Does the form card go out the window in derby games?

Chelsea may hope so when they face Fulham this weekend, while Manchester United visit Manchester City in another even more keenly anticipated derby.

It’s an old saying in football that the ‘form card’ goes out the window in derby games but if it actually true or it is received wisdom?

Firstly, derby games between local rivals are always a bit of a wildcard fixture due to the intensity of the games, the hype that surrounds them and the significance to the fans. In some countries and cities, beating your rival is equivalent to winning at title – it’s the only thing that matters in the season or some fans.

Secondly, it depends on how close the two teams are in quality – for example, when Manchester United were winning titles and Manchester City were a mid-table team, the derby had less significance than it does today – I’m not saying it didn’t matter, City fans still loved it if they beat United but, in the context of the season, it was less crucial.

Similar stories can be found in the Merseyside derby and the North London derby – when Liverpool were winning titles and Everton were a mid-table team, the game had less significance, just as Tottenham versus Arsenal was inconsequential in effect when the Gunners were winning the league and Tottenham were mid-table.

Now, however, Liverpool and Everton are as close in their placing in the league as they are geographically and Arsenal and Spurs have fought it out for Champions League places, which adds an extra sense of jeopardy and, therefore, importance to the fixture. Those games can now define the club’s season by making or destroying their main objectives.

When Manchester United and Manchester City play this Sunday, they could set the tone for the title race once again, as they did last season – when United were beaten 6-1 by City in 2011/12 they conceded the title to the ‘noisy neighbours’ that term. Synonymously, when United’s Robin van Persie’s free kick screamed into Joe Hart’s net in the dying seconds of the 3-2 thriller last term, United reclaimed the title from their rivals.

Both Manchester giants haven’t been in good form recently, either, but you can bet your house that they’ll be giving it all they’ve got this weekend – form only goes out the window because of the greater desire to win these games. Much the same can be said of Chelsea and Fulham who also face each other this weekend.

Titles are made on consistency over 38 games in a season against a range of opposition but bragging rights are built on derby games and, in football, sometimes that’s what really matters.

image: © Nigel Wilson

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