With Vincent Kompany injured for the first four Premier League matches of the season, Pellegrini was forced to deploy center-back combinations of Joleon Lescott, Javi Garcia and Matija Natasic.
Ah, the Manchester Derby.
Arguably the most entertaining derby in all the land, the battle between blue and red in the city of Manchester returns to audiences this Sunday (11:00 am ET on NBCSN, watch live via NBC Sports Live Extra). Both sides enter the match with new managers at the helm in Manuel Pellegrini and David Moyes, and even on record at 2-1-1 means a loss for either club could result in them slipping out of the Top 5.
For City, they enter the match not only looking to take points from their rival but also to set right an inconsistent start to the season. After a dominant 4-0 victory over Newcastle to start the season, City lost 3-2 to Cardiff before skipping past Hull City 2-0 in a hard fought match and drawing 0-0 with Stoke City.
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Aside from last weekend's lifeless offensive performance at the Britannia, City's main problem has been in defense. With Vincent Kompany injured for the first four Premier League matches of the season, Pellegrini was forced to deploy center-back combinations of Joleon Lescott, Javi Garcia and Matija Natasic. The inconsistent performances and lack of leadership had supporters worried but with Kompany's emphatic return in Tuesday's 3-0 Champions League victory Victoria Plzen, stability appears to have returned to the Etihad.
For United, Sunday's match represents another chance for their new-look offense to gel. Last weekend saw Wayne Rooney recover from a head gash to go 90 minutes strong in the supporting striker role behind Robin van Persie. The Englishman scored a fantastic free-kick and his overall performance received rave reviews, prompting manager David Moyes to confirm that unlike last season, Rooney would not be used in the midfield.
The Scot's stroke of confidence in his temperamental striker appears to have paid off as Rooney joined United's prestigious 200 goal club on Tuesday night after scoring twice in the 4-2 Champions League victory over Bayer Leverkusen. The victory also saw the full debut of Marouane Fellaini, whose harrowing presence and crunching tackles released pressure on Michael Carrick and provided Rooney with additional space in which to operate.
A head-to-head look at each club's form and the history of the derby shows that Sunday's match should be a hotly contested affair. City have won seven and lost one of their last eight home games in the Premier League while defeat to Liverpool in their last away game ended a run of 13 matches unbeaten for United. Of the last five Premier League derbies contested at the Etihad, City have only one a single match. But from the last four Premier League derbies overall, the Citizens have won three of those contests.
What They're Saying
City goalkeeper Joe Hart: "The derby is one of the most anticipated and exciting games in world football. As players, we are all looking forward to Sunday, and we know that the fans will be too. The home support is so important for us, and I know they will be like an extra man for the team on the day."
City manager Manuel Pellegrini: "We have the derby next Sunday so winning away in the Champions League and scoring three goals, having three or four more chances to score and keeping a clean sheet always gives you a lot of confidence.
United midfielder Michael Carrick [on Rooney]: "It was probably Wayne's best performance that I've seen for a while. It's great to have him in that form - he can be untouchable when he’s like that."
United defender Chris Smalling: "It is a game that we all relish. It is better going to their stadium, it is backs to the wall and we will come out fighting."
While the argument can be made for either side to win this match, the good part is that it's unlikely to end in a draw as there has only been a single stalemate (the 0-0 result in 2010-11) in the last 15 Manchester derbies in the Premier League. Both clubs come in flying high after dominant mid-week performances in Europe but for me, United has hit its stride quicker than City. Rooney is on fire, Van Persie continues to terrorize, Fellaini has added bite to the midfield while the back four - despite the loss of Rafael - looks rock solid. Three points to the Red Devils in what promises to be another classic Manchester Derby.