Wayne Rooney has raised the stakes for this weekend’s Manchester derby by casting scorn on newly rich City’s hopes of knocking champions United off their pedestal any time soon.
Tomorrow’s clash, which precedes an equally intriguing encounter between league leaders Chelsea and crisis-hit Arsenal, will be the first cross-Manchester skirmish since City were propelled into soccer’s financial super league as a result of a takeover by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
The new owners have already financed the £32.5 million (US$50 million) acquisition of Robinho and more stars look set to follow the Brazilian to the City of Manchester stadium in January.
But the investment has yet to produce a significant improvement in terms of results with City currently languishing in the bottom half of the Premier League table, well below where they were at this stage last season under Sven-Goran Eriksson.
The Swede left his successor Mark Hughes with plenty to live up after masterminding victories in both derby matches last season — as well as ensuring United, who can ill afford to lose any further ground to Chelsea and Liverpool, will have added incentive to do well tomorrow.
As Rooney pithily put it: “It’ll be nice to show City who are the kings of Manchester.”
Suggestions that City’s rise to the top of the English game is now a matter of when not if have been greeted with bemused indignation by the reigning English and European champions.
“It doesn’t irritate us that City are getting all this publicity,” said Rooney, before really putting the boot in. “If they were winning trophies it would irritate us, but while they’re still lingering in mid-table we’re not too bothered about it.”
Having suffered five defeats already this season, Arsenal will travel to Stamford Bridge looking to convince the doubters that their title challenge can somehow be resurrected in the wake of William Gallas being stripped of the club captaincy over his public criticism of his team-mates.
Gallas has been replaced by Cesc Fabregas, and the 21-year-old, whose reign began with a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kiev in midweek, insists there is life left in the Gunners.
“We have played only 14 league games this season and it is not over yet. Nothing is done and we will fight until the end. Our target is to go there and win, because we could get some points back. The other teams at the top have some difficult games as well,” he said.
Arsenal’s supine performance in a 3-0 defeat at Manchester City last weekend enabled Aston Villa to replace them in the top four and Martin O’Neill’s side could rise to third, for 24 hours at least, by beating Fulham at Villa Park today.
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