Yaya Toure believes Manchester City’s firepower will leave Manchester United fearful in Sunday’s derby at Old Trafford as football braces itself for the most expensive and possibly the most watched Premier League game in history.
City have the chance to open up an 11-point lead over their nearest rivals at the top of the table with a record equalling 14th consecutive league win in a game that will be beamed into one billion homes across 189 countries and could go a long way towards shaping the title race.
There are only four UN registered countries where the game will not be broadcast – North Korea, Cuba, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Moldova – and the match could yet challenge the biggest live audience in the Premier League era, when 4.081 million viewers watched City beat United 1-0 in April 2012 en route to lifting their first title for 44 years.
With the combined transfer value of the two teams’ starting XIs likely to top £650 million, despite the absence of almost £220 million of talent in Paul Pogba, who is suspended, and the injured trio of John Stones, Benjamin Mendy and Eric Bailly, the game is also expected to be the most expensive football has staged.
City suffered a first loss of the season in their 2-1 Champions League dead rubber defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk in sub-zero temperatures on Wednesday night and only returned to Manchester on Thursday afternoon after a gruelling four-day stay to Ukraine.
But Toure believes the defeat will focus minds at City after a run of 20 successive victories and is convinced United will be afraid of an attack that has plundered 62 goals in 23 matches this term.
United conceded 33 shots to Arsenal in their 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium last Saturday but Toure does not expect Jose Mourinho’s side to be so open against City and instead seek to get bodies behind the ball and break on the counter-attack. Mourinho had attracted criticism for a perceived negative approach in the 0-0 draw against Liverpool at Anfield in October and United have also been cagey in league games against Spurs and Chelsea this term.
“This game can give us a lift for the future,” the City midfielder said. “This year, I think, when you see United, they are going to be worried about us.
“That’s going to make them very dangerous on the counter-attack and we have to be ready for that. Otherwise, we will see the game they played against Arsenal a few days ago, so we have to be careful.
“We don’t want to lose. We have to keep this kind of gap on United, because now, when I see United playing games against big teams, they always wait for a mistake to hit them on the counter-attack.
“You just have to understand football and sometimes we can lose. We need to have a big performance on Sunday. It’s going to be difficult because the way you saw Shakhtar play, is the way United will play – counter-attack, counter-attack, very fast and very strong.
“It’s a huge game. Derbies are always special. We are in a good moment, especially in the Premier League. I hope we can keep that going, scoring goals and enjoying our football.”
If the Shakhtar defeat helps guard against complacency, Toure believes it could be well timed. “The people around the club, when we start to win a lot of games, they start to say a lot of things and it’s not good,” he said. “Some of us could relax and drop our levels.
“So, if you have to choose a moment to lose, then this would be the right one.”
Even if City succeed in opening up an 11-point gap over United, though, Toure said that the memory of their own title triumph in 2011/12, when they overturned United’s eight-point lead with six matches of the season left, should serve as a warning not to believe the title race is over.
“I remember in 2012 when we won the league, United were first and had an eight-point lead, but we came back,” he said. “You have to be careful because the Premier League is such a tough league, you can’t relax. It will be tough in the second half of the season, especially against the sides who are fighting not to be relegated. We have to be aware of that.”
A huge security operation will be in place on Sunday with both United and City fans urged to get to the ground early, especially as snow and freezing temperatures are forecast and traffic is expected to be heavy with disruption to the tram network and Christmas shoppers flocking into Manchester. Supporters have been urged to avoid bringing bags where possible and warned bigger bags will be turned away.
An alcohol exclusion zone will be in force although United have dropped the price of alcoholic drinks inside Old Trafford of late in a bid to encourage more supporters to get to the ground early. Nonetheless, fans will be restricted to ordering two drinks per visit to the concourse bars.
Meanwhile, United and City are hoping to play another derby outside the UK for only the second time next summer. The clubs faced each other in Houston on their pre-season tours of the US in July and there is understood to be an appetite on both sides for a repeat next summer, when they are expected to tour the country again.