Sports Mole previews Sunday’s derby between Premier League leaders Manchester City and Manchester United, including team news, predictions and head-to-head records.
Nine points already separate the two sides ahead of the derby, but both go into the match off the back of memorable European victories in midweek.
Pep Guardiola will have always been expecting a more competitive title race this season after they finished 19 points clear of Sunday’s opponents last term, but even he would not have foreseen three teams still being unbeaten after 11 games of the campaign.
Even with the good form of Chelsea and Liverpool – both of whom have dropped just six points so far – City continue to set the pace and go into the weekend sitting two points clear of the chasing pack at the top of the table.
Those behind them may have improved this season, but worryingly for the rest of the league it also appears as though City themselves could be even more dangerous than the record-breaking centurions of 2017-18.
Guardiola’s side have delivered emphatic statements of intent both at home and abroad over the past seven days, scoring six goals in consecutive games for the first time in 31 years en route to routs over Southampton and Shakhtar Donetsk.
Wednesday’s 6-0 win against Shakhtar was City’s biggest ever victory in the Champions League and reinforced their status as favourites for not only domestic glory, but also to be crowned European champions for the first time in their history.
Thoughts of silverware will never be far from the minds of such a successful team, but the reality of getting their hands on it is still some way away and Guardiola will be the first to ensure that his side are fully focused on each and every game as it comes – particularly in the very fixture which saw their title celebrations delayed towards the end of last season.
It is difficult to see any team stopping City on current form, though; Guardiola’s side have won 10 of their last 11 games across all competitions, scoring 35 goals and conceding just two in that time.
The champions are also unbeaten in their last 53 top-flight matches against teams who began the day outside the top four – a run which includes 44 wins and stretches back to January 2017.
At home City are an even more daunting proposition, taking 25 points from a possible 27 and scoring 32 goals while conceding four since their defeat to United at the Etihad in April, when the Red Devils came from 2-0 down to win 3-2.
That result will no doubt still irk Guardiola – who could lose consecutive home league games against a single opponent for the first time in his managerial career this weekend – but since conceding three second-half goals in that match City have let in just one after the interval in their subsequent 18 league outings.
Such an impressive record could be tested against a team who have specialised in second-half shows of late, although City could well be out of sight by half time if United’s recent pattern of performances continues on Sunday.
Recent Premier League form: WWDWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWWWWW
A club with such rich history will always see its current crop compared against vintages of the past, and in recent years those have not been favourable comparisons for United.
However, some of the club’s recent results have borne the hallmarks of what made them such a formidable force under Sir Alex Ferguson – namely comebacks and late goals galore.
United have come from behind to win points in four of their last six games across all competitions, with three of those occasions seeing them stealing victory with a goal in the 90th minute or later – the return of ‘Fergie Time’.
Recent triumphs over Newcastle United and Bournemouth have certainly helped to lift the mood around the club, but Wednesday’s win in Turin was the type that could kickstart their season as they defied all odds to come out on top in one of the most difficult away games in football – a task which also awaits them this weekend.
Once again, minds would naturally be cast back to their glory days; memorable victories away to Juventus in 1999 and 2003 are among United’s most famous European nights, and Wednesday’s result – which deserves a place alongside them – was the first time they had scored twice in the final five minutes to come from behind and win a Champions League game since arguably their greatest moment of all – the 1999 final against Bayern Munich.
Of course, the magnitude of the win should not overshadow what has been a thoroughly underwhelming season so far, and a derby match which United enter nine points behind their opponents is as effective a tool as any to bring them back down to earth.
Beneath the spirited comebacks which appear to have silenced suggestions that Jose Mourinho had lost the dressing room are deeper concerns too, and even the manager has admitted that he does not know why his team are such slow starters in matches at the moment.
City will be in no mood to let United off the hook if they make a similarly sluggish start to the one they produced against Bournemouth last weekend, and the clinical nature of City’s attack will be a major concern considering United’s defensive record.
The Red Devils have only kept one clean sheet in the league this season and have conceded 18 times in their 11 games – a tally it took them 25 matches to reach last term. Should they concede more than two goals on Sunday then it would be their worst start to a season defensively since 1966.
Mourinho will be taking charge of his 300th Premier League game on Sunday and much of his success over the previous 299 have relied on a solid defence, but thwarting a City attack in such devastating form with a backline he has regularly criticised could be one of his most difficult problems to solve yet.
The Portuguese boss has masterminded good away results against Chelsea and Juventus in recent weeks, though, and the Red Devils now have the chance to win four successive matches across all competitions for the first time since January.
Victory is surely the only viable option as far as United’s already-slim title hopes are concerned, with defeat leaving them 12 points adrift of a City side who show no signs of slowing down.
Recent Premier League form: DLWDWW
Recent form (all competitions): WDLWWW
United could have Romelu Lukaku back available after a two game absence, with the Belgian striker set to be monitored closely following his return to training.
Lukaku is without a goal in nine games for the club, though, and it is Anthony Martial who has been the chief provider for United in that time.
The French winger has scored five times in his last four league games and could join an exclusive list of Eric Cantona, Dwight Yorke, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robin van Persie as players to score in five consecutive Premier League matches for the club.
Ander Herrera‘s impact on the last two games has been impressive enough to work his way into Mourinho’s thinking, and his bothersome style could help to disrupt City’s midfield.
Indeed, Guardiola’s main problem at the moment is having too many players in such good form. Gabriel Jesus scored a hat-trick in midweek, but is still set to miss out to joint-Premier League top scorer Sergio Aguero up front.
Raheem Sterling is arguably the league’s form player at the moment, but he has failed to score in all 12 of his Premier League games against United.
Man City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Walker, Stones, Laporte, Mendy; Bernardo, Fernandinho, Silva; Sterling, Aguero, Sane
Man Utd possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Young, Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw; Herrera, Matic, Pogba; Sanchez, Lukaku, Martial
Head To Head
United have been something of a bogey team for City despite the contrasting fortunes of the two clubs in recent years, with the blue half of Manchester winning just two of the last eight meetings across all competitions.
That run includes three consecutive visits to the Etihad without defeat for United, and following April’s memorable 3-2 triumph they could now win back-to-back league games at the stadium for only the second time.
Overall this will be the 177th Manchester derby, with City winning 51 of those compared to United’s 73.
We say: Man City 2-0 Man Utd
Mourinho claimed in his pre-match press conference that his side would look to attack Man City, but it would be a surprise if they actually went toe to toe. Even if United do attempt to park the bus, City look unstoppable going forward at the moment and we’re backing them to break through for another victory.