Preview: United (Away)

You really can't beat the week leading up to a derby. Well, you can, when you win them, but the joint excitement and banter that precedes our usual two meetings per year with those from the dark side, well, it's what football's about, is it not? Players from both sides have been sticking to the norm; as much shit-talking as possible midweek, the two managers are equally dismissive of eachother's sides, and factories and offices around the city will have been full of phony overconfidence from each club's fans as both hope their boys aren't on the receiving end of a defeat come Sunday.

Old Trafford is a hard place to go for the best of them. Our record there is better than that of some, but victories at The Swamp have been few and far between since the days long ago when we'd whip them there on a regular basis. We have only one win at their place in the last twenty years; the 2-1 on their big day two seasons back when club legends and feared strikers Benjani and Darius Vassell thwarted their allegedly decent defence. Before then you'd have to go back as far ago as 1974, best not mention that one.

We should fancy our chances of getting something from the game given that their squad is perhaps the weakest it's been in years and short of match-winners after Madrid poached their best player and we relieved them of Carlos Tevez ('rubbish', 'no pace', 'can't finish', 'we didn't want him anyway', etc, etc). I can't imagine that those brought in this summer have the fans on the edge of their seats either. Valencia is a decent enough Premier League player but nothing more, Michael Owen's hardly banging the goals in and the French lad, well, i think most have forgotten about him already. They're not a selling club, though.

Despite their side creaking towards middle age with, amongst others, the suspended Paul Scholes, still unable to master the simple art of tackling, and Ryan Giggs, a shoe-in to retain his Player of the Year award, and featuring the likes of John O'Shea, Ben Foster, Darren Flectcher and a whole load of other world-beaters, they continue to grind out results, the embarrassing defeat at Burnley the only blip in six games so far. They're a proper side, despite perhaps not looking so strong on paper, and they're more than prepared for a scrap when necessary, as their recent tie with Arsenal proved, with the aid of some comedy officiating, admittedly.

Ben Foster should start in goal, bit of a flapper, in place of injured pensioner Edwin van der Sar. I think we can get at him, especially from set-pieces, it's a shame that with Emmanuel Adebayor's ban coming into play, we won't have as much height and presence in there as we might've. Martin Petrov, if Hughes does start him, should get lots of change out of John O'Shea, also. Eight major honours he's won, i shit you not.

How well we can do without £100m of strikers will have to be seen, but i'm confident our midfield can cope with theirs. Michael Carrick can be got at, a couple of kicks to him and he'll go missing, and Nani, who should start over Giggs, seems to play when he wants. The main danger, goes without saying really, will be the potatoheaded fat little scouse lad upfront. If he decides to play we could struggle, he's well capable of stretching us, but he's their only real dangerman, the rest don't really bother me, Berbatov seems to spend most of his time stood around catching flies, and even with a depleted attack we should be able to get stuck into them.

Losing your best striker would be a blow to any side, and one with a 100% scoring record. To be without four, well, it's a tremendous disappointment. I'm not convinced we'll be able to keep the ball in the final third enough with one upfront, and a midget at that. I'm anticipating that we'll see a midfield three of Nige, Stevie Ireland and Barry, with SWP and Petrov wide and Bellamy playing a lone role, i don't think we've got too many other options. Benjani might be an option, no seriously, it could be written.

I'd have been very confident about maintaining our winning start to the season with our strongest side out. Injuries are simply part of the game, no excuses, but it's unfortunate that our three most expensive signings will all be missing. This should have been our real statement of intent, going to the 'Theatre of Dreams' (vomits) and giving them lot a lesson in the art of football infront of over 70,000 southerners. Sadly we might have to battle and grind out a result now instead of serving up our typical spectacular passing stuff. I suppose a draw wouldn't be a complete disaster, we can save the pasting for the return in April.

Possible teams:
United: Foster, O'Shea, Evra, Ferdinand, Vidic, Fletcher, Valencia, Carrick, Berbatov, Rooney, Nani

: Given, Richards, Bridge, Toure, Lescott, de Jong, Barry, Ireland, SWP, Bellamy, Petrov

Prediction: United 1 City 1

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