Usually the statement ‘the fate of an entire season can be decided in a single match’ is hyperbole, but in this weekend’s Manchester Derby, it’s close to being true. Manchester City have sustained their unbeaten run at the top of the table, registering only a single draw, which puts them 8 points ahead of cross-town rivals Manchester United. Should City beat United at the Theatre of Dreams, they’ll extend that lead to a possibly unassailable 11 points. For United, a draw simply doesn’t do the trick, and with both sides knowing that victory greatly increases their chances of silverware this fixture should be a gripping one.
Valencia/Young v Sané/Sterling: United’s fullbacks are both converted wingers, who have done brilliant jobs as fullbacks, but they’ll face off against two of the quickest and most prolific wide forwards in the league. Shutting down open space that City’s speedsters exploit will be vital for United to shut off City’s ability to create chances.
Matič v De Bruyne: Kevin De Bruyne is arguably the player of the season so far, and definitely City’s most valuable attacking asset. He dictates the tempo of their play as the most advanced midfielder and assists as freely as he scores. Matič is United’s midfield sweeper, meaning he’ll be tasked with being De Bruyne’s shadow to ensure that the Belgian doesn’t have free reign to create opportunities for City’s forwards.
Lukaku v Otamendi/Mangala: The one area where City has exhibited some weakness this season is at centre-back. Their defensive line will be buoyed by the fact that, historically, Lukaku struggles against top-class opposition, but the Belgian could choose his first real Manchester derby to break his current duck against top six sides.
3 Talking Points:
Guardiola’s Edge: Historically, when these two managers have faced off, Pep Guardiola tends to get the better of Mourinho. In the 16 matches they’ve played against each other, 6 have ended in draws, while Guardiola has won 7 and Mourinho only 3. History strongly suggests that Mourinho will struggle to get maximum points out of this fixture.
United’s Unbeaten Home Run: Incidentally, United has equaled their longest unbeaten home run of 40 matches without a loss. Which team broke that previous record? You guessed it — Manchester City, back in September 2016.
No Pogba for United: Due to his red card in the previous game against Arsenal, Pogba won’t feature against the Citizens. During his period out injured, United managed to get only 1.85 points per game on average, while they’ve gotten 2.75 with him in the line up. Effectively, the absence of Pogba seems to make it half as likely that United may win the game.
Predicted Starting Line Ups:
Considering Manchester City’s blistering form and United’s notable struggles against better sides, it’s difficult to see this game ending in anything other than a City victory. They’ve been shown to have chinks in their armour, particularly when teams manage to press their midfield creators, but United lack the sufficient midfield mobility and speed to do that. Mourinho will likely try to tactically smother the game in order to neutralise City’s fast attacking trio, but United are incredibly competent on the counter which could mean they sneak a victory by soaking up pressure and stealing a counter-attack goal.
Predicted Score: Manchester United 1 – 3 Manchester City