1st vs 2nd. Mourinho vs Guardiola. United vs City. Cynical defence vs breaktaking attack. Old foes reigniting age old bitterness. The stage is familiar, the actors different, the stakes massive, as always.
Manchester United vs Manchester City Preview
As far as derbies go, the Manchester derby may lack the spice and history of the Red Devils’ rivalry with their old Merseyside nemesis Liverpool, but there’s little doubt that the rise of Man City as an elite footballing organisation cannot be understated. Man United largely embody the history that Man City aspire to create and sustain, and regardless of the sentiment around how the Citizens developed the star studded squad they’ve assembled, the reality is that the current squad is well deserving of their lead in the Premier League. It falls to the 2nd placed side, who themselves have a good record despite the negativity surrounding their approach, to somehow interrupt the form of the league leaders.
Below we preview the upcoming English Premier League clash at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Manchester City.
Manchester City: Breaking Records
Already, the records have started tumbling at the feet of Guardiola’s side. Prior to the defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk, Man City had won 20 consecutive matches in all competitions. They’ve matched the 13 consecutive league wins earned by 2016-17’s Chelsea and 2001-02’s Arsenal. They’re officially achieved the best ever Premier League record after 15 games. This incredible form, alongside the sheer quality and depth of squad available to Pep, suggests that the pertinent question won’t be whether Man City lift another Premier League crown in May, but rather, how many records they’ll break on the way to doing so. Their current trajectory suggests they could set new peals in total points, total wins and total goals scored.
Yet, there could yet be a sense of a bubble about to burst, albeit temporarily. As good as they have been, their last 4 wins in all competitions (Feyenoord, Huddersfield, Southampton, West Ham) all came courtesy of late goals from the last 10-15 minutes of play. The goals felt as much scores of attrition as they did brilliance in performance, but one could argue it’s equal parts a sign of champions elect grinding out results as it is a gradual deterioration in output. Shakhtar’s win wasn’t material to Man City’s position in their Champions League group, especially given how various first team players were rested, but equally, a loss for the Citizens was anticipated to happen sooner rather than later. Man City won’t be helped either by their travelling to Ukraine, a day later than Man United hosted CSKA Moscow in their final Champions League group match.
Man United: Struggling to keep up
The negative rhetoric permeating through various Old Trafford sympathisers has largely been based on the cynical, defensive style typical of Jose Mourinho. But the reality is that while Man City haven’t made it at all easy to be caught up, Man United have been quietly affect at ensuring ensuring they keep producing the most critical statistic – wins. In their last 6 games, the Red Devils were dominant vs Newcastle, Brighton and CSKA, unfortunate vs Basel, efficient against Watford and fortunate against Arsenal, but the common factor is that wins were earned, which ultimately keeps the “boring” tag layered with context.
Truthfully, Man United have been an exercise in efficiency. They’re far more attack minded than most realise, but there has been a common thread of Mourinho taking a conservative view of fixtures against his direct top 6 peers. Their draw against Liverpool (0-0), defeat to Chelsea (0-1) and wins over Spurs (1-0) and Arsenal (3-1) were all largely characterised by timid performances. Man United may not score with the same capacity for relentless scoring as the Citizens, but their goal difference is solid, largely built off the incredible performances of David De Gea, whose herculean goalkeeping feats have begun suggesting him as the man to fill the frame for the best stopper in the world.
By the Numbers
In Head to Head respects, Man United have the slight advantage, but their last derby win at Old Trafford was earned some time ago in April 2015, in a 4-2 goalfest presided over by then-managers Louis Van Gaal and Manuel Pellegrini. Man City last enjoyed victory away to their rivals last season in September 2016, courtesy of a 2-1 win with goals from Iheanacho and De Bruyne.
|April 2017||Etihad Stadium||Man City 0-0 Man United|
|September 2016||Old Trafford||Man United 1-2 Man City|
|March 2016||Etihad Stadium||Man City 0-1 Man United|
|October 2015||Old Trafford||Man United 0-0 Man City|
|April 2015||Old Trafford||Man United 4-2 Man City|
As suggested earlier, recent form is intriguing when comparing these sides. While their overall season records clearly paint a strong image of Man City’s dominance, the goal difference numbers suggest the Citizens haven’t managed to sustain this in recent matches to the same effect. Man United have been more prolific of late, but nonetheless equally unable to prevent goals from entering their own net, conceding more goals in the last 5 league games than they’ve managed in the previous 10.
