The Premier League returns this weekend, following the international break, and despite only being the fourth round of Premiership fixtures, one of the biggest games of the season headlines the weekend’s action as Manchester United take on Manchester City. Since the arrival of Sheikh Mansour at City, the Manchester derby has taken on a new lease of life. As City have become the “Noisy Neighbours” to United’s global powerhouse. United’s 2-1 win, with Wayne Rooney scoring an audacious bicycle kick. City’s 6-1 victory over United, with Mario Balotelli asking why always him? Thanks to the more competitive nature of Man City in the last 6 years, compared to the 90s, these games have become part of Premiership folklore.
This first derby of the season takes on even greater significance as for the first time on these shores, a team lead by Jose Mourinho takes on a team managed by Pep Guardiola. Combined with the players on the pitch, including world record signing Paul Pogba, this stands to be one of the biggest Manchester Derby’s in recent memory. Both sides go into the game with 100% records, and separated by a goal difference of 1. No doubt the managerial rivalry will dominate the headlines in the build up to the game. But the old cliché that the game will be won on the pitch still applies. Both sides have game changers, and quality throughout their teams.
The key to who comes out on top in the 172nd derby in all competitions could be the form of the two goalkeepers. One who has become a mainstay of this fixture, and one who will be making his Man City debut.
Since joining Manchester United in the summer of 2011, only David De Gea and his Man City counterpart, Joe Hart (now in Torino), have played every minute of all 9 Premier League meetings, between the 2 sides. This will change this weekend with the introduction into English football of Claudio Bravo. Bravo, has been touted as everything that Guardiola likes in a goalkeeper. Smart with the ball at his feet, a good passer of the ball, and the ability to act as a sweeper when called upon. Guardiola paid Barcelona £17 million for the 33 year olds services.
Bravo is used to powder keg situations, having played in El Classico. But this is also his first taste of the Premier League. You’d expect some nerves in this situation, and the United frontline will look to test him early.
De Gea is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers on the planet. Although in his last 10 Premier League Derby’s he has only managed to keep one clean sheet. He has yet to be tested this season, unlike previous seasons where he started his campaign to be United Player of the year early in the season. De Gea has kept 2 clean sheets this season in the league, and only had to endure an average of 1.33 saves per game. This is likely to go up with City having created 38 chances this season already.
The edge may go to De Gea on this one, he understands the magnitude of the game, and is always the last line between opposition glory and despair.
Jose Mourinho, who builds his title winning sides on the back of a solid backline, will be delighted with only 1 goal conceded in 3 games. Pep Guardiola, a fan of trying to play your way out of trouble, may be a little bit concerned that he has yet to have a shutout in any of his first 3 league games.
Both managers added to their backlines during the transfer window. With Mourinho paying £30 million for the unheard of Eric Bailly from Villarreal. Pep Guardiola looked a bit closer to home, and broke the transfer record for an English player, when he paid Everton £50 million for centre half John Stones.
Both have settled into life in their new clubs with relative ease. Bailly has won Man of the Match in 3 of his 4 starts for United. While Stones has taken like a duck to water to Guardiolas style of playing. Stones’s start to life at Manchester City has been one of poise, but he will be put to his first real test against Manchester United, and the might of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Similarly Bailly will be more than delighted that he won’t have to face the Premier Leagues best striker, in Sergio Aguero.
Both Players have been complemented by their central defensive partners this season. With Daley Blind retaining the composure and ability to block the ball, that he showed last season. While Nicolás Otamendi, has started to show why £28.5 million was splashed on him last season, and is already contributing this season with 10 average defensive actions a game.
One issue for both managers will be the late arrival back from international duty, of key defensive players. Otamendi will likely not arrive back in Manchester until Friday morning. However this may not be a huge issue for Guardiola, who has had to change his back 4 every game this season, with only Stones being ever present.
For United, Antonio Valencia will also likely not arrive back until Friday morning. Mourinho who has played the same back 4 every game since taking charge, will be sweating on the condition of Valencia, who was on the shortlist for Premier League player of the month for August. If Valencia isn’t deemed ready, Mourinho may look to give Chris Smalling his first start of the season, switching Daley Blind to right back.
Based on the assumption that both managers will stick to their preferred formations, we should expect Manchester United to play 4-2-3-1. While Manchester City will play 4-1-4-1.
The anchor of the midfield for United has been Marouane Fellaini, who handed Jose Mourinho an injury boost by declaring himself fit for the derby, after a back injury suffered in the previous game against Hull. Fellaini has been a revelation under Mourinho. Often maligned under previous managers, Fellaini has started every game for United this season, and is currently keeping Michael Carrick and Morgan Schneiderlin out of the team. His ability in the air, winning 51% of aerial duels this season, will be tested on Man City set pieces. His role is also allowing midfield partner Paul Pogba, to get forward and look to play killer balls to the feet of the forward line.
