Old Trafford an unlikely oasis

The United old boy Tevez fans the flames once again and is not inclined to play the peacemaker, as his latest remarks show.

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MANCHESTER // Only one letter separates Manchester from Madchester. The nickname, invented a couple of decades ago to describe the city's musical scene, appears increasingly applicable to its football as well. Certainly the heavy presence of Greater Manchester Police at tonight's Carling Cup semi-final second leg will illustrate fears of foolishness from rival fans.

Then there is the madness of the two clubs. Manchester United should be the most profitable in the world; instead, to rightful indignation from the terraces at the ownership of the Glazer family, they are the most indebted. City have no such concerns but their executive chairman, Garry Cook, was guilty of folly himself when he said: "This football club is, without doubt, going to be the biggest and best football club in the world."

Without doubt? City's ambitions are laudable, but they are intent on securing a first trophy for 34 years. Barcelona and Real Madrid are not threatened quite yet. On-pitch feuds that may have been simmering previously are now approaching boiling point. Carlos Tevez's comments about Gary Neville have been translated and abbreviated to "boot-licking moron". If Sir Alex Ferguson permits his captain to take the field, Neville's antics will be scrutinised for evidence of revenge.

Tevez, meanwhile, approached his first return to Old Trafford in September in naive expectation of a good reception for services rendered to the red half of Manchester. He is under no such illusion now. The Argentine is more wronged than wrongdoer, his contribution to United glossed over since his summer exit, but he should anticipate genuine hostility. In any case, Tevez is not inclined to play the peacemaker, as his latest remarks show. "The welcome I received from the moment I arrived at City has been very special," he said. "I was made to feel loved and this means a lot to any footballer. I feel I've shown I'm at the right club now. Everyone knows how important the fans are at this club and, if I make them happy, it's an honour. I think the United fans know I tried hard. City is my club now, a place where I feel part of everything. Maybe this wasn't always the way at United."

At Old Trafford, Tevez nonetheless dovetailed well with Wayne Rooney. Now two men whose similarities outweigh their differences represent their respective teams' greatest hope. Neither has ever been as prolific before: the City striker has 13 goals in his last 11 games while his counterpart, who scored four times against Hull on Saturday, is averaging almost a goal every game in the Premier League. As United seek to overturn their 2-1 first-leg deficit, he should have renewed support. Ryan Giggs and Antonio Valencia, who comprise the supply line, were both rested for Saturday's 4-0 win while Dimitar Berbatov, Rooney's probable partner, was confined to a brief cameo.

Equally significant may have been Ferguson's decision to give Wes Brown an afternoon off. Given Rafael da Silva's struggles against Craig Bellamy last week, there is a case for moving the England international to right-back now Rio Ferdinand is available again. Roberto Mancini, the City manager has greater options as well, even if they may not include Robinho as the Brazilian seeks to conclude his return to Santos on loan. Yet with Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor available after their African Cup of Nations ended in disappointment and tragedy respectively, the Italian has the chance to restore both to the side. City believe the onus is on United to demonstrate there has not been a change in the balance of power. "It's the first time in a long time there has been so much pressure on United to beat us," said the City defender Nedum Onuoha. "It's probably as big a game as we've played in, an absolutely massive game and one that won't be forgotten for a long time."

Certainly the first two derbies of the season bordered on the unforgettable. But increasingly, rancour rules as the once gargantuan divide between the two clubs closes. It may be beautiful madness and it could be sheer lunacy, but Manchester should become Madchester again tonight. @Email:sports@thenational.ae Manchester United v Manchester City, KO 8pm, Al Jazeera +3 & +5