It's first versus second in the Manchester derby this week as Manchester City host Manchester United at the Etihad. United hold a three point lead at the top of the table, and Mancini will be hoping that his side can claim a morale boosting win over their city rivals after their elimination from the Champions League this week. Here is how he can do it:
Extra Shooting Practice...and some new boots
Sort out some extra shooting practice this week please, Roberto. This season, as opposed to the last campaign, though still unbeaten going into the big derby on Sunday, our clinical instinct has been lacking. Against a side as strong as Manchester United's we must take our chances to have any chance of victory. Similarly, the strikers this season seem to be slipping whilst taking the ball under control; what ever happened to good old fashioned studs? You can put your pink wafer thin ultra lightweight slippers in the bin, strap on some old leather boots with some proper studs and bam, there we have it, some balance on and off the ball.
Stop The Cross
If you have watched the way United play over the past couple of seasons, their wingplay is pertinent to any success they may have. In the 1-0 at the Etihad at the end of last season, Ferguson failed to pick both Young and Valencia as widemen and thus their chances were rarer than rocking horse faeces. There's little to no chance that Ferguson will make such a glaring selection error and therefore Mancini has to match the widemen. Whether he plays a 3-5-2 with Maicon and Kolarov as wingbacks is anybody's guess but it is one way of combating such a threat. Alternatively he may opt to use a 4-4-2 system with two full backs and play two wide men; a luxury we don't wholly possess. Manchester United have put in 180 crosses so far this season; a league high and with the added crossing abilities of Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney, it is crucial that Mancini drills the importance of stopping the cross.
Flood The Midfield
The 1-0 FA Cup semi-final win, the 6-1 demolition and the title swinging 1-0 all proved that we can outplay United in the centre of the park. It is crucial that we try and outrun and out pass them with a tightly packed midfield that allows Yaya Toure to use his sheer pace to run at United's back four. If Milner is fit, Milner must play. His strength and engine is essential in such a game, and alongside Barry in the centre: arguably Manchester City's most criminally underrated linchpin, they can both allow Yaya the freedom he desires and needs. Although Nasri has started to regain some of the form that saw him shine at Arsenal, his lack of strength and guile make him the least ideal of our midfield options come Sunday. Mancini almost outlandishly outwitted United in the 6-1 by playing the talismanic Mario Balotelli. His decision, though lauded by many a pundit at the time proved genial providing the side with some extra creativity and instilled extra fear in the United defenders, unknowing of which Mario would turn up; the mad, the bad or the downright brilliant. I personally believe if we are to play a 4-4-2(ish) formation that playing Mario out wide would be a worthwhile gamble, a big name player with a big game attitude.
What is clear cut regarding any team facing United, is that the best form of defence is to attack and to pile on the pressure onto a somewhat patchwork defence. United have so far conceded 21 goals this season, compared to City's 11, a distinct mark of a defensive weakness and frailty which with enough pressure can be exploited. Ferguson has told the press this week that Vidic will be unavailable for the table topping showdown and, well, we all know what that means. So, with that considered it may suggest that United may field a back two of Vidic and Ferdinand. This is not the partnership that was once almost impenetrable but an ageing slowing Ferdinand and an unfit less hulk-esque Vidic than in years gone by. Essentially, therefore we put early pressure on the Manchester United defence and use Tevez and or Aguero's turn of pace to test their steel and agility. If Vidic doesn't start you can expect Jonny Evans to step in; the memories should flood back and whet City's front-line’s appetite.
With such pressure resting on Sunday's showdown, the appointment of Martin Atkinson will have piled on the nerves of the City faithful. His controversial 'Fergie Time' incident in THAT 4-3 still haunts us all, so in the early stages Mancini needs to affix a high level composure and professionalism amongst the ranks, especially after Kompany's questionable early red card in the FA Cup third round clash last January. An early goal for the visitors this Sunday will silence the home fans and crank up more unnecessary pressure so RM must ensure the defence start tightly and we don't give the ball away too often; something all too frequent of late.
With the right positive attitude, some composure and ruthlessness, there is no reason why Manchester City's unbeaten run cannot go on whilst climbing to the Premier League's summit.
My heart says a 3-1 home win, my head predicts a much tighter affair; 2-2.