MANCHESTER CITY vs MANCHESTER UNITED
MANCHESTER City boss Roberto Mancini has lit the touchpaper ahead of his first derby with Manchester United by predicting the Eastlands side could usurp their bitter rivals as England’s biggest club.
City’s recent history has been anything but illustrious, containing spells in the Championship and even League One as recently as 1999, and has left them firmly in the shade of United.
The men from Old Trafford, meanwhile, have hoovered up every honour going under the stewardship of Sir Alex Ferguson, and are unfamiliar with being challenged for honours by their cross-town neighbours.
But on the eve of tonight’s Carling Cup semi-final first leg, and emboldened by both a bright start to his tenure and the unrivalled wealth of City owner Sheikh Mansour, Mancini said he could see a shift in power on the horizon.
“If we work well, it is possible,” said the Italian. “United have a big history. They have been a good team for many years. City can become a big team in the next year. It is most important that we get into the top four. That would change the situations.”
Mancini, who will be without striker Roque Santa Cruz for a month with a calf injury, added: “Surely it would be better if City were also a big club in the future because then Manchester could have two clubs in the Champions League.”
His opposite number Ferguson may not see it that way. The Scot has appeared to relish City’s numerous crises and, following September’s 4-3 league win at Old Trafford, referred to them as “noisy neighbours”. He conceded yesterday, however, that they have emerged as genuine rivals for silverware.
“You have to recognise they are a competitor now,” he said. “We have had to wait a long time for it to be like that but they are obviously making a much better fist of their league programme than they have done in the past.”
The clash is lent added spice by Carlos Tevez, with the in-form City striker set to face his old club, having left last summer under a cloud. The Argentine has spoken of taking “revenge”, but Ferguson played down any simmering resentment.
“What happens with him doesn’t concern me,” he added. “You have to move on with life. Plenty of players have left here to go to other clubs.”
Ferguson dismissed talk of centre-back Rio Ferdinand returning against City but said striker Dimitar Berbatov could recover from a dead leg.