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Leadership holds key to derby clash

The Manchester derby could produce a world-record audience Monday night.
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Warren Barton

Warren Barton draws on 16 years of professional soccer experience as a studio analyst for FOX Soccer. With more than 350 Barclays Premier League appearances, Barton starred for Wimbledon before rising to prominence with Newcastle United and the England national team. Follow him on Twitter.

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We have a massive game on Monday night that will decide the title, as Manchester City takes on rival Manchester United. There’s a lot of chat about how important the game is — and it is — so I want to offer some insight on how the players handle these games.

When I was with Newcastle in the 1995-1996 season, we were in a similar situation to City. We were, as it happens, about to face our main rival for the Premier League title that season. The team in question? You guessed it, Manchester United.

Our manager, Kevin Keegan, had us deep into preparation two weeks before the game. We knew what we wanted to do, and we were researching United’s lineup and tactical formation. We mapped game detail right down to the match referee and his tendencies.

Just like Monday’s derby, it was the only game that day. We all began to feel the buzz. The truth is that you couldn’t hide from it. Every radio show and every daily newspaper had an opinion. You’re at the supermarket and you overhear people talking about it — it’s just total saturation. You can’t help but start to get a little nervous about it because it sinks in that, “wow, this is a big game.”

We were very confident going into the game. We knew it would be tough, but we also knew that we were doing all the right things. Kevin was doing his best to keep the practices light-hearted, and we were working on fine-tuning things. With all this nervous energy, you have to find a balance in those practices. So we did some fun stuff and really just tried to keep it light. We also wanted to avoid any excuses, and even paid more attention than usual to how we ate, slept and conducted ourselves.

Players are notoriously superstitious, and a lot of us would start prepping our clothes and ties to match what we wore the last time we won. I know some of us even drove into St. James Park exactly the same way we did last time out. I think fans do some of the same things. And on game day, a lot of fans came extra early because they wanted to soak the moment as well.

It hit me when I walked into the locker room and saw the kits laid out. That’s a time when you really need to show character. It helps to have some veterans around — guys like Peter Beardsley, and Les Ferdinand — to keep everything very level. We would tell the younger guys to just go out and have fun.

I remember hearing the roar when we went out to warm-up. It was simply incredible! And on that day, we played an amazing first 45 minutes. If it hadn’t been for Peter Schmeichel — the best keeper I’ve ever seen — we would have gone into the half 4-0 up. Kevin told us all to go out and do the same thing in the second half. However, as you know, we lost the game. Eric Cantona scored a great goal at the far post that left us hugely disappointed.

The truth is, we really couldn’t have given any more. Shaka Hislop made some great saves for us; Les had really given Schmeichel everything; and, even in defeat, I can tell you we all walked off with a lot pride. Yes, we were disappointed. Yet, later we realized that we must have been doing something right to be in that situation in the first place.

Come Monday night, the players on City and United will be where I was. Everyone around the world knows the implications. If City wins, we have a race. But if United edges its rival, it’s all over. I think the things to keep an eye on are the performance of the young players like David de Gea and Jonny Evans. Both players have never been in a game of this caliber before. The guys who will be talking to them before the game are Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, and Wayne Rooney. They’re going to be the leaders, and they are going to say the same things to the younger guys that I said to our young guys back in 1996. Younger players sometimes think there’s going to be a game like this every other week. Games like these are truly special and don't come around very often.

Actually, I think this game will be a draw. I think it will be tense, especially for the first twenty minutes or so. United will probably score first, but City will get one back. Roberto Mancini will be a little more cautious this game. He knows a loss takes them out, but I think City will open it up in the last ten or fifteen minutes. I don’t think United will be negative, but I also don’t see Sir Alex Ferguson telling them to really open it up either. And no player will be frivolous. Everyone, on both teams, knows a single slip-up could cost them everything.

Hodgson, England talks

CENTER STAGE

Check out the players that can impact the Battle for Manchester.

One thing I wanted to mention is the news that Roy Hodgson will interview for the England job. Contacting Roy is a sensible thing for the FA to do. He’s got a lot of international experience, having coached Switzerland and Finland among others. A lot of people respect the job he’s done. He knows many languages and a great deal about the different styles other teams in Europe play. I know he probably isn’t the first choice of die-hard supporters — they will obviously highlight his time at Liverpool — but the international game is far different than the club game; as there are far fewer games; players are only together for a few weeks at any one time; and the entire approach a manager has to take is different.

This is also what England needs to do — they have to get a manager in, and it’s the right time to start talking to people. I don’t think the door is closed on Harry Redknapp, but the situation at WBA means that it’s a fine time to interview Roy. It’s not the same at Spurs, and it would be a big distraction to ring Tottenham during an intense Premier League run. WBA are safe, and I think it’s fine to give Roy the first bite of the apple. I know Sir Trevor Brooking is also a big fan of both men.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter at @warrenbarton2 and ask a question to any of us any time over at @FOXSoccer. I’ll see you next weekend for our FA Cup coverage.

Former England international Warren Barton is the lead analyst for FOX Soccer Match Day, Goals on Sunday, and UEFA Champions League coverage.

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