A derby game is always one of your most important games of the season. Danny Mills, in his commentary for BT Sport’s coverage of City’s Champions League game against Sevilla, shared his thoughts on Vincent Kompany’s absence from the City side, and made note of the fact that the Blues faced two tough tests in a matter of days.
But what was rather baffling, to me at least, was that he said he believed the Sevilla game was “more important” and that you can “afford to lose a derby and still win the league”. And though clearly the last-gasp win over Sevilla was morale-boosting and could be a great catalyst in City’s Champions League run-in, the derby will always have more significance.
Still, the decision to keep Kompany out of the first-team for two successive games is a strange one. He has been absent for a while now and that has culminated in a slight slump from City in their form. But as much as him playing for Belgium in the international break angered Manuel Pellegrini, it does suggest that he is fit and ready to play. There has been suggestions that Pellegrini is punishing his captain for playing for his country, having not played for nearly a month.
But that seems far-fetched and would be something that would likely not sit well with the rest of the squad. He is fit though, or you would think he is – given that he did come on for the final stages of the Sevilla win. Pellegrini however has said that there was a “risk to give him the responsibility to play this important game”, but that should not be the case for this weekend’s derby.
Kompany, as captain, epitomises everything about Manchester City and what this game means to everything associated with the club. His winner in the 2011/12 clash between the two sides is still one of the best derby memories.
In last season’s fixture at Old Trafford, City fell apart after a promising 15 minutes and Kompany himself was fortunate to stay on the pitch after an ill-timed tackle on Daley Blind. That game should still be fresh in the memory of some of the City players and Kompany no doubt will be looking to avenge that defeat. His leadership on the pitch is vital and that is something you desperately need in a game of this calibre.
Yet, he is also still the club’s best defender by some stretch and it’s scary how disjointed the team can be when he’s not playing. Otamendi is an all-action defender who has had a mixed start. He makes some great defensive contributions and is generally assured on the ball, but like many before him, has struggled to adapt to the English game.
Mangala had the same problem last season and the Frenchman has improved leaps and bounds this term. But the 24-year old’s most comfortable displays came alongside Kompany where City went five games without conceding.
Many City fans, myself included, are still not sold on an Otamendi-Mangala partnership at the back, and feel Kompany’s return cannot come soon enough. Pellegrini has a different view and feels that the two have been playing well – even if they are yet to keep a clean sheet as a pair.
Against United however, in an intense and demanding game, Kompany needs to be at the heart of the backline – instructing and organising the backline. Anthony Martial has looked extremely dangerous in his early games at United and City need someone like Kompany to attend to him and deal with his threat. I’m not so sure Otamendi and Mangala could do that.
The importance of a derby fixture cannot be understemiated and City will have to play extremely well at Old Trafford to beat United without their skipper.