Manchester City travel to Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon to square off with fierce rivals Manchester United in the fourth Manchester Derby this campaign. Will the Blues continue to build momentum towards the looming return-leg clash with Real Madrid? Or will they once again be stifled by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reinvigorated United side?
It’s been a decidedly subdued week for Manchester City, who clearly had one eye on the derby in their rather pedestrian victory against Sheffield Wednesday at the midweek. Indeed, even Sergio Agüero’s lone goal, a match-winning deflected shot that just bumbled over the line, felt somewhat uninspired. Nevertheless, the Argentine’s effort was enough to carry City into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, where they’ll face off with Newcastle at St. James’ Park in a few weeks’ time. But enough about then, it’s derby weekend after all, and there’s plenty of now to lead us to kick off.
Despite dominating Manchester United for almost all of the 270 some odd minutes played against them this season, Pep Guardiola’s men have only one win to show for it, a 3-1 triumph at Old Trafford in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-finals. While the return-leg at the Etihad was obviously less about notching a win and more about qualification, the fact remains that City have lost two of their three matches with United this season. The pace and counter-attacking threat that the Reds pose is difficult for City’s uncertain backline to contain, and the two losses at the Etihad have seen City resort to an all-too-familiar concoction of thoughtless crosses and wasteful possession.
Moreover, United have been on a nice run of form, by recent standards. The addition of Bruno Fernandes to the squad has been somewhat of a revelation for Ole’s men, finally providing a spark to what had become a lethargic and not particularly talent-rich midfield. Indeed, United have not lost since a January 22 home defeat to Burnley. Since then, the Reds have won six of their last nine, with respectable draws against Wolves and Everton.
On the injury front, City will likely be without three key contributors on Sunday. Evidently, Kevin De Bruyne picked up a shoulder issue at the tail end of his brief performance in the Carabao Cup final and is a doubt for Sunday. Meanwhile, despite participating in first team training and even featuring for the U-23 squad, Pep confirmed on Friday that Leroy Sané is still not ready for game action. Finally, Aymeric Laporte is unsurprisingly still some weeks away from a return to the pitch.
Manchester United have their own injuries woes to cope with, as Harry Maguire picked up an ankle injury in training that seems likely to rule the Reds’ captain out of the derby. Elsewhere, pacy youngsters Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka are doubts as well. Marcus Rashford is in a race to return to action before the season wraps up, and perennial absentee Paul Pogba is still apparently a few weeks away from a return.
First things first, Ederson will return to goal after a two-game absence. Kyle Walker should also regain his starting role at right-back. While Joao Cancelo did a job on Wednesday at Hillsborough and helped the Blues earn a vital clean sheet, the seldom-used summer signing struggled to consistently link up with forwards in the attacking third. Given United’s potent counter attacking threat, I’d be surprised to see Nicolas Otamendi starting at centre-back and predict Pep Guardiola will employ the more agile pair in Fernandinho and John Stones. Oleksandr Zinchenko will round off the back four, providing Benjamin Mendy with a rest ahead of next Wednesday’s bout with Arsenal.
Further up the pitch, steady Spaniard Rodri will presumably retain his place in defensive midfield. Elsewhere, City fans can expect young Phil Foden to slot in after his Man of the Match performance in the Carabao Cup final. Pep has said time and time again that the “Stockport Iniesta” is ready for these types of matches, and I believe we’ll see those statements come to fruition when the lineups are announced. Plus, Kevin De Bruyne’s injury, albeit reportedly not serious, should keep the Belgian confined to the bench as Pep eyes the fixtures ahead. Ilkay Gundogan will complete the midfield trio.
Up front, I predict Pep Guardiola will make use of a familiar attacking three. Riyad Mahrez will start on the right wing, and will look to tap into his fine run of form, despite a slew of missed chances against Sheffield Wednesday. At striker, it’s difficult to envision Sergio Agüero’s absence from a starting XI at Old Trafford. Lastly, while Pep has experimented with Gabriel Jesus in recent weeks, City fans shouldn’t expect anything too outlandish on Sunday. Rather, Raheem Sterling will assume the left-wing role in search of a long-awaited signature performance against United.
Claudio Bravo, Bernardo Silva, Nicolas Otamendi, David Silva, Benjamin Mendy, Joao Cancelo, Gabriel Jesus
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