Friday, September 18, 2009

Weekend Preview: Manchester Derby

The biggest match of the weekend in my view is Manchester United versus Manchester City at Old Trafford on Sunday. The match kicks off at 1:30 in the afternoon locally, that's 14:30 for most of continental Europe, 8:30 in the morning for those on the East coast of the United States and bright (or still dark perhaps) and early at 5:30 in the morning for those of us on the left coast. Unfortunately if you're in the United States it's only available on Setanta so it may be a good idea to hit up a pub for breakfast.

Because the season is so young, much of my preview of the match is based on last year.

Home and Away

Old Trafford was good to United last year. They were the best club in the Premiership at home and "only" third best on the road. While they actually conceded two more goals at home compared to the road on the whole season, they scored 18 more, nearly one more per match, in front of the home crowd. City last year were the club with the biggest difference between home and away results. They were the third best team at home and 17th best on the road. If there was something to that other than just variance and it carries over to this year, it points to Manchester United starting out with an edge based solely on the location of the match.

Recent Form

At this point form is just all results so far.
United: WLWWW
City: WWWW

Both teams are doing pretty well. The only blemish was a surprising 1-0 defeat by United at newly-promoted Burnley. Cup competitions gone similarly - City won 0-2 at Crystal Palace in the league cup while United won 0-1 against Besiktas in the Champions League. Nothing surprising here.

Something important for this match is that Adebayor will not play. He was given a three match ban for stomping on van Persie and his provocative goal celebration where he ran the length of the pitch kneel in celebration in front of the Arsenal supporters.

Scoring and Conceding

Last season Manchester United were tied with Chelsea as best defensive team and second best scoring team, 9 goals behind Liverpool. Manchester City were in the middle of the pack defensively and scored the fifth most goals. City scored 10 fewer goals for the season, 0.26 per game, and allowed 26 more goals, 0.68 per match. In short, Manchester United were incredibly good defensively, the best in Europe in my opinion, and very good at scoring while City were good offensively but mediocre defensively.

Last summer there were a lot of changes at both clubs. Cristiano Ronaldo moved from Manchester United to Real Madrid. It's very tough to replace a player of his quality and they didn't do so by bringing in another big name. Sir Alex Ferguson added
Michael Owen for free, paid out 18 million euros for winger Antonio Valencia and picked up promising 20-year old winger Gabriel Obertan for 3.5 million. City were a lot more busy. They brought in three defenders, Sylvinho, Lescott and Toure, midfielder Barry and three attacking players in Adebayor, Tevez and Roque Santa Cruz. As far as Man City goes, I think the situation is similar to what I wrote about Real Madrid. Bringing in Tevez and Adebayor was huge and got all the attention, but Toure, Lescott and Barry will be the signings that make a difference if City are to compete for the league and finish in a Champions League spot.

Looking at the short season thus far, the two teams are the best defensive teams in the league. The poisson model puts United best and City second best. In scoring, I have Manchester United fifth best and City 8th. Take those figures with a grain of salt as the sample sizes are ridiculously small and an extra goal here or there would make a huge difference at this point. Based on last year's results, this year's results so far, and the summer transfers I'd say that both teams should be near the top both offensively and defensively.


As I said, I'm not sure this prediction is reliable given how few matches have been played. The Poisson model predicts a low-scoring affair with 0-0 the most likely scoreline. It gives United a 39% chance to win, City a 21% shot and predicts a draw 40% of the time.

I'll predict 1-0 to Manchester United.


  1. It might be interesting to write an article on derbies in general. They tend to be viewed as unpredictable by the general public and certainly there have been some big upsets and surprising results over the years. I just wonder how different they really are from "normal" games. Are these games more unpredictable, and does the old 'it's a derby so anything can happen' claim hold true, or is this again just a result of people working with small sample sizes and remembering the big upsets and forgetting all the matches that ended how they should have thus creating a perceived added layer of unpredictability to derbies.

  2. That is a fantastic suggestion. I'll definitely add it to the list. Home-ground advantage is an interesting topic as well. I could see it going either way. Travel is obviously much less of a factor but the atmosphere will be a lot more hostile.

    What do you think of the writeup and prediction? IIRC you are a Man U supporter.

    I'm still trying to work out how to format these, I should do a couple of them every week. One for each of the biggest leagues perhaps.

  3. I like the format you've got here. As far as the prediction, I'm a little surprised that it considers 0-0 the most likely result. Even though City have only conceded two goals so far I haven't been entirely impressed by their defense in the couple of games I've seen. At home I can't see us not scoring at least one, though I am a United supporter so I am biased. I also wouldn't be surprised to see them score one on the counterattack. Even with Ade, Tevez, Robinho and RSC out they still have Bellamy, SWP and probably Petrov who are all quick and can cause problems for any defense, especially against O'Shea and Vidic who aren't the fastest players in the world.

    2-1 United, though I'll gladly take a dull 1-0 grind.

  4. Well obviously the Poisson model didn't factor Rio and Foster being complete idiots and Darren Legend Fletcher into the equation :)