higher lately than any other rivalry in the land.
Sunday will be no different.
City currently has a two point lead over United at the top of the table with the chance to land a debilitating blow to its most-hated adversary if it could take all three points from Old Trafford. Conversely, the home side could hop back in front with a win and continue to keep things interesting as we move towards the second quarter of the season.
|THE BATTLE OF MANCHESTER
- CITY vs. UNITED -
||LEAGUE MATCH DATE
"We've only played eight games and there are 30 to go," said Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini. "We should be happy to go to Old Trafford on the top but we should understand that the championship will be long and that this position can change every week. We have started very well and won a lot of games but we need to improve more."
As Mancini takes the pragmatic approach, he is being rather modest. City and United have dominated England's top flight so far this season, outscoring their opponents by a combined 52-12. That shouldn't change anytime soon.
With the task at hand being a match against not only its biggest rival but closest competitor in the table, Sunday's meeting will be about shaking off the shaky Champions League form and snapping back into what has drawn the plaudits so far this season for the clubs from the Northwest: the impressive league play. That is what the fans want to see.
There is no drama in Manchester City playing Villarreal. You think Wayne Rooney and Nani (or United's traveling support for that matter) want to go to Romania in October? Not likely. Those are the types of matches where only the points, or lack thereof, matter.
It's the hotly-contested, adrenaline-filled derbies that get the blood flowing. The players, fans, coaches, referees, stewards, ball kids, and anyone else with a stake in the outcome, all take their respective game to a different level. For United and City, Oct. 23 is the date on the calendar that has been circled for months, and rightly so.
Despite grappling with disappointing Champions League form, Manchester's two teams can take solace in the fact that they have a huge match on hand this weekend, one that will undoubtedly snap them back into the sparkling form we have all come to expect from the two heavyweights.
Shane Evans is an editor for Goal.com USA. His feature, "The Full English" appears every Friday morning. Contact Shane at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments and concerns, follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/shanEvans or join the TFE/FCS Facebook fan page!
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