Manchester reunited

Manchester United FC legend Peter Schmeichel will keep goal for Manchester City FC in the 127th league meeting between the clubs on Saturday.

Peter Schmeichel in action for Manchester City FC
Peter Schmeichel in action for Manchester City FC ©empics

By Kevin Ashby

Manchester City FC's most revered goalkeeper, Bert Trautmann, will be a notable spectator tomorrow when the club's current custodian, Peter Schmeichel, lines up against former club Manchester United FC in the final league derby to be played at Maine Road.

Heroic display
Initially spotted playing in a German prisoner of war camp in Lancashire, Trautmann played 545 games for City but will forever be remembered for a heroic display in the 1956 FA Cup final when he played on despite breaking his neck to help the Sky Blues to a 3-1 victory against Birmingham City FC.

Champions League win
The regard that Trautmann is held in among the City faithful is beyond question, while the same is true for Schmeichel at Old Trafford. The totemic Dane joined United from Brøndby IF in 1991 and helped the club to five Premiership titles and three FA Cups in a golden nine-year spell which culminated in the epic 1999 UEFA Champions League final defeat of FC Bayern München.

Frenzied atmosphere
The frenzied atmosphere of that heady night in Barcelona will be matched on Saturday as the curtain comes down on 79 years of football at Maine Road. At the end of the season City will move to the new City of Manchester Stadium, vacating the Moss Side residence which has been their home since 1923, and housed United between 1941 and 1949 after Old Trafford was damaged during the war.

Celebrated performance
While hopes of a repeat of City's most celebrated Maine Road performance, a 5-1 thrashing of United in 1989, are ambitious when considering the current status of the two clubs, the home faithful would undoubtedly be sated by Schmeichel ending on the winning side; as he was in his last Manchester derby appearance at Maine Road, Ryan Giggs scoring the winner in a 3-2 success in April 1996.

Recent wins
Schmeichel's participation has been in doubt after missing two recent Premiership triumphs with flu and then a recurrence of a knee injury. He returned to full training on Wednesday and manager Kevin Keegan admitted the blond custodian, 39 in ten days' time, is likely to start provided he does not suffer an adverse reaction in Friday's final session.

Injured defenders
City approach the game in 14th place, eight points behind third-placed United after 12 matches. Both were in midweek League Cup action - United defeating Leicester City FC 2-0, City going down 1-0 to second division Wigan Athletic FC. To add insult to injury, City defenders Steve Howey and Sylvain Distin picked up respective foot and hamstring injuries.

Howey confident
Both have been ruled out of the match. Howey, City's scorer in the 1-1 Old Trafford draw in the last Manchester derby in April 2001, said of the task facing his side: "We know they [United] can be beaten and we know we are capable of it. We are certainly not worried about reputations."

Premeditated attack
Manchester-born Nicky Butt will be missing through injury for United, while David Beckham and Roy Keane are suspended - the Irishman's ban imposed for detailing in his autobiography a premeditated attack on City's Alf Inge Haaland in the last derby. Phil Neville will play in central midfield, with his brother, Gary, featuring in his eighth derby having never been on a losing side in one.

Law goal
The onus, though, will be on Schmeichel. The last time an Old Trafford legend appeared for City in a derby, Denis Law condemned United to relegation with a back-heeled goal in 1974. Despite his goal Law never lost the respect of the United support, and neither will Schmeichel no matter how Saturday's powder keg fixture pans out.