Carling Cup preview: Manchester United v Manchester City

Part two of our Carling Cup semi-final against United and now for the hard bit, as we look to exploit our 2-1 advantage to reach Wembley. It promises to be a classic.

Whether Roberto Mancini wants it to be an end-to-end goal spree is another matter. The Itailian is always keen to emphasize composure, and under him we have played our best football without a high tempo.

Roberto Mancini:

“We want to get to the final and we have a good chance. We must keep our concentration. If you can stay calm, you’ll play better.”

Previously, when Everton and United raised the pace, we struggled, so it’s reasonable to assume we’ll be looking to stop United getting up a head of steam. That’s when Ferguson’s teams are at their most dangerous.

To do this we’ll need to retain possession better than we did on our last visit to Old Trafford. The victory enjoyed by Sven’s City at Old Trafford could well be the Mancini template for success. Containment, taking the sting out of the game, and hitting them on the counter through Bellamy, Wright-Phillips and Tevez.

With the return of Toure and Adebayor from Africa, and the improved fitness of Ireland, Onuoha and Wright-Phillips, there is a welcome increase in selection options for Mancini.

Left-back remains a weak spot defensively with Garrido likely to get the nod after being rested on Sunday. Likewise Richards should return at right-back. His strength in the air at set pieces will be useful.

Kompany has been our best defender of late and Mancini will have a big decision about who should partner the Belgian. Playing Toure so soon after his long-haul flight and a 120 minute game on Sunday would be a risk, yet his experience could be invaluable.

It would be an outrageously huge game for Boyata to play in, yet Mancini seems to like him and it was interesting to note both him and Kompany played the full match at Scunthorpe, enabling them to work on their partnership. Having played at full-back on Sunday, Nedum Onuoha is likely to be on the bench again.

Nedum Onuoha:

“If you start thinking of defending at Old Trafford it usually leads to bad things happening.

“We have to attack. If we score the first goal it puts a lot more pressure on them. If the game gets stretched there are players on our side who will relish it.

“Selfishly, I’d like it if we just completely hammered them but that’s very unlikely. I just hope that it’s going to be a good game.”

De Jong and Barry are sure to start in midfield. Ireland may get the nod over Zabaleta, as his passing and forward runs could be crucial in taking the game to United. If all our central midfielders are sitting back defending our penalty area, then we will be inviting trouble.

Following their rest on Sunday, Bellamy and Wright-Phillips are likely to start on the flanks with Tevez asked to repeat his lone striker heroics of last week.

From the bench, Zabaleta could come on to shore things up, while Petrov could add an attacking threat if we need one. It’s hard to see Adebayor being either mentally or physically fit enough to start, but he could be an option from the bench. It would be a surprise to see Robinho, but who knows with the Brazilian.

Mancini isn’t averse to springing a surprise, and there’s definitely cause for optimism in our defending being better than when we last went to Old Trafford.

As for United, the big question is whether we can stop Rooney, although not allowing United space down the flanks may be equally important. In defence they could be vulnerable again, as Ferdinand is likely to start his suspension with this game rather than appeal and risk an additional ban.

Thus far, Mancini has made valuable tactical adjustments in most games, however he will need to get it right from the start at Old Trafford. It would be a surprise to see us start with anything other than a 4-5-1 formation. United are likely to begin strongly and we will need to stand up to the challenge, whilst showing the confidence to retain possession and take the game to them.

For those of us watching, the tension of derby games and desire to get a result is rarely good for the nerves. The pleasure comes on the final whistle. Let’s hope the delight is ours.

Blue Days line-up: Given, Richards, Garrido, Kompany, Toure, de Jong, Barry, Ireland, Wright-Phillips, Bellamy, Tevez.

Prediction: 3-1 to City.

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