Sunday 26 March 2017

Evra fires opening salvo as battle of Manchester begins

Ian Herbert

Manchester United's Patrice Evra has fired the first salvo of what promises to be a combustible build-up to tomorrow's Manchester derby, declaring that his side's heavy-spending opponents always declare themselves to be the biggest team in the city but never actually win the fixture.

"They always say that and they never beat us," was Evra's response to a suggestion that Wayne Rooney's flirtation with a move across the city has further eroded United's claim to be the biggest side in town.

Where league meetings between the two sides are concerned, Evra has a point: United have won six of the last eight meetings, with only Sven Goran Eriksson's double over Alex Ferguson, before the Abu Dhabi money arrived, offering much compensation for the blue half of Manchester.

Evra said that United -- whose investment in youth will see them bring the 15-year-old Norwegian playmaker Mats Daehli to their academy in February, according to sources in Norway -- have not needed to spend like City, whose outlay this summer raises the stakes of the derby at Eastlands.

"We always believe in the younger players," Evra said. "The boss believes. We don't need more players -- it's not my job to say so -- but I think the squad is strong enough for this season.

"Afterwards, I don't know, we will see -- but it is still strong and we still have a big chance of winning the league."

City have evidently decided that having volatile £22m striker Mario Balotelli miss the derby may be no bad thing and will instead seek to get the straight red card he was given at West Brom rescinded to two yellows and thus a one-game, rather than a three-game, ban. A regulatory tribunal will hear City's case today.

Ferguson will publicly discuss the match this morning, his willingness to do so suggesting that he does not want to allow City to monopolise the build-up, and will be asked to respond to the way that City's salary structure has enabled players like Rooney and Chelsea's John Terry, who also flirted with City, to negotiate better deals at their own clubs.

Evra feels that Rooney's decision to accept £200,000 a week and stay at Old Trafford has helped team spirit -- though it was the Frenchman who declared that Rooney should be excluded from Ferguson's side after the England striker cast aspersions on the quality of the team at the height of the contract saga.

"Yes, maybe (the Rooney situation) has helped," Evra said. "It was a little shock because maybe we were not happy to see people saying a lot of things about us.

"We just know that when we play with the Man United spirit we can beat anyone."

United captain Nemanja Vidic said that the progress of his club's young players -- Gabriel Obertan and Bebe scored in last week's Champions League win over Bursaspor -- is demonstrating that money is not the only route to success.

"Manchester United's history is always based on young players and building from them," Vidic said. "The expectation has grown at City, compared to four years ago.

"It is a massive game; they have quality players and big expectations. It will not matter what the form is like going into the game, it is about that moment.

"We have the facilities, the coaches, they just have to be right in the mind and keep working hard like they are doing.

"Time will show, but I believe we have a great squad capable of winning the Champions League."

Daehli, who was described by one leading scout as Norway's most exciting prospect, will sign a three-and-a-half-year deal with United, according to Norwegian sources.

The slightly built player, who would become the fourth Norwegian on United's books, was recently voted the player of a four-team international U-15s tournament.

Evra, substituted at half-time after struggling in United's 3-1 defeat at Eastlands in January 2006, also attempted to characterise the game as one of only mild significance.

"I can say it would be nice to beat Manchester City because it is a special game, it is the derby and everyone wants to win," he said.

"But it is not the priority. The priority is to win the league but make sure we don't lose the derby." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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