Change of fortunes at Manchester
United's future seems bright, while City's looks bleak
MAN UNITED v MAN CITY
(Tonight, 11pm, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
Manchester United look on at the horizon and brace themselves for a new dawn.
They can feel it in their toes.
Manager Louis van Gaal's journey began apprehensively.
He had to drag his new-look team out of the traps at the start of the season and got them to grind out the results through a mixture of spirit and grit.
Then one day the stars aligned.
Their football began to flow. With it, the confidence returned. Now, they have the style to go with the substance.
They go into tonight's Manchester Derby at Old Trafford on the back of five straight league wins.
No one will fault them for seeing a victory over City as a symbolic step into a new era.
Why would anyone?
There's an air of youthfulness and exuberance at the Theatre of Dreams not seen in years.
The new signings didn't look convincing at first, but now the majority of them are beginning to look the part.
The trio of 25-year-olds - Daley Blind, Ander Herrera and Marcos Rojo - are certainly improving.
The versatile Blind is looking more reliable with each passing week. Herrera has struck a superb partnership with Juan Mata in midfield. Rojo's aggressive play in defence makes him a good fit for the English game.
British record-signing Angel di Maria, for all the criticism he attracts, ranks second on the Premiership assists table with 10, behind Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas on 16. However, it may be worth noting that the Chelsea playmaker has played 834 minutes more football.
Luke Shaw continues his struggle to establish himself in the first 11 but, at 19 years of age, he has potential and time on his side.
Radamel Falcao remains the biggest disappointment of the summer arrivals, but United have no obligation to sign him permanently.
The players who were at United before van Gaal arrived have also undergone a rejuvenation.
Ashley Young is playing some of his best football in a United shirt. Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney have rediscovered their mojo.
Of the lot, Marouane Fellaini, once the subject of ridicule, has been the most impressive.
If United can hold on to David de Gea, one of the top flight's most outstanding goalkeepers, then van Gaal has a solid core of players on whom he can lay the foundation for success in the coming years.
With the proper blend of youth and experience, the signs sure look good.
Their drastic improvement has seen them inch closer and closer towards a coveted place in the top four.
Third in the league table, they are seven points away from leaders Chelsea who have a match in hand, but only one adrift of Arsenal in second before last night's games.
On the verge of a quick return to Champions League football, United are therefore unlikely to suffer from a talent drain, while remaining an attractive proposition for top players at the same time.
The period of transition, which began the moment Sir Alex Ferguson left in 2013, finally looks like it may be over.
It's van Gaal's show now.
Old Trafford is buzzing once more.
BY THE NUMBERS
United need to win tonight to stop City claiming five successive league wins against them.
City have won on their last three visits to Old Trafford, scoring a total of 11 goals.
End of the road
The defending Premier League champions are on their last legs.
They are dragging themselves across the finish line.
Manchester City's title challenge fizzled out quicker than a pricked beach ball.
A troubled spell starting from about the turn of the year saw Chelsea surge ahead in the Premiership race. Then three defeats in City's last five Premiership outings all but ended their chances of retaining their crown.
They enter tonight's Manchester Derby with mere hopes of preserving top-four status at the end of the term.
But there may not even be a chance of a fresh start for this cohort.
City's policy of going for the tried-and-tested is returning to haunt them.
No other team in Europe's top four leagues have an older starting 11 than City, who average 29.2 years.
Compare that with United's 26.8, Chelsea's 26.7 and Arsenal's 25.7, and it's tempting to assume that City's current generation has reached the end of the rainbow.
Of the 10 outfield players who started in the 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace last Monday, all except for Sergio Aguero are now 29 and above.
The core through which City's brilliance flowed through during their championship-winning campaigns of 2011/12 and 2013/14 has undergone its fair share of wear and tear.
Skipper Vincent Kompany, under fire for his recent poor performances, is 29, and so is David Silva, their midfield dynamo.
The jaded-looking Yaya Toure is 31, but playing like he is way older. Even Pablo Zabaleta, City's Mr Reliable, has hit 30.
The system is in urgent need of a reboot, but City are in dire straits.
In their hasty search for rich pickings, City have neglected the very essence that builds lasting reigns: Constant renewal.
Eliaquim Mangala, 24, and Stevan Jovetic, 25, have youth on their side but not the vote of confidence. Samir Nasri, 27, is unsettled and likely to move on once his nightmarish campaign is over.
That leaves the Citizens with 26-year-old Wilfried Bony and Aguero as the only other two players who look young and good enough to lead City into the next phase.
The dearth of homegrown talent is another source of grave concern. There aren't any gems in the academy pipeline, certainly none ready for next season.
The rebuilding job that faces manager Manuel Pellegrini, if he is still around to oversee it, is a mammoth one.
Not only will he need to balance a healthy batch of new arrivals with an expected exodus, they must also balance the books, with the Financial Fair Play requirements in mind.
For some players, this Manchester Derby may be their last.
City can still rise to the occasion.
And they may well do so and inflict on the Red Devils an unexpected defeat, for they have a formidable group of players able to take on any team on their day.
But beyond that, they can't defy the law of nature.
This class is nearing the end of the road, and the longer City resist change, the worse things are going to become.
The last place City will want to go now is Old Trafford. Van Gaal has United playing exactly how he wants and they are finally getting it right. He has figured out his best team, after a lot of chopping and changing, and they are playing with confidence.
— Former Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson
Van Gaal’s side are an emerging team and United supporters are optimistic following significant wins. But City are the reverse, with an ageing team, one looking stale both tactically and in terms of personnel, going into the game with big question marks hanging over everybody at the club.
— Former United defender Gary Neville