x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

City v United: Both strike forces are equally up to the task

Countdown to the derby The two Manchester behemoths are getting nearly the same production rate from their strikers, says Richard Jolly, who analyses the battle at the front.

Sergio Aguero, left, has been outstanding for Manchester City with 29 goals and should only find more room with the return of Carlos Tevez.
Sergio Aguero, left, has been outstanding for Manchester City with 29 goals and should only find more room with the return of Carlos Tevez.

Manchester City 68 Manchester United 66.

It sounds more like a basketball score than a footballing statistic, but it is a sign of the firepower of their forwards.

It is also an indication how evenly matched the Manchester giants are: in the ninth month of an engrossing season, their strikers are separated by just two goals.

City are marginally the more prolific, their quartet of Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez outscoring their United counterparts Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernandez, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck.

In Rooney, who is responsible for half the Old Trafford contingent's haul, Sir Alex Ferguson has the most productive individual.

Yet as eight of the Englishman's 33 goals came from the penalty spot, Aguero, with 27 goals in open play, and 29 in all, could be deemed the deadliest.

At times the season has seemed a straight shoot-out between the pair.

With United three points ahead of City and Rooney getting the individual acclaim - he was runner-up to Robin van Persie in the Footballer of the Year voting and edged Aguero out of a place in the PFA Team of the Year - winning the popularity contests could be accompanied by collective glory.

Yet it is not simply about them.

Ferguson and Roberto Mancini ask others to share the workload.

The United manager has invariably favoured two forwards - or, he often says, split strikers, with one slightly behind the other - and, after selecting a lone attacker for much of last season, City have followed suit.

United have the more established partnership.

Hernandez's predatory gifts earn him the occasional start - and make him a potent substitute - but a Mancunian has displaced a Mexican in the pecking order, Welbeck becoming Rooney's normal sidekick.

Dummying and exchanging passes for the senior man to score in last Sunday's 4-4 draw with Everton, they drew comparisons with Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, who possessed an instinctive understanding.

It was, remarkably, the first time one had provided an assist for the other this season, yet they complement one another.

Welbeck is long limbed and tall, Rooney squat and powerful.

The younger man leads the line, the older dropping into space behind him. Each is a believer in the team ethic, unselfish when a colleague is better positioned. Between them they scored all three goals in United's FA Cup victory at the Etihad Stadium.

Yet the most destructive derby performance of the season came from Balotelli.

The resident enigma had an incendiary impact in October's 6-1 demolition of United, scoring the first two goals - Dzeko scored two of the last three - and bringing Jonny Evans's afternoon to a premature end when the Northern Irishman was sent off for fouling him.

Balotelli is likely to be benched on his return from suspension. In his absence, Aguero and Tevez have gelled as City have scored 12 goals in three games.

They are a case of similar strikers succeeding, each with a low centre of gravity, a direct style of running and a potent touch in front of goal. In the Argentine alliance, Aguero is the main man, Tevez the willing worker.

He is not so much going for goal as having a shot at redemption. A forward who helped deliver two titles to United brought a new meaning to the word striker by refusing to play and absenting himself from the continent for much of the campaign.

While Mancini and Ferguson each prefer to operate with four strikers, both have been down to three; the United manager by choice as Berbatov, bought in preference to Tevez in 2008 and joint top scorer in the Premier League with him last season, has been marginalised.

Now Tevez is back: in form, in favour and with a point to prove, because the worst-case scenario for United is that the title is decided not by the attackers at their disposal, but by the former favourite.

 

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