x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

City and United players will need tunnel vision ahead of the Manchester derby

Preparation for the big match is key. Schmeichel only drank water at room temperature while Scholes made Keane laugh

The two teams line up in the tunnel before October's derby at Old Trafford, which City famously won 6-1. John Peters / Man Utd via Getty Images
The two teams line up in the tunnel before October's derby at Old Trafford, which City famously won 6-1. John Peters / Man Utd via Getty Images

Manchester United and City players will be trying to prepare as normal for Monday's huge derby match. It's almost impossible.

The idea will be that everyone stays calm and relaxed, that the preparation stays the same. That will work on one level. Our preparation for the 1999 Champions League final was no different to a League Cup match.

It was deliberately low key, the difference was what goes on inside a player's head. You can't pretend that everything is as usual when you are about to play the biggest game in your life. For a lot of players on Monday, more so on City's part than United, it will be just that.

Training will be more edgy, more intense, more snappy, for a start. Players will be keener to impress because they want to start the match. At United, they know that the manager is not happy after last week's freak 4-4 draw to Everton and the defeat at Wigan Athletic.

An eight-point lead has shrunk to three points and the players feel they let themselves and their manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, down. There won't be many niceties this week.

The manager wants a response, not a repeat. He'll tell them that they have to get a result because City will beat QPR and Newcastle United. Lose the game and lose the league.

He'll create an environment that is conducive to getting a result, but human nature also comes into play. Players can't go anywhere without the game being talked about. Everyone has an opinion about the coming derby and normal life - if it's possible to have a normal life as a footballer with City or United - is suspended.

I was disappointed by my preparation for my biggest game in Barcelona in 1999 and I regret being nervous because it hampered my play. Several of my teammates will say the same. Jesper Blomqvist was so overcome with nerves and spent the night before the game writing notes to himself and reading them back, notes like "You can do it Jesper" or "You can be that player you want to be."

I was buzzing with excitement that I was about to play in the European Cup final, yet I was too anxious. Had I played another European final, my advice to myself would have been "relax" - as I did in every other game in my career and as I'd done on the way to the final when I was part of the best strike partnership in Europe.

I never had another chance to relax before another European Cup final. Sometimes you just don't get a second chance.

The United players have more experience of big games so they have an advantage on Monday, but each will prepare in his own way mentally, and footballers are completely different in what they do.

I never used to warm up on the pitch. Teammates used to ask, "How can you play without warming up?" But stretches inside the dressing room area were enough for me. The first I saw of the full stadium was when I walked out into it. I just wanted to get straight into the game and before that I would just relax and take in the atmosphere.

Our goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel, was a bit different. He'd have about 20 towels which were always arranged in order. He drank water - but only water at room temperature.

Dwight Yorke used to do keepy-ups while Paul Scholes kicked a football around the dressing room. Still does.

He aims it at the bin, at peoples' heads. And because he's so accurate he'll hit them. Roy Keane would be concentrated and serious with a few cutting comments, then a ball would ping off his head from Scholesy. Keane would be angry and then smile because it was Scholes. The dressing room would laugh, the mood would be lifted. No player would reach the top level if he was consistently overcome by nerves or anxiety.

I'm sure the vibe will be good in both camps at the Etihad Stadium on Monday. United have the advantage in that they don't need to win - a draw will be enough. United would never play for a draw, but they can afford to sit back and try and counter if needed. Which is all City did in the derby last season at the Etihad.

They wouldn't attack United and the game finished 0-0. A repeat of that would suit United, who would remain three points clear with two games to play. City have to go for it.

City have been given a second chance. Roberto Mancini said himself that the league was gone. It isn't. They are in form and if they win their three remaining games they are champions, but how both teams prepare is vital because, as Keano used to say, if you fail to prepare then prepare to fail.

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten


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