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A day of great excitement and trepidation

10 November 2010

There’s nothing quite like facing your biggest rival, in any sport and in any setting. When your hated arch enemy beat you three times last season in stoppage time — twice in the league and once in the Carling Cup — and has spent the last few days yapping to the media… Well, let’s just say this one means a lot.

Passions will be running even higher than the usual ridiculously high level because of the recent Wayne Rooney contract saga. The panicked reaction of United fans when faced with the very real possibility of their idol venturing into the city tells you all you need to know about how seriously they take The Noisy Neighbors nowadays. The ugly crowd scenes that played out in last year’s derbies, with players from both sides targeted by objects thrown from the stands, could pale in comparison to this season’s, with the intensity ratcheted up even more.

I believe City have built a far superior squad to that of their debt-ridden suburban neighbors, especially with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, and possibly Nani and others unavailable. Then again, that talent edge didn’t manifest itself on the pitch in the form of results last season, and even though United have won away from home just once in five attempts in the league this season, I’m too scarred by last season’s heartbreaks to feel good about this one.

It’s time for City to put down a marker at long last. I’m sick of reading about potential changings of the guard in Manchester and noisy neighbors. I’m tired of that banner in the Stretford End in Stretford. I’m tired of City coming up just short — both against United and relative to expectations. This is the time to win at home against a lesser opponent. You know, like elite sides do.

This is about as good a time as any to play United. They were exceptionally fortunate to pull out a win over Wolves on Saturday after blowing yet another second-half lead, and have looked very vulnerable this season. Add in the aforementioned injuries and a flu bug ravaging their camp and this might be the weakest United side Alex Ferguson has brought to Eastlands for a league match in quite some time.

United aren’t the only ones with question marks over player availability. Carlos Tévez has told friends he is 50-50 to feature in this one after his injured thigh flared up after Roberto Mancini foolishly played him all 90 minutes on Sunday at West Brom. Meanwhile, Mario Balotelli is suspended for his sending off in that one.

Aleksandar Kolarov finally is back from the ankle injury he suffered in the opener, though to this point he’s made only cameos as a substitute and I’m not sure he’s ready to play a full game at left back. Hopefully Yaya Touré and Jérôme Boateng can recover from the knocks they suffered on Sunday and start. If not Micah Richards and Patrick Vieira should be capable fill-ins.

Here’s what I expect to see on the team sheet for City tomorrow:

The match is on ESPN2 (and ESPN3.com) at 3pm ET. I’m taking the afternoon off of work and will be watching at The Banshee. MCFC Boston is having a viewing there, but I’m not sure how many of my fellow Blues will be able to make it on a weekday afternoon. My nightmare scenario involves watching City lose with a bunch of United fans. Actually, my nightmare just involves City losing. Dear God please not again.

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