SUPERB SPECTACLE WON'T DISAPPOINT
Manchester City v Manchester United (2000)
"It means everything to a supporter. It is everything." - Sir Alex Ferguson
"People are speaking of this as maybe being the biggest game in Premier League history," - Gareth Barry
Whichever way you approach it, Monday night's Manchester derby is engrossing theatre, before the curtain has even been lifted.
City, so dominant in the first half of the season only to seemingly wilt under the intense heat of battling for the title, have a reprieve. United's 4-4 draw with Everton last weekend, a performance littered with uncharacteristic errors and coming so soon after defeat at Wigan, showed the blue half of Manchester that their rivals are falible.
Roberto Mancini's side, though, have to prove that their resurgence hasn't simply been down a switch in role from prey to predator. Strictly speaking they remain second, but as victory will be enough to put them in command the pressure is firmly back on.
United have a different kind of pressure to deal with, that of expectation. Ferguson's side have been there and done it all before, and the prospect of them squandering what was an eight-point lead is almost unfathomable.
That's what makes for a mouthwatering clash if ever there was one, but it also makes for a cloudy picture from a betting perspective.
On the one hand, 5/4 about a side with 16 wins and one draw from 17 home league games looks cracking business, especially when they arrive on the back of three wins and can boast a 6-1 verdict in the reverse fixture.
On the other, the greatest manager in Premier League history can surely be trusted to get his side over the line and help to land our 15/2 antepost punt on United and City finishing first and second respectively, while his side have gone some way to erasing the memory of Old Trafford in October by knocking City out of the FA Cup three months later.
Then we've another question to answer: how will United approach this? City simply have to win, but for the Red Devils a point will surely do. Were we to swap this around, we'd be near certain that City would try to keep things tight and shut out United, but Ferguson's side surely won't attempt such tactics against an outfit that can call upon Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and even Mario Balotelli.
With that in mind, and 12 goals having been produced in two meetings of the sides this season, we don't think there's much chance this will fizzle out unless United score first and shut up shop.
Aware of this, Mancini will surely go for the jugular. That makes Aguero a seriously tempting proposition at 7/1 to score first and a small bet heads our staking plan.
He's scored five in his last three, opening the scoring twice, and has also found the net both times he's played against United.
In addition, we're going to back over 4.5 goals at 9/2. Throw in United's 3-2 Community Shield win and the last three meetings of these sides have obliged in this market, with 17 goals scored in total.
If we go back over a decade, five of the last 25 times they've met have produced five or more goals, which again underlines that this is a fair price. Of all those meetings, this is the one that's best set up for goals. City have to go for it, and for every punch landed there'll be a counter-punch attempted.
There may well be more twists and turns to come - City, after all, have to travel to Newcastle while United visit Sunderland - but the home side can take a big step towards the title by edging a thriller.
Verdict: Manchester City 3 Manchester United 2
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