Football: United revival balks Cantona: Matt Tench on the weekend's League programme

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ERIC CANTONA will experience the passion of a Manchester derby for the first time tomorrow, but in one sense at least he seems likely to start the game on familiar territory - the substitutes' bench.

The French international was consigned to the Highbury stands last weekend when Manchester United played their first Premier League game after his surprising move from Leeds. He played a full part in the midweek friendly in Benfica, but as his arrival has coincided with a marked improvement in United's form, he is unlikely to force his way into the starting 11 when Manchester City visit Old Trafford tomorrow afternoon.

For the moment, at least, even Cantona appears ready to settle for that, hinting on French television this week that he may need a bit longer to get used to his new team-mates. His reaction, if asked to take up permanent residence in the dug-out, is likely to be less cordiale. His manager, Alex Ferguson, is giving little away. 'I think I have made up my mind,' he said, 'but I'll keeping tossing it over my mind until Sunday.'

United go into the game with renewed confidence. After a run of eight games without a win they have secured three points in their last two games, with Ferguson describing the victory at Arsenal as their best performance of the season. Bryan Robson, who Ferguson reiterated yesterday would be staying at Old Trafford, has returned to add solidity to a sometimes shapeless midfield, while Ryan Giggs's brilliant display at Highbury brought more comparisons with you-know-who.

City have had an eccentric season, winning more games away than at home, but will draw encouragement from the fact that they held United in both League games last season.

BSkyB's choice for their live televison coverage - the Manchester derby tomorrow, followed by the Merseyside version on Monday - leaves today's Premier programme with a somewhat emasculated look. Norwich, the leaders, entertain Wimbledon, and while the Londoners have struggled of late, are third from bottom and reportedly short of cash, they have a proud record of going to the high and mighty (Norwich qualifying on one count at least) and causing an upset.

Leeds may be at home to Nottingham Forest at just the wrong time. After going out of two cups and sliding down the League the champions seemed to reassert themselves with the pummelling of Arsenal, only to lose in the dying minutes at Chelsea last week. Meanwhile Forest, having spent much of their campaign playing well and losing, at last played well and won in the Coca-Cola game against Tottenham in midweek.

Shaun Teale, the centre-back his manager Ron Atkinson describes as 'my John Wayne', has been badly missed in Aston Villa's last two games, five goals being conceded, and is virtually certain to miss today's match at Sheffield Wednesday. If so, Wednesday are well placed to exploit the weakness. 'Their front two, Atkinson and Saunders, are being rated as the best partnership in the country,' Trevor Francis, the Wednesday manager, said. 'But I'd like to compare them with my two. On Saturday night I hope that everybody is talking about Hirst and Bright. They are both playing very well.'

Beyond the Premier, Charlton return to the Valley after a seven- year exile, with Portsmouth the visitors. A scratch side of old boys will watch the historic game, including Derek Hales, Mike Flanagan, Ray Treacey, Theo Foley, Len Glover and two members of the 1946 FA Cup final side, Arthur Turner and Charlie Revell. Charlton's fans will be more worried by another former hero, Paul Walsh, who is expected to lead the Pompey attack. Walsh, unlike the entire Charlton side, has played at the Valley before.

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