Manchester United v Manchester City: Manager David Moyes must show that he can beat the elite - starting tonight at Old Trafford

The question of who are Manchester’s top dogs hardly needs asking any more. For the red half, they just need to prove they can keep up

The sense of Manchester United turning a corner has proved illusory too many times to create any sense that events since the Liverpool catastrophe, nine days ago, have changed anything.

Two subsequent victories, against Olympiakos and West Ham, have been of the kind which characterise David Moyes’ United – incredibly welcome at the time but, on deeper reflection, the least to be expected. There has actually only been one win all season, home or away, against the Premier League elite of Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. With the exception of the Bayern Munich Champions League quarter-final which brings no great expectations, tonight’s Manchester derby is Moyes’ last chance before the summer to demonstrate to United’s owners that he can beat the elite with the squad Sir Alex Ferguson bequeathed him.

Against that backdrop, the usual pre-derby conversation about the balance of power in Manchester was almost entirely absent yesterday, lost in the fog of United’s very individual, lonely war. You must reach back to March 1978 for the last time City entered a Manchester derby with an advantage over the neighbours comparable to tonight’s – a 10-point lead in the days of two points for a win, which in today’s currency would be 16 points. In the days when Roberto Mancini or Mark Hughes were in charge at City, the assertion from a City manager that “the best team is Manchester City because we are at the top of the table” would constitute an act of aggression. It did not even command a follow-up question when Pellegrini made the point yesterday.

 

Moyes, who arrived to talk an hour after the Chilean, looked like a man who knows he is still in a dark place. The suggestion that he was one game away from the sack when Olympiakos arrived here last week elicited a sharp response – “rubbish” – from the top of the club, but the manager is still on a war footing.

He shifted on to his inquisitors the knife between the ribs that Brendan Rodgers delivered when questioning Moyes’ declaration that Liverpool were favourites for their match. “I would never say that at Liverpool – even if I was bottom of the league,” Rodgers had observed. “Well, Jose Mourinho says Manchester City are favourites for the title. I don’t know if anyone replied to that when he said that but you were quite happy to reply to me saying it,” Moyes retorted. He skirted around the point that it had been Rodgers who made the observation, when reminded. “I think you know the style I am,” he said. “I try to be [honest]. Some of you don’t write it the way I say it but that’s the difference between me and you possibly, then.”

Read more: Moyes tells Pellegrini: United's time will come again
Carrick or Fellaini could fill-in amid defender crisis
Rooney wears arm band well
Manchester United v Manchester City match preview

He made a conflict out of the observation that United’s defeats to elite sides had been born of their midfield’s failure to contend with City, Chelsea and Liverpool – to name three – flooding that area of the field. He turned the question into one of statistics – “if you’re going to tell me now that the stats were way in favour of one team I would probably take you upstairs and show you that wasn’t the case” – when no numbers had been quoted. It hardly takes a statistician to demonstrate how City’s midfielders have powers to create and score that United have lacked. Between them, Yaya Touré, Fernandinho, David Silva and Samir Nasri have scored 38 goals this season, while for United, Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick have managed one apiece. “I do agree with your point that they’ve got qual… very good midfielder players who are goalscorers,” Moyes said of the opposition, correcting himself in a way that displayed his usual balancing act. He often states that other managers have a quality of player he did not find in his own inheritance, while not denigrating his own.

It was United’s ceremonial thumping by City last autumn which provided Moyes with probably his first sense of how great the quality differential was. On 24 September he said that he expected to take “many more blows” this season and yesterday reflected that they had been harder and more relentless than even he had imagined. “They’ve hurt more because I joined Manchester United with big expectations myself – that I’m coming to the winning football club. I’m disappointed with myself and I’m disappointed that we’ve been unable to do that.”

He was asked if he felt there was more he could have done and no manager’s answer could be more valid than his “no, I don’t actually” because he is the ultimate arch-analyst, who pores over defeat, lives with it, “locks himself away with it,” as one friend of his tells it. “Like the bloody Rain Man” his former Everton physio Mick Rathbone has said of Moyes’ absorption with the details of what goes wrong.

The hyper-analysis does not always help. It can breed the caution which has imbued the Moyes United with more caution, defensiveness. It has certainly made Old Trafford a different sort of place. A sixth home defeat of the Premier League campaign tonight would be United’s biggest number in the domestic championship since that 1997-78 season, while another point dropped would condemn them to their worst return in the Premier League era. Just two more records of an unwelcome kind for the manager some supporters, with characteristic black humour, have christened Roy Castle.

Of course, Moyes deflected the notion that he could not afford another home defeat. “I think the fans know exactly where we’re at just now. I think they know exactly where we’re going,” he said. But there is anything but certainty for either him, or them. This week, just like last week, brings a monumental need for victory.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin visits her 1990s work ‘My Bed’ at Tate Britain in London, where it is back on display from today
artsBut how does the iconic work stand up, 16 years on?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor