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 team-mate. Without Anderson, Cleverley or Kagawa applying speed and penetration to United’s play, I’d be tempted to put Rooney in that advanced, third midfield role; slightly deeper than he has been playing when stationed behind van Persie.
Rooney is better influencing games higher up the pitch, but needs must in a match in which Sir Alex says victory would be “one of our best results ever” and Rooney provides a bit of bite and can dictate the game from that position. Ahead of that trio, I’d go with a three-pronged attack of Danny Welbeck, van Persie and Ashley Young. Welbeck hasn’t consistently found last season’s form, but he’s a Manchester lad and knows what it means to win a derby. And he excels playing at pace. Young looked promising at Reading and, in the absence of Nani and Antonio Valencia, he will find space in wide areas.
Admittedly, this would be a bold, attacking – and some might say risky – line-up, but wasn’t the general feeling after last season’s visit to the Etihad that we weren’t bold enough? When United really take the game to teams and attack with a positive approach from the off, it invariably pays dividends: Chelsea, Arsenal and Newcastle are prime examples this season.
Ultimately, Sir Alex picks the team and clearly he takes a far more considered and responsible long-term view than I am here. But second-guessing his team selection is all part of the preparation for a big derby - and helps ease the nerves. What would your team be?
Post your Manchester derby starting XI on Talking Reds.