Manchester Derby Preview
The biggest game of the Premier League season so far is just around the corner with the two Manchester clubs going head to head on Saturday. Here is my take on the closest thing English football has to El Clasico.
Both sides look extremely well matched on paper. For every Kevin De Bruyne, there’s a Paul Pogba and there are top quality players running through both teams. Without Vincent Kompany, City’s defence can definitely be got at and they have looked shaky at times at the back even against the relegation battling Sunderland. John Stones still looks like he would rather be playing in central midfield, the two full-backs are aging and are better going forwards than backwards and Nicolas Otamendi can be extremely rash in the challenge. None of which will inspire confidence from their new £17 million goalkeeper Claudio Bravo who has no experience of an English derby.
United on the other hand have been rock solid at the back in their opening games, which of course you expect from a Mourinho team. Eric Bailly has been uncompromising, quick and extremely physical and has complemented Daley Blind’s composure and intelligence perfectly. Luke Shaw’s return from injury has been like a new signing and Antonio Valencia has been reborn this season at right back completing arguably the best defence in the league. With the world-class David De Gea between the sticks as well, City will have to work very hard to find a way through.
City’s midfield is extremely attack minded at the moment and it will be interesting to see if Guardiola changes it for this game. Only Fernandinho is given the task of staying behind the ball when in possession and that is part of the reason why their defence has looked exposed. United will undoubtedly play on the counter attack using the focal point of Ibrahimovic with Martial, Pogba and maybe Mkhitaryan and Rashford running off him and they could run riot if City don’t ensure the back door is kept shut. We’ve seen in the past how Guardiola teams have been torn apart on the break with Real Madrid’s 4-0 win over Bayern in Munich a perfect example.
On the flip side however, with players like Silva and De Bruyne in central midfield it is inevitable they will create chances and score goals. They are the top scorers in the league already this season and the game could end up being attack vs defence if United can’t win the ball back consistently in midfield. Mourinho may well decide to drop Wayne Rooney and play an extra midfielder in Schneiderlin or Herrera alongside Pogba and Fellaini in order to prevent City from having too much possession. If City have over 65% of the ball United will find it very difficult to win the game.
City’s cutting edge will be blunted by the suspension of Sergio Aguero, the Argentine is probably the best striker in the league, and there is too little evidence to suggest that Iheanacho can provide a good enough alternative in the biggest games. Raheem Sterling’s form has been good this season but his end product is also inconsistent which leaves Nolito as the only reliable goal scorer in City’s front three.
United have goals all over the place with Ibrahimovic, Martial, Rooney, Rashford, Mkhitaryan if he’s fit, Pogba and Mata all capable of hitting the back of the net. I think it’s unlikely City will be able to keep a clean sheet so the match may hinge on how well United defend against Guardiola’s plan to break them down.
The biggest advantage United have against this technically excellent City side is physicality. This United side is one of the biggest in recent years whereas City, particularly with the exile of Yaya Toure, are one of the smallest in the league. If United can dominate physically in midfield with Pogba and Fellaini that might be enough to swing the game in their favour. Also, at set pieces, City will find it extremely difficult to defend balls into the box if the delivery is good.
The game will inevitably be billed as Mourinho vs Guardiola. They are the two most eminent coaches in world football. They know each other extremely well so it might be who second guesses the other best that comes out on top. Mourinho said before the season started that he would not get involved in mind games with Guardiola because it would be counter productive. Let’s see how long that lasts at the pre-match press conference.
Everyone knows Guardiola’s teams like to dominate possession wherever they are playing, whether they’re away at the Bernabeu or at home vs Sunderland so don’t expect anything different when he goes to Old Trafford. Mourinho however has made his name from counter attacking and taking advantage of the oppositions mistakes in possession. Don’t expect this game to break from that pattern. It will be the team that executes their plan most clinically that will win the game.
United: (4-3-3) De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Shaw; Fellaini, Schneiderlin, Pogba; Martial, Ibrahimovic, Mata
City: (4-3-3) Bravo; Sagna, Stones, Otamendi, Clichy; De Bruyne, Fernandinho, Silva; Nolito, Iheanacho, Sterling
City will dominate the ball but are vulnerable on the break and at set pieces. Aguero’s absence could be fatal. United to win at home. Just. 2-1