It’s the biggest game of the season so far, the top 2 go head to head in the Manchester Derby. A Utd win brings them within 5 points of City, bringing life back into the title race in the process. However, a City win moves them 11 points clear, a gap that many would seem too large to close, especially given the form of City so far this season. Here 1stforfootball looks at where the Derby could be won or lost.
- Their Approaches
City are an irresistible force going forward and if Jose Mourinho thinks he can “park the bus” and play on the counter attack then he is sorely mistaken. That was the game plan deployed against Arsenal and to good effect. But Arsenal are naïve defensively and Utd were able to fire in two quick goals early on as a result of that.
Pep Guardiola’s side are a different beast entirely. They’re more tactically aware, they’re better equipped in all areas and if Utd sit back and allow them to dominate the ball then City will punish them.
Pep Guardiola said in his press conference he would “rather die than park the bus,” and you would expect City stick to their style and take the game to Utd. They have the quality to blow away this Utd side but they must be ready for a physical battle and earn the right to play their football if they are to stamp their authority on this game.
- Central Midfield
The loss of Paul Pogba in the centre of Man Utd’s midfield is a big loss. At The Emirates and prior to his injury, Pogba was the driving force of the midfield area. His powerful runs have often turned defence into attack and the manner in which he shrugged off Laurent Koscielny for Utd’s third last week was a perfect example of that.
For all his brilliance going forward, Pogba can be a defensive liability and last season in this fixture his lack of defensive awareness allowed Kevin De Bruyne to take hold of the game and win it for City. Ander Herrera is likely to accompany Nemanja Matic in the midfield in Pogba’s absence. Last season Herrera did an old-fashioned man marking job on Eden Hazard that won them the game. City have too many match winners for Mourinho to set a man marking task but the Spanish midfielder’s tactical awareness may allow Utd’s front line to flourish against a City defence that to have their weaknesses.
City’s midfield trio of David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho is phenomenal. Fernandinho protects his back line with such efficiency that Guardiola allows him to do the job on his own where most teams feel the need for two holding players. It’s Fernandinho’s ability to break down opponents attacks then keep possession to start City attacks that allows Silva and De Bruyne to flourish. Utd must put Fernandinho under pressure and prevent him from releasing De Bruyne and Silva into pockets of space in the final third.
- Set Pieces
As Huddersfield and West Ham have shown in recent games, City are vulnerable from set pieces. Vincent Kompany is the only play in the Man City squad with both height and aerial ability. In constrast, Man Utd have Lukaku, Matic, Smalling, Jones, Valencia and Bailly, all of which could start at Old Trafford. Mourinho opted to respond with humour when asked about the height advantage of his side but he will be aware of the advantage and he will use it. They say that 30% of goals come from set pieces and by his own admission Guardiola would prefer to focus on the other 70% but you get the feeling that this week defending set pieces just might have been on the agenda at City training.
It’s time for Lukaku to prove to his critics that he can do it on the big occasion. Stopping Man City means working all over the pitch. Guardiola encourages his team to play from the back and if City are allowed to pick up a rhythm from the back then that could spell trouble for Utd. Lukaku must work hard to occupy both central defenders when defending an attacking as a minimum and if Lukaku gets a goalscoring chance today he simply has to take it. The Striker’s poor recent form has been a cause for concern for Utd fans but a big performance against their rivals will put those poor performances out of everyone’s mind.
- The Goalkeepers
Last week De Gea won Manchester Utd the game at Arsenal with a record equalling 14 saves against an Arsenal side that attacked at their very best. De Gea has cemented his place as one of the top goalkeepers in the world and he is likely to be called in to action with similar frequency on Sunday against a City side not short of firepower.
Over in the City camp Ederson has been somewhat of a revelation. The disaster of Claudio Bravo is long forgotten and the confidence the City back line has gained from the change of Keeper cannot be underestimated. The Brazilian may find that today he is a touch busier than in previous games and may need to put in a top performance to help maintain City’s winning run.