Early Doors

Does Tevez hold the key for City?

Early Doors

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Big football stories are like Fernando Torres goals: you can go ages without one and then, suddenly, you can't seem to move for them.

Just as editors of Monday's football pullouts were putting the finishing touches to their 10th page of Manchester derby build-up last night, the announcement was made that the FA had approached Roy Hodgson with an offer to be the next England manager.

As such, this week is set to be a pivotal one for the future of English football, both in terms of the domestic balance of power and on the international front.

Still, we have six full weeks between now and England's opening Euro 2012 fixture to discuss how whoever is in charge won't make a blind bit of difference - so let's start with a Premier League match that feels like it has been hyped for at least that long.

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Back in November 2000, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson chose not to be in the dugout for one Manchester derby. The rearranged fixture, against a City side which was back in the top flight after a four-year absence, clashed with his son's wedding in South Africa. If such circumstances were to happen now, you wonder if Fergie would decide to miss the ceremony as Fabio Capello did with his own son's last year.

Tonight's clash at the Etihad Stadium will not confirm the destiny of the title outright, but anything other than a City victory will likely precede United lifting the trophy for a 20th time. A win at home for City, where they are unbeaten this season in the league, will put them level on points with United but ahead on goal difference with two games left to play.

Not since Arsenal's trip to Anfield in 1989 has there been such a key battle between the two teams battling for the title. Like that Friday-night game 23 years ago, this heavyweight clash is scheduled for an unusual day.

The strong Asian contingent of fans which has helped make United such a financial powerhouse will have to stay up until around 5am to see the outcome. It is not yet known if City's own source of income from the East - just one man - will be in attendance.

So much has changed since City's 6-1 win back in October. Mario Balotelli has proven pretty conclusively why it is always him, Paul Scholes has come out of retirement, both sides endured humbling experiences in not just the Champions League but also the Europa League and Carlos Tevez's handicap has come way down.

Former United striker Tevez could well be the key for City, an unlikely turn of events considering he has spent the majority of the season back in Argentina, slagging off the town to which he has now returned in such fine form.

Since being welcomed back into the fold once the opportunity for him to join another club had passed, the Argentine striker has scored four goals and created three more, helping to drag City out of their March malaise. Those figures mean he has been directly involved in a City league goal on average once every 55 minutes this season, a better rate than any other player.

His partnership with compatriot Sergio Aguero has also been rekindled. In a little more than 300 minutes together on the pitch this season, they have hit 11 league goals between them.

But, as much as it is his form which has helped make this evening's match be billed as a title-decider rather than seeing City form a guard of honour for their local rivals, it is his enmity with former club United which adds real spice to the occasion.

In two years at Old Trafford he won back-to-back titles and the Champions League, but left under a cloud when the selfish demands of himself and his management team were not met. After moving across town in 2009, United's next trip down the road was for a Carling Cup tie in which Tevez scored twice and engaged in an exchange of hand gestures with Gary Neville. Just imagine the noises Neville will make in the studio if his former team-mate proves the match-winner for City this evening.

Since then he has gone from FA Cup-winning captain to national hate figure following his much-publicised refusal to warm up against Bayern Munich, but turning in a match-winning performance in the derby tonight would see him take a spectacular short-cut back to hero status once more.

Things just seem to happen around Tevez, so it would be no surprise if his name features prominently in dispatches come 10pm this evening.

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The news that the FA has approached Roy Hodgson as its sole candidate to fill the England vacancy has been met by much consternation in the press this morning.

The Daily Mirror leads the charge, proclaiming the decision a "Hod choice for England" (geddit?) on the front page and asking "Oh Why? Oh Why? Oh Woy" inside the paper.

After months of treating Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp as the England manager elect, the FA has surprised all and sundry by choosing a man with bags of experience at both club and international level who has no track record of scandal or controversy and will not cost them a penny in compensation. What a disaster.

The anointing of Redknapp as 'the people's choice' was confirmed the moment he was acquitted of tax evasion charges back in February, and ever since we have been told it was inevitable that he would be offered the big job.

Now that he has been overlooked by the FA, the press are trying to paint the situation as like the time they decided not to employ Brian Clough, with Hodgson cast in the role of Ron Greenwood.

Considering what a nice man Hodgson is, and what he has achieved in the game, the fact that the knives are so poorly concealed by the majority of the press pack is alarming.

After all, this is a dignified, statesmanlike man who Internazionale president Massimo Moratti described as "an important person in our history". A man who recently led Fulham to a European final, where they took an Atletico Madrid side featuring Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero to extra time. A man who saw Switzerland qualify for back-to-back tournaments for the first time in more than 40 years, leaving that job in the mid-1990s with a win percentage of more than 50.

Even at his lowest ebb at Liverpool last season, when the club was going through an unseemly court battle over its ownership, he kept his counsel and maintained his dignity. Redknapp, after rowing with Portsmouth owner Milan Mandaric while at Fratton Park, jumped ship and went to the club's biggest rivals Southampton, who he got relegated.

Hodgson has a great record with underachieving teams, a description which fits all too comfortably when discussing the England national side. He has more than proven his ability to manage well on limited resources, when he does not have an extensive pool of transfer targets to sign. He is far more likely to manage with the long view of establishing a sound coaching set-up and would contribute to the development of the national football centre at St George's Park. There is little to indicate that Redknapp would approach the job in such a way.

Whether or not Hodgson is a success (ie not a disaster) as England manager remains to be seen, but the default negative reaction to his potential employment says more about the state of the English football press than it does about English football.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It's tough but we have to look at the positives. We need two monumental performances and two massive results. We've got Wigan up next, if we beat Wigan we go to Chelsea and we keep going, keep chasing. We've had many monumental performances this season. Some really good home wins, some back-to-back clean sheets. We'll probably need that again and I have trust and faith in the lads." - Blackburn manager Steve Kean tries to stay upbeat after his side's 2-0 defeat at Tottenham in which Rovers could not manage a single shot on goal, on target or otherwise, and only had 29 per cent of the possession. They are now three points and two places from safety with just two games left to play.

FOREIGN VIEW: "Such a situation is unacceptable. This is an attack not only on innocent people but on the image of the NPL and we call for a full investigation and holding those responsible to account." - Nigerian TV presenter Philip Obaji and founder of the 'Football Without Violence' campaign condemns attacks on players and staff of Ocean Boys in the visitors' dressing room before their match against local rivals Sharks FC. Ocean Boys' assistant coach and one of their defenders were taken to hospital in serious condition.

COMING UP: You can watch highlights of the weekend's Premier League games online right now, as well every goal in one quickfire hit. You also have the chance to vote for your Goal of the Week, and later you can peruse and disagree with our Team of the Week.

Tonight, naturally, we will be bringing you full coverage of Manchester City v Manchester United - which kicks off at 20:00 - but before that there will be a comprehensive day of build-up including a live blog of all the day's news surrounding the fixture, a live webchat with ex-United defender Gary Pallister and a rundown of the top 10 Manchester derbies.

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