Patrice Evra has fired the first salvo in what promises to be a combustible build-up to tomorrow's Manchester derby, declaring that his side's big-spending opponents always declare themselves to be the biggest team in the city but never actually win the fixture.
"They always say that and they never beat us," was Evra's exact response to a suggestion that Wayne Rooney's flirtation with a move across the city had further eroded Manchester United's claim to be the biggest side in town. Where league meetings between the two sides are concerned, Evra has a point: United have won six of the last eight meetings, and five of the six played under City's Abu Dhabi owners.
Carlos Tevez, the player whose departure to City symbolises their challenge for superiority, had words of his own last night, reiterating that he had no regrets. "I made the change and so far I'm not sorry," he insisted. "As players we are professionals and we have to make decisions that are right for us. But I also realise many people may not have understood my decision."
But Evra said United – whose investment in youth will see them bring the 15-year-old Norwegian midfielder Mats Daehli to their academy next February, according to sources in Norway – have not needed to spend like City, whose outlay this summer raises the stakes of the match at Eastlands. "We always believe in the younger players, you know," Evra said. "The boss believes. We don't need more players – it's not my job to say so – but I think the squad is strong enough for this season. Afterwards, I don't know, we will see – but it is still strong and we still have a big chance to win the league."
City have evidently decided that combustible £24m striker Mario Balotelli missing the derby may be no bad thing and have accepted his sending-off at West Bromwich Albion. They will instead seek to get his straight red card downgraded to two yellows. Thus he would serve a ban of one game, rather than three. An independent FA tribunal will hear City's case today.
Sir Alex Ferguson will publicly discuss the match this morning – his willingness to do so suggesting that he does not want to allow City to monopolise the build-up – and will be asked to respond to the way that City's salary structure has enabled players such as Rooney and Chelsea's John Terry, who also flirted with joining them, to negotiate better deals at their clubs. Evra feels that Rooney's decision to accept £180,000 a week and stay at Old Trafford has helped team spirit – though it was the Frenchman who declared that Rooney should be excluded from Ferguson's side, having cast aspersions on the quality of the team at the height of the contract saga.
"Yes, maybe [the Rooney situation] has helped." Evra said yesterday. "It was a little shock because I think maybe we were not happy to see people saying a lot of things about us. We just know that when we play with the Man United spirit we can beat anyone."
Tevez said of Rooney: "I would have liked him to come here, of course, but it was complicated for him to leave United. So we have to concentrate on our own game."
The United captain, Nemanja Vidic, one of a number of the club's players whose recovery from the virus that has swept through Old Trafford is critical to tomorrow's challenge, said that the progress of his club's young players was demonstrating that money was not the only route to success. "Manchester United's history is always based on young players and building from them," Vidic said. "The expectation has grown at City... compared to four years ago. It is a massive game; they have quality players and big expectations. It will not matter what the form is like going into the game, it is about that moment.
Daehli, described by one leading scout as Norway's most exciting prospect, will sign a three-and-a-half-year deal with United, according to Norwegian sources. The slightly built player, who would become the fourth Norwegian on United's books and is the son of football journalist Truld Daehli, was recently voted the best player in a four-team international Under-15s tournament.Reuse content