I’m worried about Sunday. Pre-derby nerves almost always inspire pessimism among fans, it's just that United’s wingers have drifted from touchlines to sidelines, while our creative, attack-minded midfielders – Anderson, Tom Cleverley and Shinji Kagawa – players who play at a tempo capable of hurting Manchester City, are injured, doubtful, or lacking match practice. Sir Alex subsequently faces a selection quandary for the trip across town.
Neither Manchester club has shown consistent form this season and both teams appear to be jostling for position ahead of an impending New Year sprint. That suggests United and City may both take a cautious approach. Sir Alex suggested as much in his programme notes on Wednesday: “We need to come out unscathed and, with so much at stake, I wonder if there will be a little bit of caution from both clubs. Roberto [Mancini] and I both have to think deeply about our selections and tactics and there may be an element of playing safe.”
That could be a ruse on Sir Alex’s part, of course, setting up classic counter-attack, but some Reds would happily settle for a draw right now. In truth, I wouldn’t be completely disappointed with that outcome but I’d much prefer that United draw having really gone for it and played attacking, positive football rather than watch two teams stifle and suffocate each other.
Sir Alex and Mancini have both experimented with formations this season, including United's use of a midfield diamond in an adapted 4-3-3 formation. With injuries to consider, Sir Alex’s team selection and set-up isn't straightforward or immediately obvious. The 4-3-3 isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; it’s always been United’s style to unleash rampaging wingers intent on swashbuckling counterattacks, yet dominating central areas is vital against City.
The back four should pick itself – Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra – while the goalkeeper spot is the main talking point defensively. Further up the field, Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie are the spine of the team; all definite starters for me. Paul Scholes will be the prime candidate to partner Carrick, though there is a case for Darren Fletcher who is more mobile than his elder