By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
It’s first versus second. Local rival versus local rival. Not especially convincing giant versus not especially convincing giant. For the first time this season, we get a Super Sunday fixture that somewhat justifies the hype emanating from the Sky Sports hype machine. Manchester City host Manchester United and although it’s only the start of excessive eating, drinking and shopping month, it’s a game that will have a huge bearing on the destination of the league title. The Paddy Power Blog has examined three theories about the game and decided if they’re likely to come to pass.
Passions will run high on Sunday as fans from one side of Manchester vents their spleens at fans from the other side of London. It makes for a great atmosphere, but it’s rare enough that the players get carried away with the ‘kicking lumps out of each other’. Considering the bulk of the players on show are international stars with next to no knowledge of Moss Side or Stretford, the local rivalry is somewhat lost and it has translated to the game not being as dirty as you might expect.
The red cards do tend to stand out in the memory. Ronaldo’s moment of volleyball in the derby of 2008; Vincent Kompany’s dismissal for his not especially dangerous ‘dangerous tackle’ in January’s FA Cup tie; Roy Keane trying to remove one of Alf-Inge Haland’s legs. They add to the feeling someone is bound to get their marching orders, but there plenty more games when no-one did anything stupid or executed a vicious tackle they would later confess to in an autobiography.
Over the course of the last 20 Manchester Derbies, there have been six red cards. That might seem like a high number, but it’s only slightly more than you’d normally expect to see, particularly in a fixture that has seen more than its fair share of Paul Scholes. Interesting, three of those six sendings off have happened in the last five games.
That could hint things are a little more testy now that the noisy neighbours are genuine title contenders year in, year out, but equally, it could be a statistical blip and coming games will return to more normal rates of red card flashing. It’s 9/5 that we see a red card in Sunday’s game.
In a similar vein, the Card Index has been high on occasion, but at other times, it’s been pretty normal. An average of just over four yellow cards have been shown across the last 20 Manchester Derbies. It’s 2/1 that the Card Index is less than 50 points this Sunday and 11/2 that it’s exactly 40 points.
It’s good news if you’re a fan of someone getting the bragging rights, less good if you’re a fan of backing the draw. Recent derbies haven’t tended to end in parity. Just two of the last 20 Manchester Derbies have been all square at the final whistle.
That looks to be freakishly low, because in the entire 162 game history of the Manchester Derby, it’s finished a stalemate a fairly normal 30 per cent of the time. That drops to a rate of just 10 per cent in the last 20 derbies and it’s particularly bizarre considering the comparatively small gulf in class between the two teams in the last few seasons.
Logic would suggest that the teams being of a similar standard to each other of late would make them harder to separate and increase the likelihood of a draw, but it hasn’t happened and most of the time, we get a winner. Maybe that’s down to generous lashings of Fergie-time or maybe it’s the extra effort you can muster when you’re trying to beat your fierce local rival, but for whatever reason, expect to see a winner this Sunday.
Send that form book flying out the window.
But keep an eye on where it lands because you might need to consult it later. The stats over the last 20 Manchester Derbies lean slightly in favour of the team who have been doing slightly less well in the weeks building up to it. It’s far from conclusive, but it’s good news if – for example – you’ve crashed out of Europe or made a team from Transylvania look like Brazil in the last few days.
Everyone would like to have a few wins and ego-boosting performances under their belt heading in to the derby, but it turns out that it doesn’t count for a great deal – certainly not over the last 20 games. The team with the worse results in the preceding six games (or so depending on how early in the season the game happened) in all competitions has been the eventual winner 53 per cent of the time, with the supposed form team justifying their pre-match smugness just 47 per cent of the time.
There are examples of both. City’s amazing 6-1 win at Old Trafford came on the back of a run of five wins and one defeat for them versus three wins and three draws for their hosts. Going back even further to 2008, they managed to win on United’s patch going into the game with a W1 D2 L3 record against a record of W5 D1 L0 for the hosts. Generally speaking, the form of both teams heading into the derby is closer than an Andy Carroll-Kevin Nolan bromance. For much of their recent history, they’ve been challenging for league titles and form is rarely dramatically different heading into a derby.
The ‘form book going out the window’ is one cliché you’ll hear few times on Sunday and as much as we like to ignore everything Jamie Redknapp says, it’s one that holds true.