The Derby is the kind of game that Paul Pogba was signed for. Pogba creates, he always wants the ball, as he runs the game. He takes free-kicks, he shoots and Pogba wins headers in the box. The assist he created for Anthony Martial in Frances game against Italy, wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by reds fans. Pogba has yet to demonstrate all of these qualities in the 2 games since his return. But with an 86% pass accuracy across those 2 games, Pogba is the type of player who can unlock a tight game.
Fernadinho has started all 3 games for Guardiola this season. He has been responsible for screening the defence and often dropping into it, while David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are allowed to cause chaos between the lines. It is a selfless job, and one Fernadinho has done with the upmost resolve. He has also been allowed to get forward, scoring in the 3-1 win against West Ham, and has been responsible for creating 2 chances this season. However it is unlikely Fernadinho will move very far away from his defence this weekend.
United’s front 3 has been the same so far all season, Anthony Martial on the left, Wayne Rooney at number 10, Juan Mata on the right hand side. The fluidity of Mourinho’s system has allowed the 3 to trade positions across the 90 minutes.
Anthony Martial has the pace and energy to track his opposite number. However it has been an underwhelming start from the exciting Frenchman, despite 2 assists in the opening game. Martial has seemingly lacked the ability to beat a man on his flank this season. However in the big games last season, Martial could be counted on. Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s injury on international duty should guarantee that Martial starts for United.
However does Mourinho trust Mata to do the same on the opposite flank? Mata’s cause is not helped by Marcus Rashford’s game-winning cameo at Hull last time out or his International hat trick in his under 21 debut midweek. Not only did the teenager score at the death against Hull, but he also injected pace and verve into an attack that was being shackled by Hull.
Rooney will continue to play at number 10 for United. His performances against Bournemouth and Hull City, resulted in social media bile, yet he scored against Bournemouth and set up the winning goal against Hull.
One of the players expected to benefit from the Guardiola upheaval was David Silva. Silva has been moved from his more traditional role as a number 10, into more of a deeper role. Looking to supply more killer passes to Sergio Aguero. He is also more involved in the build-up play for City, and so far has relished his new role, already contributing an assist this season in the Premier League. Silva may get moved back to his old role for the Derby, owing to the suspension of Aguero. City will need this Derby veteran at the peak of his powers to compensate for the loss of Aguero.
Raheem Sterling is another player who has benefited from Guardiolas presence in the dugout at the Etihad. Called out for being a waste of money last season, he has seemingly learnt from a poor Euros and turned up the attacking penetration he was originally purchased for. Sterling has registered 2 goals and 4 assists across all competitions so far this season. Sterling is in flying form and Guardiola’s desire for his wingers to stay high and wide will provoke a battle of wills between him and Antonio Valencia, with Valencia desperate to go forward, all the while fearing what damage Sterling could do with the back door left open.
Should Sterling switch to the left, Jesus Navas could come on in the right, as he did at Stoke. Navas offers a solid-if-unspectacular option, but with Luke Shaw in full flow again, the Spaniard will offer Sagna assistance against United’s left-sided attack.
Much has been made of the absence of Sergio Aguero, certainly it is a blow for Guardiola and a blessing for Mourinho. However in his absence it’ll be left to Nolito and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to represent the strikers union for their respective clubs.
Four goals in four competitive games for the 34-year-old during a blistering first month at United. During the Derby, Ibrahimovic will provide a pivot around which Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata can probe.
He is the epitome of a changed United with Mourinho at the helm. Back to the arrogance of old, one trait to have definitely run away from them since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. He is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, chest out and head up; opponents come to stop the team he spearheads, not the other way around.
He is also a striker who is big, powerful, physically imposing and lightning over five yards. A handful who will almost undoubtedly score upwards of 15 goals this season. One to be feared, he will be central to United’s hopes of 3 points on Saturday lunch time.
Nolito has hit the ground running at Manchester City. With two goals and an assist to his name from just 155 minutes of Premier League football. It should come as no surprise. The 29-year-old scored 25 goals and recorded 20 assists across the past two seasons with Celta Vigo before making his £14m switch to Manchester City. But more importantly, he’s also the perfect fit for Pep Guardiola’s plans.
So far this season, playing wide on the left, Nolito has offered the blend of creativity and industry Guardiola looks for. It’s a style honed at Barcelona, where the forward spent three years working under the City boss and then-Barcelona B team coach Luis Enrique.
However it is likely that he’ll lead the line in Aguero’s absence, and be moved in from the left hand side. He may not be the star attraction but he has the potential to grab the headlines.
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By Rich Lee @RichLee2202