Lee Dixon: Expect another Italian job as Mancini tries to make a point with safety-first approach

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The Weekend Dossier

City may go into tomorrow's Manchester derby looking down on United for the first time I can remember but this trip to Old Trafford poses a real dilemma for Roberto Mancini.

City have shot to the top of the league by playing some exhilarating football this season. They have been more adventurous and that has brought its reward. Last season for the big games, the Italian manager in Mancini came out and he played to keep hold of what they had at kick-off. So what does he do tomorrow?

United are defensively vulnerable. In eight games this season they have offered up almost as many chances as in the whole of their last campaign. They can be got at – Chelsea had plenty of chances when they lost at Old Trafford and lowly Norwich certainly could have won there with the three second-half chances they created. Visiting managers see that United can be got at – but the risk is that if you go for them they are capable of taking full advantage of that at the other end. They are both dynamic and vulnerable. They can rip opponents to pieces.

Having Nemanja Vidic back is huge for United and that may steady some of the defensive wobbles. It may also affect Mancini's thinking. What will he do? Go with his fall-back position of two holding midfielders in a five-man midfield? Or might he think, fine, Vidic is back but he's only just back and he could be put under pressure – and play two up front and a more attack-minded midfield. I suspect the Italian caution-first mentality will win out.

City played poorly against Villarreal in midweek, their passing was off and it was a sloppy performance. Villarreal deserve some credit as they were well organised and got their tactics spot on for much of the game. I would have expected more from City at home, it was disappointing and at times worrying. But they won. The flip side of the midweek game is that it will send them into tomorrow's game well aware of the need to improve but without the drain to their confidence failing to beat Villarreal may have meant.

Mancini made his change early – hauling off Adam Johnson after 40 minutes – showing both his tactical awareness and underlining once again that he is not afraid of upsetting his players. The game showed another side to City, one that I have not seen – that key ability to grab a victory despite a poor performance.

It is intriguing watching how Mancini is developing at City, how he operates and how he is prepared to tinker during games. As the players were warming up for the Villarreal game I counted 11 members of staff on the touchline, milling around, pointing and encouraging the players, goalkeeping coaches, fitness coaches and the like. He clearly likes to have people around him and during City's difficult start to the game he was in almost constant conversation with David Platt on the bench. Then he made that change and it worked. He is proactive as a manager.

Mancini is well aware of what United's attack can do, and he is also well aware that a draw is a good result for City. Later in the season if they were playing catch-up, then it would demand a different approach but not in the ninth game of a long campaign. This is a big test for Mancini and when the teamsheets are handed out an hour before kick-off it will be an immediate indication of what he wants from the game.

I expect him to play the two holding midfielders, look to secure the midfield area and stifle the room for Wayne Rooney to operate in. But even if they can do that, United will still pose plenty of attacking threat down either flank. If you play three in the centre of the park it places a big responsibility on the wide players to deal with United's wingers. Aleksandar Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta were arguably City's most influential players against Villarreal but they were helped by the Spanish side playing narrow. United won't and City have to make sure their full-backs don't get isolated. Mancini may decide to bring back Micah Richards because of his strength, and he has Gaël Clichy to consider as well – City's squad now has proper depth, ie two players pushing for every position (mind you, they should have for all the money they've spent).

There won't be a lot in it tomorrow and, even though both teams carry real attacking threat, I expect it to be a cagey affair with the draw the obvious result, and that suits Mancini and City.

Five Asides

1. Gunners going places– albeit bit by bit

Winning in Marseilles was a fantastic result for Arsenal and really eases the pressure in qualifying from the group. Add the victory over Sunderland – where they played fantastically fluid football for the first 25 minutes – and that's back-to-back wins. The performances don't matter at this stage, after that bright opening against Sunderland they had to claw their way through the rest of the game. Win and the confidence starts to come back, the pressure eases bit by bit and then the performances will improve.

2. Canaries deserve to fly high but Swans could struggle

I have been reasonably impressed with Norwich and of the three who came up to the Premier League they look most likely to make a mark this season. They are not scared to be positive no matter who they are playing. They have been to the big grounds and had a go – they did pretty well against Chelsea and gave United a massive fright. QPR have the advantage of being able to go out and spend in January if need be, but Swansea stand out as the ones who could struggle in the long run.

3. Black Cats could be fighting for their lives all season

The dangerous end of the table has the makings of a battle to the end. Last weekend was a massive win for Bolton. Wolves had a decent start but are slipping. Sunderland seem like they have been scrapping all season already. I can see six or seven clubs fighting to the last day.

4. Got to jump at chance to play in the Olympics

If I was given the chance to play in the Olympic Games then I would have to say yes. Your playing career is so short – you have to take every chance you can get. I played in every division and looking back on my career now, I reckon that I was fortunate to have that experience, although when I was playing for Chester City when we were 92nd in the Football League, it didn't seem so at the time! The chance to play in an Olympics would be awesome – I would have jumped at it.

5. Fans prove the Europa League is simply ropey

There were 24,000 at White Hart Lane on Thursday which suggests Tottenham fans are not enamoured by the Europa League. A couple of managers told me they would rather not qualify for it. The Uefa Cup and Cup-Winners' Cup felt like competitions worth winning, this doesn't – although Birmingham, Stoke and Fulham might disagree.

