Manchester clubs difficult to split in Sunday’s battle

BEN CLEMINSON AND BILL ESDAILE WITH THE BEST FOOTBALL AND RACING BETS THIS WEEKEND

THE Premier League season hasn’t really caught fire yet with last year’s top four all suffering one defeat.

Manchester City will probably be the most disappointed as they would really have expected at least 10 points, rather than the seven they have, from their opening four games against Newcastle, Cardiff, Hull and Stoke.

However, they got their Champions League campaign off to the perfect start on Tuesday night with a comfortable 3-0 success against Viktoria Plzen.

Manuel Pellegrini will have been pleased with his side’s display in the Czech Republic, but Sunday’s game at the Etihad Stadium against arch rivals Manchester United is his first real test as City boss.

United have also stuttered slightly, taking just a point from their two matches against Chelsea and Liverpool. But they also got off to the perfect Champions League start with a 4-2 home win against Bayer Leverkusen.

That would have been a big relief for David Moyes, as he lacks European experience, and will have given him confidence ahead of his first Manchester derby.

City have won three of the last four league meetings against United and, with their strong home record, it is no surprise that the bookmakers have them as the general 6/5 favourites.

The Red Devils, who won through an unforgettable Robin van Persie injury-time winner here last season, can be backed at 12/5. That was possibly the catalyst that kicked the champions-elect on to an unassailable lead. A win on Sunday would be a major early psychological blow.

There have been plenty of goals in recent Manchester derbies, but I think this could be a tighter, cagier affair than normal. Both managers will be desperate not to lose and they may well set their stall out accordingly.

When Chelsea went to Old Trafford last month they played with the sole aim of earning a point. I’m not saying either club will do that on Sunday, but these are probably the two strongest defences in the division and they could hold sway.

City have kept four clean sheets in their opening five games across both competitions, while United have only conceded two in their first four league contests.

The draw looks the right bet at 12/5 with Coral and I would also advise taking the same firm’s 14/1 about no goalscorer. That is a very big price for two teams with such solid defenders and managers experiencing this unique atmosphere for the first time.

Apart from Sunday’s big one, the rest of the Premier League fixtures look a bit dreary. There is quite an intriguing battle right at the bottom of the league, though.

Sunderland, who have taken a miserly point from their first four fixtures, travel to the Hawthorns to take on a West Brom outfit that have managed just one point more.

The Baggies are the favourites, but I can’t even consider backing them at 11/10 with Coral. They have only scored one goal so far this campaign, and that was a last minute equaliser at Fulham last Saturday.

Paolo Di Canio’s Sunderland look no better, so I can see these sides cancelling each other out. Take the draw at 12/5 with Coral.

■ Pointers…
Draw (Manchester City v Manchester United) at 12/5 with Coral
No goalscorer at 14/1 with Coral
Draw (West Brom v Sunderland) at 12/5 with Coral