By far the biggest fixture of the weekend, the Manchester derby offers the chance to see the league's most prolific attack and tightest defence go head-to-head, as the irressistible force meets the immovable object. Free-scoring Manchester United are by far the most lethal side this season, having scored 37 league goals in just 15 fixtures, while Manchester City boast the most robust defence, conceding just 11 goals so far. Only five times in 20 Premier League seasons has the team with the best defence and attack won the title, so which is more important when it comes to finishing top overall? Will it be the best attack or best defence that emerges triumphant this season? We had a look at how it's panned out in previous seasons…
When the best attack has won the league
Blackburn Rovers 1994/95
Man United 1995/96, 1996/97, 1998/99, 1999/00, 2006/07, 2010/11
The mantra that the best form of defence is attack rings relatively true in the Premier League. On eight occasions the league title has gone to a side that could boast the best attack, but not the best defence. Man United's liberal goal-scoring this year has already helped Sir Alex Ferguson's side to top spot by the start of December and half of United's 12 Premier League titles were won when they had the best attack, but not the best defence. Likewise, Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea side won the 2009/10 title despite conceding more than rivals United, after scoring 103 goals. Kenny Dalglish's title-winning Blackburn Rovers side conceded 11 more than United, but finished first thanks to their top scoring attack, featuring Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton.
Chelsea's record-breaking attack
When the best defence has won the league
Man United 1992/93, 2002/03, 2008/09
It is rare to see a more defensive-minded team embark on a title-winning campaign, with teams that boasted the best defensive record, while being outscored by their rivals, only claiming the Premier League crown four times. Shutting out opponents can be extremely effective, though, as Chelsea showed during the 2004/05 campaign, conceding a mere 15 goals all season, winning the title from top scoring, but fragile Arsenal. Man United's title-winners four years later prided themselves on their defensive set-up, conceding 24 goals all season, with then-goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar enjoying a world record of 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal.
Arsenal's invincibles of 2003/04 prided themselves on a robust defence
Ultimately, the Premier League champions will aim to have the best attack and defence in the country, but invariably that proves difficult. Equally balanced sides have only won the Premier League five times, with managers more inclined to favour a particular approach to their play. While it is rare to see a defensive-minded side triumph in the Premier League, it is certainly possible, but as history dictates, attack-minded sides tend to come out on top. Should Man United and Man City continue in their current vein, it is fair to suggest that United could be in the driving season come the end of the season.
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