David Moyes has responded to Manuel Pellegrini’s declaration that Manchester City are the top club in the city, warning ahead of tonight’s derby that the Chilean risks hubris and that Manchester United’s time will come again.
United go into the meeting 12 points adrift of their rivals in the Premier League – a level of superiority City have not enjoyed over United on a derby day for 36 years – and City midfielder Fernandinho stoked the fires by declaring he was surprised how easy to beat a poor United had been earlier this season.
But United manager Moyes offered the kind of retort to his counterpart Pellegrini’s observation the club’s fans will be looking for, after consecutive wins which offer fragile signs of hope. “Well, Manchester United had lots and lots of seasons of domination,” Moyes said when questioned about comments Pellegrini first made last month and on which he elaborated yesterday.
“I don’t think I would have turned round and said that we were the only club in Manchester because football does change. It goes in cycles.”
United were 4-0 behind in 50 minutes at the Etihad Stadium in September, leading Fernandinho to reflect now that they were unexpectedly poor. “Of course I was [surprised],” he said. “It’s a club with a lot of history, with very good players. They were the champions – so, yes, I was surprised at how badly they played that day and how easily we won.”
The Brazilian’s claim that City are fighting for the title now while United are simply fighting to restore some pride tonight was a statement of fact. “They are maybe just fighting for honour now,” he said.
It is in the midfield area that the gulfs between the squad strengths have most graphically revealed themselves this season. United’s midfielders have contributed just two goals compared to nearly 40 scored by their City counterparts.
Pellegrini stated that the midfield was a key point of comparison between the two sides. “Maybe they are stronger and we are more technical,” he said, though Fernandinho also expressed surprise that this area of the field had not delivered more goals for United.
“It does surprise me because they have good midfielders,” he said. “But we can’t go thinking that their midfielders won’t score against us. We need to be careful. It will be better if we go there and score at least two goals. We will be looking to attack them and play our normal game against them.” City would make the trip across Manchester “expecting to win,” Fernandinho added.
Moyes said he had been forced to deal with his defender Chris Smalling, who was pictured dancing a jig outside a nightclub at 3.15 last Saturday morning, having been ruled out of the trip to West Ham United that day with a hamstring injury.
“I’ve dealt with it and I’ve spoken to Chris. That would be as much as I would want to say on it,” said Moyes, refusing to disclose how long Smalling – who will miss tonight’s game – will be out of contention for United.
While Nemanja Vidic is suspended, Moyes has Rio Ferdinand fit to play tonight alongside Phil Jones. His other option in central defence, Jonny Evans, has been struggling with a calf injury and has not played since the defeat at Stoke seven weeks ago. Moyes said he would deploy the midfielders Michael Carrick or Marouane Fellaini at centre-back if he had to.
Pellegrini, who has only Sergio Aguero and Matija Nastasic missing, said he again wanted to inflict on United what City had delivered against them at the Etihad in September. “We will try to play in the same way. We are the same team and we’ll try,” he said, though his side have had to rely less heavily lately on Alvaro Negredo, who has not scored since a prolific run ended abruptly in January. “For different things you always have different moments in a season. I trust in Alvaro and I’m sure he will return to his normal performances.”
Tonight’s game brings its own immense pressures for Pellegrini. His side exited two tournaments in three days earlier this month, and now have a 19-day Premier League period in which they face United, Arsenal on Saturday and Liverpool at Anfield two weeks on Sunday.
The City midfielder Yaya Touré has said that the team need to take a full complement of 30 points from their remaining 10 games to take the title.
“If you say we lose the game tomorrow and win the title, I prefer to win the title but we can do both things,” Pellegrini said. “When you have two important teams in the same city you always want to be the best team. We are not just fighting against Manchester United. In some ways it doesn’t matter.
“I think this club is trying to work in the last four years to reduce the difference we have against important teams – against Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal. The biggest teams in England and in Europe as well. But it’s just four years working so we must continue trying to improve and reduce the difference.”
Of the struggles faced by his opposite number in the city, Pellegrini reflected: “It is not my duty to analyse what David Moyes has done in his season at Manchester United. Of course, all the other clubs expected United would be in the first position in the table. They are not – but they continue to be a difficult team.”