Dixon's verdict on all the weekend action

Wolves v Swansea

Odds: Home 11-10; Draw 21-10; Away 11-4.

Kick-off: Today, 12.45pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC 1 10.20pm).

Team news: Steven Fletcher is again likely to be unavailable for Wolves with a calf injury after missing last week's defeat at West Bromwich, so Sylvan Ebanks-Blake could make a first league start of the season. Swansea are still without on-loan defender Steven Caulker, who is nearing a return from a knee injury, but Vangelis Moras is in contention for a debut. Stephen Dobbie (ankle) misses out.

Aston Villa v West Brom

Odds: Home 9-10; Draw 12-5; Away 3-1.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.20pm).

Team news: Midfielder Jermaine Jenas is again forced to wait for his Aston Villa debut as he recovers from thigh and Achilles injuries. James Collins (foot/groin) returns after missing last week's defeat at Manchester City. Zoltan Gera (ankle) could bolster West Bromwich's options, along with Steven Reid, but Graham Dorrans (knee) is doubtful. Striker Peter Odemwingie is pushing for a start after scoring from the bench against Wolves last weekend.

Bolton v Sunderland

Odds: Home 6-5; Draw 11-5; Away 5-2.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.20pm).

Team news: Bolton could name an unchanged line-up from last weekend's win at Wigan, with David Wheater likely to retain his centre-back place ahead of Zat Knight. Marcos Alonso (foot) has returned to training. Steve Bruce has Phil Bardsley back from a four-game suspension for Sunderland, while striker Nicklas Bendtner is available after missing last week's defeat at parent club Arsenal. Defender Titus Bramble remains banned.

Newcastle v Wigan

Odds: Home 4-7; Draw 14-5; Away 11-2.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.20pm).

Team news: Alan Pardew has slight worries over Fabricio Coloccini's toe injury, but has Alan Smith (hamstring) and Haris Vuckic (hand) fit and Davide Santon pushing for a start. Mike Williamson (arm) remains out. Striker Hugo Rodallega is expected to make his first start in over a month for Wigan following a three-game suspension and being named on the bench last weekend, while Maynor Figueroa may replace Steve Gohouri at left-back.

Liverpool v Norwich

Odds: Home 30-100; Draw 4-1; Away 10-1.

Kick-off: Today, 5.30pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC 1 10.20pm).

Team news: Liverpool are without suspended midfielder Lucas, who became the first player to pick up five bookings this season, with Jordan Henderson likely to be recalled after losing his place to Steven Gerrard last weekend. Defenders Dan Agger (rib) and Glen Johnson (hamstring) both came through a midweek friendly at Rangers. The visitors have Steve Morison available, but Elliott Ward and Daniel Ayala (both knee) miss out.

Arsenal v Stoke

Odds: Home 8-15; Draw 3-1; Away 11-2.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Highlights BBC 2 10pm).

Team news: Johan Djourou is likely to deputise for Carl Jenkinson (knee) at right-back for Arsenal, while Kieran Gibbs also misses out, with a stomach injury. Thomas Vermaelen (Achilles) has returned to full training and he and Abou Diaby are nearing returns. Stoke will give late checks to Jermaine Pennant (hamstring) and Jonathan Woodgate, while Danny Higginbotham also comes into contention after returning from a lengthy spell out with a knee injury.

Fulham v Everton

Odds: Home 5-4; Draw 9-4; Away 23-10.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Highlights BBC 2 10pm).

Team news: James McFadden will probably have to wait to make a second Everton debut as he works his way back to fitness. Striker Victor Anichebe (groin) is David Moyes' only other worry. Bobby Zamora and Clint Dempsey return for Fulham after missing the trip to Poland, while Danny Murphy (knee) is also likely to be in contention for Martin Jol's side. Striker Bryan Ruiz faces a late fitness test, but Orlando Sa (hamstring) is out.

Man United v Man City

Odds: Home 11-10; Draw 9-4; Away 5-2.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2 10pm).

Team news: Rio Ferdinand is likely to partner Nemanja Vidic for the first time in two months after missing the midweek trip to Otelul Galati. Rafael (shoulder) remains out, but Tom Cleverley is nearing a return from a foot injury. City have no fresh worries. Mario Balotelli returns to contention after being suspended in Europe, while Owen Hargreaves has a small chance of facing his previous club.

Blackburn v Tottenham

Odds: Home 16-5; Draw 13-5; Away 4-5.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 3pm (Highlights BBC 2 10pm).

Team news: Blackburn are without Michel Salgado (hamstring), with Jason Lowe likely to fill in after impressing at Queen's Park Rangers last week. David Dunn (calf), Ryan Nelsen (knee) and Vince Grella (hip) are out. Harry Redknapp will make changes from the victory over Rubin Kazan; Aaron Lennon (groin) and Sandro (calf) face late checks, with Sébastien Bassong set to replace Ledley King (groin) in central defence.

QPR v Chelsea

Odds: Home 8-1; Draw 7-2; Away 4-11.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2 10pm).

Team news: Danny Gabbidon misses out for Neil Warnock's side as he recovers from a knee injury, but Adel Taarabt is set to feature despite suffering from a virus. D J Campbell (foot) may return earlier than was first feared, while Kieron Dyer (foot) is also recovering well. Ramires is unavailable for Chelsea with a knee injury, but Fernando Torres serves the final game of his three-match suspension.

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