Red or Blue, on which side of Manchester will you be found this weekend? Whether you have a dog in this fight or not, the result of this weekend’s biggest game could have ramifications for a few Premier League teams, most notably those elated Arsenal fans that have been given renewed hope that the Gunners could make a viable title challenge this season. I know, I know, they say that every year, but this season they’ve looked a far more polished team and are managing to stand up to some rivals – their 3-0 blitz of Manchester United and 2-0 dismissal of Bayern Munich provide evidence to that point. But, for now, our focus shifts to the Manchester Derby, where a win for United could see them considered valid title rivals, while three points for City definitively settles them as favorites for the 2015/2016 Premier League trophy.
First things first, what kind of form are the two teams in? With only two points separating the teams, and with City at the summit, they’ve shown fairly similar form across the last six games. Both teams have recorded 2 losses and 4 wins each. United’s most recent loss came at the hands of a meteoric Arsenal side, while City slipped to a surprise 4-1 thumping away against Spurs. Both sides look good, but have had chinks in their armour exposed this season. Based purely on recent form the deck seems to be stacked in City’s favour; the attacking additions, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, have both hit the ground running and are contributing goals and assists prolifically, which will be crucial as both David Silva and Sergio Aguero are expected to be absent from the derby. The stats point to City as well, as they’ve scored 9 more goals while conceding the same amount as United.
United’s primary areas of concern are in the midfield and defence, where both injuries and new squad members have created a problem for Louis van Gaal in terms of creating the right balance for his team. Carrick and Schweinsteiger offer fantastic levels of experience and ability to control possession, but as Arsenal demonstrated that means absolutely nothing if your leggy, aged midfielders can’t keep up with the play. A massive challenge for van Gaal will be figuring out how to stop City’s midfielders from dominating the game, as Arsenal’s trio did not too long ago. City’s weakness, as Tottenham showed, is in the age and discipline of their defence. Kolarov, Zabaleta, Kompany and Demichelis are all uncomfortably close to or over 30, and with how adventurous their fullbacks tend to be the center-backs are often left to fend for themselves against pacey forwards and wingers.
Smart money would tell you that City will win the game, and I’m inclined to agree. Simply put, their squad has superior depth and has been together for longer – they’re all on the same wavelength. United have new players finding their feet, like Martial, Memphis and Darmian. It’s going to require very mature and mindful performances from the entire United team to control a match where they’ll be up against a fast, dynamic City attack. Alexis Sanchez gave Darmian the run around, and Raheem Sterling is very much capable of achieving a similar outcome.
City on the other hand need to make sure their center backs are protected, and that Yaya Toure remains aware of his defensive contribution if he is selected. The games where City have been vulnerable generally coincide with a lack of discipline from the fullbacks and midfield leaving too much space for the opposition attackers to operate in. Manuel Pelligrini has been accused of being tactically naïve in the past, and pundits frequently point to City’s disappointing runs in Europe as proof. As a fan it isn’t always fun to see a conservative approach from a team with such attacking talent, but more prudence going forward is often a recipe to grind out a victory without too much pressure on the defence – as Jose Mourinho will gladly tell you. A very real way for United to create opportunities is to hope that City are as lax as they were against Tottenham in terms of positional awareness and defensive discipline.
Both teams will go into the game relatively confident after remaining unbeaten in their European ties during midweek, with City recording a 2-1 win against Sevilla while United shared the points against CSKA Moscow in Russia. Neither team has been defensively consistent, and it’s likely that the points will go to whichever team’s defence, particularly the full backs, maintains discipline and focus throughout the ninety minutes. Both have attacking potential in abundance, but need to balance that with defensive measure. If either team should claim all three points, it is quite likely they’ll be selected as odds on favorites to be league winners in May.
The key battles for me will be Martial vs Kompany, Sterling vs Darmian/Valencia and Schneiderlin vs Toure. It isn’t guaranteed that all these players will start, but it’s fairly likely given the respective managers’ habits. Moving away from Manchester, Arsenal fans will probably be keeping a keen eye on this fixture, knowing that a draw in the derby could pave the way for them to go level on points with City by the new week.
Manchester City: Hart, Kolarov, Otamendi, Kompany, Zabaleta, Toure, Fernandino, Sterling, Nasri, De Bruyne, Bony.
Manchester United: De Gea, Rojo, Smalling, Jones, Darmian, Schneiderlin, Carrick, Herrera, Rooney, Martial, Mata.
The Game Changers
The young guns will have to step up for both City and United in this match. With Aguero and Silva sitting this game out through injury it’ll be down to their second and third top scorers in the league, Sterling and De Bruyne, to come up with game winning goals. For United, Martial has been a much needed revelation up top after an indifferent start to the season from Wayne Rooney, and Memphis will need to show his worth at some point, he could etch his name into the memories of United fans the world over if he puts in a winning display at the weekend. Whatever the result, the destination of this season’s Premier League trophy will be a little clearer in a few short days!
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