|Match||Matches||Wins||Goal Difference||Clean Sheets|
|Man City in EPL||15||14||46 – 10 (+36)||7 (46%)|
|Man City last 6 games (all competitions)||6||5||9 – 5 (+4)||2 (33%)|
|Man United in EPL||15||11||35 – 9 (+26)||9 (60%)|
|Man United last 6 games (all competitions)||6||5||14 – 6 (+8)||1 (17%)|
Arguably the most critical player in focus for the fixture is Man United goalkeeper David De Gea, who has been in tremendous form, including a heroic display to keep the points in the clash against Arsenal. De Gea generates the 2nd most saves per game in the league despite facing only the 11th most shots conceded. He has the best saves to goal ratio in the league, generating 6 saves for every league goal conceded at this point. These numbers, especially when compared to his opposite number, give a much more definitive indication that De Gea has compensated superbly for being much busier at the defensive end than Ederson.
|Goals Conceded per Game||0.60
(lowest in EPL)
(2nd lowest in EPL)
|Shots Faced per Game||12.27
(11th highest in EPL)
(lowest in EPL)
(highest in EPL)
(4th highest in EPL)
|Saves per Game||3.60
(2nd highest in EPL)
(lowest in EPL)
|Saves to Goal Ratio||6.00
(highest in EPL)
(9th highest in EPL)
Jose Mourinho’s side may be under considerable scrutiny from the Man United purists, but while there could be an argument for them underachieving, the other side of the argument is that their 2nd place in the table has come with fairly little in the way of spectacular performance, implying that potentially, there are still more gears to follow.
But there are some inherent, important issues, especially ahead of this match. Man United’s previous league defeats against Huddersfield and Chelsea spoke more to issues of creativity and chance quality rather than being too defensive or timid in their approach. There appears a considerable over-reliance on De Gea to bail them out of difficult situations when the defence and midfield in front of the Spaniard fails in its job to employ the right levels of protection. Add the immediate squad issues with Bailly (injury), Pogba (suspended) and Mkhitaryan (out of favour), and suddenly the prospects of Man United producing a good show at home on the weekend look tepid at best. The likely lineup is expected to be robust and combative – don’t be surprised to see Herrera and Matic in midfield with Lingard nearby – but largely lacking in attacking polish.
By contrast, Man City can boast a relatively packed squad, especially in attack, with their only complaint being the drop off in attacking productivity of late. Pep’s side have an enviable ability to call on various weapons to produce goals, with English starlet Raheem Sterling, veteran striker Sergio Aguero and young guns Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane all weighing in with goals of late. Of the top 10 goalscorers and assist leaders in the Premier League, 3 players on both lists feature on Guardiola’s squad. Aguero in particular is of interest – he has 7 goals in 9 league matches against Man United, and scored 2 in the last match he played at Old Trafford in 2015.
The only true issue becomes to what extent Man City can avoid errors, or gifting mistakes, which Man United may well be proficient at punishing. Man City’s last league clean sheet was away to Leicester, and their recent wins of attrition may not be good signals of a potential win at Old Trafford; Mourinho’s side is far more likely to be well drilled to defend a position under pressure than any of Guardiola’s last few opponents.
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On the surface, a score draw feels likely. The quality of Man City is undeniable, and while their defeat at Shakhtar felt like it was due, it was also largely a function of heavy rotation on Guardiola’s part. Man United’s home record is perfect this season, with 7 wins from 7 games, 20 goals scored and just 1 conceded. Man City’s away record is also perfect, with 7 wins from 7 games, 18 goals scored and 4 conceded. Man City have countless weapons in attack; Man United have arguably the best goalkeeper in the world.
Then there’s the history. Not just the Manchester derby which in itself is a volatile and spicy fixture, capable of throwing the form book out the window, but these two managers, who somehow seem to attract one another in rivalry, be it the Spanish battlefield of Barcelona and Real Madrid to the tussle of pride within Manchester. The Premier League itself is at stake, and while it seems disingenuous to say that in early December, a win for Man City at this stage over the 2nd placed side would create a gap of 11 points, which could be considerably difficult to recover, even with more than half the season left to play.
Man United have characteristics to be the kryptonite to Guardiola’s attacking prowess, but the reverse is true. Arsenal were unfortunate not to at least match Man United in scoring in their recent encounter, suggesting that luck is potentially playing too large a role in Mourinho’s prospects as well. Man City have a better attack than Arsenal, so it’s not reaching to suggest Man United may find themselves on the shorter end of this clash.
A score draw is the most plausible result; Man United just don’t give away goals (let alone points easily). But Man City have records to break, and history to make, and they’d relish doing so under the nose of their rivals in their own home ground. If this game has to have a winner, it’s likely to be blue.