United, City primed for season’s first derby

United, City primed for season’s first derby

LONDON - Agence France Presse
United, City primed for season’s first derby

Manchester United's Robin Van Persie, second left, celebrates with his teammates after he scores the second goal of the game for his side during their Champions League Group A soccer match at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, Tuesday Sept 17, 2013. AP photo

The Manchester derby takes top billing in the Premier League this weekend, as England’s leading teams return to domestic action after a week of mixed fortunes in European competition.

Manchester United and Manchester City face off at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, in what will be a first taste of the fixture for both United manager David Moyes and his City counterpart Manuel Pellegrini.

Both sides have made spluttering starts to the season, having each amassed seven points from their first four league games, but they both enjoyed convincing wins in mid-week.

United opened their Champions League campaign with an entertaining 4-2 win at home to Bayer Leverkusen, while City enjoyed a 3-0 victory away to Czech champions Viktoria Pilsen.

United striker Wayne Rooney confirmed his return to form with a brace against Leverkusen and he will now hope to repeat his performance from last season’s equivalent fixture against City, when he scored twice in a 3-2 victory.

“It’s a massive game,” Rooney said. “Two title contenders. It’s not going to define the season, but it’s a big game, a derby. We’ll be going there to win. I’ve scored a few goals against City.” Last season, an injury-time free-kick from Robin van Persie sent United six points clear of their city rivals and it was a setback that the defending champions were unable to overcome.

With this season’s encounter taking place earlier in the campaign, it is unlikely to prove quite as decisive, but City captain Vincent Kompany is still relishing the occasion.

“It is becoming one of the most sought-after fixtures in the world and it is always great to be involved in such games,” said the Belgian, who returned from a groin injury in Pilsen. “I never take them for granted.” 

Whereas the two Manchester clubs slipped seamlessly into gear in Europe, Chelsea were dealt a chastening home defeat by Swiss champions FC Basel.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has always set great store by making his teams invulnerable at home and he has called for an immediate response in Saturday’s derby at home to west London neighbours Fulham.

“This is the only way I know in football: to work hard, believe in what you do and each other, be critical inside our group to resolve things, but stick together and try against Fulham to get the result that wakes up the team with a smile,” said the Portuguese, whose side lost 1-0 at Everton in their last league outing.

Liverpool conceded their 100 percent record in Monday’s 2-2 draw at Swansea City, but they remain top of the table by a point and will look to strengthen their position at home to Southampton on Saturday.

Manager Brendan Rodgers will be without Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho due to a shoulder injury, but in Daniel Sturridge he has a striker looking to score for the sixth game in succession.

Southampton drew 0-0 at home to West Ham United last weekend and are bidding for a first victory since their 1-0 success at West Bromwich Albion on the opening day of the season.

Another manager buoyed by mid-week European success was Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, whose side won 2-1 at Marseille in the Champions League to record a 10th consecutive away success in all competitions.

Wenger is expected to hand a home debut to record signing Mesut Ozil against Stoke City on Saturday, when Arsenal will be chasing a sixth straight victory.

Tottenham Hotspur, who opened their Europa League campaign against Norwegian side Tromso on Thursday, visit promoted Cardiff City on Sunday.

Beaten 1-0 by Arsenal prior to the international break, Spurs won 2-0 at home to Norwich City last weekend and Gylfi Sigurdsson, who scored both goals in that game, says the club’s seven new signings are starting to bed in.

“The first game when everyone was in was a bit quiet, but we’re back to normal now,” said the Icelandic midfielder.

“Everyone knows each other and it’s a good and positive dressing room. There are quite a few jokers.”