Reds and Blues ready to rumble
AHEAD of the much anticipated Carling Cup double header between United and City, MEN's James Robson caught up with red and blue legends Paddy Crerand and Tony Book to get their thoughts on two games that are set to grip Manchester. JR: How do you rate the season so far? PC: It could be better. United are only slightly worse off than they were at this stage last season, but they will know they can play a lot better than they have. It's been fits and starts without any real momentum. But they are still up there at the top and have a great chance of winning the title. Sir Alex Ferguson knows his side tends to get stronger the longer the season goes on so that is a major positive. With a number of key players on their way back, United should improve in the second half of the campaign. TB: We're in a great position and the new manager has had a perfect start in the league with two wins and no goals conceded. I don't think City fans could have asked for more at this stage of the season. I know a number of them were getting concerned by the number of draws under Mark Hughes, but they've still only lost two games in the league to this point. In any season you would have to be happy with that by the end of December. JR: Who has been the player of the season so far? PC: Wayne Rooney. He's been the most consistent for United and is the leading scorer. Everyone knew it would be an impossible job to replace Cristiano Ronaldo. He is an exceptional player and frightened the life out of defenders. You don't come across players like that everyday so Fergie was never going to find a like-for-like replacement. But Rooney has come closer than anyone to taking on the responsibility of being United's key player. TB: The goalkeeper. They can be worth as many as 10 points in a season and in Shay Given City have got one of the best. I don't know how many times he's saved them already this season, but at a time when the defence has struggled with form, he's been exceptional. Nigel de Jong is another who has impressed in midfield and Carlos Tevez has already proved what a great buy he was. JR: What will be the key to victory over the tie as a whole? PC: It all depends what side United put out. I genuinely don't know if Fergie will play his strongest team or stick with the younger players. Given that the Champions League doesn't kick in again until late February and they are now out of the FA Cup, he won't have to worry about resting players But remember he played a very young side in last season's FA Cup semi-final against Everton and very nearly won. Had United got the penalty they deserved during the match they would have been in the final. TB: The first leg is the key. City have home advantage and could put themselves out of sight before it even gets back to Old Trafford. If Sir Alex decides to play the kids in the away leg then that could give City a major advantage. JR: Who will victory be more important to? PC: The Carling Cup is not United's priority. It is probably fourth in the order of what Fergie wanted to win this year, behind the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup. That has been the case for some time now, but it didn't stop them winning it last year. For City on the other hand, they will be desperate to win that first trophy after 30-odd years and if they get past United, they've got a great chance. I don't think the guy with the banner at the Stretford End will be very happy about it though. TB: City need that trophy. The fans need a trophy. They have been so patient for over 30 years and it would mean so much to them to see their side win something. If they can knock United out on the way, that just makes it even better. They would obviously prefer to get in the top four than win the Carling Cup, but there is no reason why they can't do both. JR: Can Fergie seriously play a weakened side for a semi-final derby? PC: No matter what side he puts out, he will want to win the match. As I said, he came very close to doing it against Everton in the FA Cup last year and also won the Carling Cup against Tottenham with a lot of young players in the team. The fact it is a derby might make a difference, but he will be confident of winning with any team he plays. TB: He's done it regularly over the years - especially in the Carling Cup. Perhaps the fans and how much they will want to beat City will change his mind. His priority is still the Champions League and Premier League - even a semi- final derby won't change that. JR: Given City's newfound wealth and now a top European manager in Roberto Mancini, how big is the gap between the red and blue halves of Manchester? PC: The gap is about a billion pounds. No, unfortunately for City, United have always been the team they've had to chase. Even with the money they've spent, it takes time for players to settle - even top ones like they've bought. But there is no doubt that the gap is closing. TB: The gap has been closing ever since the new owners took over and it will continue to do so. I'm not saying City will overtake United this season, but they are already getting closer and I fully expect them to go on from here. JR: Mancini has already made an impressive start - can he guide City to the top four this season? PC: Definitely. If City had a problem at the start of the season it was their defence. But I've looked at their last two games and already they are looking more solid with Vincent Kompany back there. He has a strong squad with players like Craig Bellamy and Carlos Tevez playing so well. TB: Absolutely. Even before he took over I said they had a squad capable of qualifying for the Champions League. Mancini has made a very good start and I think he will build on it. JR: Given the way United won the last derby, with Michael Owen's injury-time winner, will it have any effect on this tie? PC: I wouldn't think so. It was the best derby I've ever seen, but it's gone. City were desperately disappointed to lose it in that way and United were absolutely elated. But once these games come around the last one will be totally forgotten. TB: As painful as that defeat was, City won't need any added incentive to win this tie. It's a cup semi-final, a derby and there's a place at Wembley for the winner. You don't need any more incentive than that. JR: What was your favourite derby memory? PC: When I came to United I didn't think a great deal about the derby because I'd come from the Glasgow derbies which were intense. I remember one match we were 2-1 up when Nobby Stiles put through his own net to give City a draw. I remember him seething when he came back into the dressing room. He was kicking the wall for about 10 minutes, he was that annoyed with himself. It was then I realised how important this derby was to the city of Manchester. TB: It would have to be the victory over them in the League Cup in 1969-70. Hopefully we can do the same again. It's one thing to win a derby, but when you know you've knocked them out of a competition as well, it's even better. JR: What is your prediction? PC: It all depends on what side Fergie puts out. If he puts out his strongest team then I would always fancy United to beat anyone. If he puts out a weakened team then I don't know what might happen. TB: Which United are we going to see? No matter who Sir Alex plays, I'd still back City to win. What is your prediction? Have your say.
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