Manchester City and Manchester United have spent the entire Premier League season sitting first and second atop the standings. This coming Sunday marks the first time the two will meet this season. Manchester City haven’t dropped points in the Premier League since drawing with Everton on the 21st of August. Pep Guardiola’s troops are on record setting pace this season and will relish the thought of taking down their biggest rivals at Old Trafford.
In the city’s red half, Manchester United are fresh off an incredible away win over Arsenal. The Red Devils haven’t been beaten at home since September of 2016 – a record-equalling 40 matches. The opportunity to take sole possession of this record, while also blemishing Manchester City’s will be one they are eager to seize.
Manchester Derby Preview
Despite losing to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, Manchester City are still yet to fall in England. They have won their last three Premier League matches 2-1, trailing and scoring a late winner in each. While they aren’t dismantling teams as they were early days, they are winning difficult matches. Players are thriving under Pep Guardiola‘s master tactics and playing the best football of their careers. They are unrestrained offensively, even switching to the rare and ultra-attacking 4-2-4 formation to squeeze out victory against West Ham.
Manchester City’s roster is flush with attacking players capable of hurting teams in every way imaginable. Dynamic dribblers, genius play-makers and ruthless strikers – all operating on the exact same page. They can score from both inside and outside the box with equal proficiency. They boast multiple players in the top five in terms of goals, assists and completed passes – an offence like this has never been seen before.
Additionally, Manchester City will likely dominate possession despite being the visiting team. Manchester United’s defence put out a valiant, yet unconvincing performance against Arsenal last time out in the Premier League. If the Citizens command the ball they will feel out their opponents, find their weak spot and attack it relentlessly.
When a team can score as willingly as Manchester City do, they must have a linchpin who will stabilise their shape defensively. Fernandinho plays this role exceptionally well. Guardiola rested the Brazilian against West Ham so he couldn’t risk suspension through yellow card accumulation. The Spaniard is well aware of how vital he will be in the derby.
Fernandinho will be first line of resistance against Manchester United’s counter attack. His positional sense is among the best in the Premier League. He is also a terrific tackler with the presence of mind to quickly move to ball to the more creative players in the team immediately after dispossessing the opponent. Additionally, Fernandinho has chipped in two goals and two assists this season and should not be for forgotten offensively.
Manchester United host their derby opponents following two important wins. Against Arsenal, they were thoroughly out-chanced but showed a ruthlessness on the counter attack. However, if they defend similarly to the way they did at the Emirates, a team with Manchester City’s fire power will not let them off the hook. The midweek Champions League match saw them clinch Group A after defeating CSKA Moscow. Both Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford ended their respective goal droughts and will be eager to continue on Sunday.
Lead by David de Gea, Manchester United have the most resolute defence in the Premier League. They are at their most effective luring teams into taking offensive risks and pouncing on the counter attack. Rashford, Lukaku and Anthony Martial all have speed to burn and would love to get one-on-one with a Manchester City defence that has yet to be truly tested this season.
Manchester United are also likely to make this derby a physical battle, mainly due to their large advantage in this department. They are second in the Premier League in average player height, just shy of two inches taller than 20th place Manchester City. They will need to capitalise on their set piece opportunities, as chances may be few and far between.
With Paul Pogba serving a suspension, there will be huge pressure on Manchester United’s attacking players to create without their talisman. While Lukaku bullishly leads the line, his creative ability is lacking, therefore the onus falls elsewhere. Specifically, it will fall to whomever starts between Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.
Both youngsters are dynamic and provide a similar skill set. However, against such a formidable opponent it is likely Jose Mourinho will opt for the hardworking Jesse Lingard, who himself is enjoying a good run of form. But in a game where chances will be few and far between, Manchester United’s most likely breakthrough will come from a player with a pension for dribbling. Whether they score themselves or set up a teammate, Rashford or Martial will be catalysing all things Red Devils Sunday evening.
The Final Word
The first Manchester Derby of the year provides a mouthwatering fixture for supports. Should the Citizens prevail, an 11 point cushion at the top of the table is certainly insurmountable. Conversely, a Manchester United victory won’t blow the title race open, but will definitely open the door to discussion. Such title implications are seldom present before Christmas. But this year, they just might be.