Red Devils to draw first blood
It's the Manchester derby at the Etihad stadium on Sunday and Mike Holden expects the reds of United to get the quicker start, but he isn't ruling out a City win by the final whistle.
We all know the stat by now, even if it's not always easy to keep up. Manchester United have fallen behind in 15 of their 23 matches this season and, had you listened to Sir Alex Ferguson a couple of weeks ago, slow starts are holding them back. If only United could cut-out those early lapses in concentration, they would be sweeping aside everything in their path.
Don't listen to Ferguson. The master of positive framing is just doing what he always does; finding a way to make what he wants seem closer than it actually is. The truth is, United are leaking goals because they can't control games like they used to. The bad defending isn't down to individuals, it's a collective problem. And the timing of those goals is largely irrelevant.
As such, we fancy a topsy-turvy Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, a match that could be a real treat for the in-running traders. It might be going against the grain to suggest there's value in backing United to score first at 5/4 but we expect the Red Devils to to be at it from the first whistle, asking questions rather than answering them, and it goes without saying they possess the firepower to snaffle any early opportunities that come their way.
If you're looking for a trend to follow, look no further than the dozen half-time leads United carved out in 19 Premier League away games last season, look no further than 2-0 lead inside 15 minutes at Newcastle two months ago, the 2-0 lead inside 12 minutes at Chelsea three weeks later, the four goals they scored inside 34 minutes at Reading last Saturday.
Look no further than the Manchester derby in the FA Cup last January when United were 3-0 up at half-time. The window of opportunity for United is early on, before City settle into their shape and cause death by asphyxiation with their constant passing and probing. If the Reds score early, they might just coax the Blues out of their comfort zone and be up against the lost children of the Champions League rather than the formidable domestic force.
All of which brings us on to City's lesser-stated but nonetheless surprising habit of conceding first too. United might be taking their generosity to new levels but, relatively speaking, City are hardly making life easy. Roberto Mancini's men have only conceded 11 goals in the Premier League but eight of them have been deadlock-breaking. In the Champions League, it happened in all three home games, while Tottenham and Everton have both sprung early surprises at the Etihad in recent weeks.
However, just because we rate United's chances of scoring first doesn't mean we rate their chances of winning. The Red Devils have faded badly in their last three meetings with City and we expect them to finish this game with all hands to the pump. If they don't, it will probably be because City are ahead and coasting. As such, we can't resist dabbling in the half-time/full-time market with a whopping 18/1 on offer about the Man Utd/Man City double result.
In many ways, the roles are reversing and the two clubs are gradually morphing into the past reputation of the other. There was a time when a City goal at Old Trafford would be little more than the prelude to a sweeping United comeback. Nowadays, you can give United a three-goal advantage against ten men in City's backyard and nobody will be convinced the game is over.
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