When Jose Mourinho (Manchester United) and Pep Guardiola (Manchester City) meet at Old Trafford on September 10th, 2016, for the 172nd Manchester Derby, a whopping 1106 days will have passed since their last managerial tussle: on August 30th, 2013, Mourinho’s Chelsea—with the Portuguese on his second coming as Chelsea manager—took on Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in the 2013 UEFA Super Cup, played at the Eden Arena in Prague. That game finished 2-2 AET and the then UEFA Champions League holders won 5-4 on penalties, after they had responded to Chelsea taking the lead twice in the game. In 16 meetings between the Mourinho-Guardiola pair, the Portuguese has won three, the Spaniard has won seven and six other meetings have ended in draws. This managerial rivalry, which began in Spain, has now come to Manchester and the fervour is unlikely to be any different in a different location.
The anticipation is building and the ongoing international break has, if anything, only made this occasion more grandiose than would have been the case if the two clubs had met during the past weekend or without the international break putting a halt on the 2016/17 Premier League season.
The 17th managerial meeting between Guardiola and Mourinho is a subplot on its own, but which in-game aspects will determine who wins the 172nd Manchester Derby?
172nd Manchester Derby: the Crucial Aspects
Manchester United, you have to say, have the better individuals, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Wayne Rooney in their ranks while David de Gea, who has come on leaps and bounds over the last two seasons, cannot be forgotten as well when we talk about hugely significant players in the probable Manchester United starting XI against Manchester City. Ibrahimovic, Pogba, Rooney, and de Gea are match-winners and the question will be whether they can deliver the goods when the stakes are so high.
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City, on the other hand, are a dynamic side which is chock-a-block with players, Manuel Agudo Duran (Nolito), Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Aleksandar Kolarov, etc., who can play in more than one position, quite easily. Guardiola can, therefore, disguise the way he sets his team up—not that he hasn’t done so already—for the clash with Manchester United.
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Moving on, below are the crucial aspects on which the result of the 172nd Manchester Derby will hinge.
A marquee feature of this game will be the elevation of Manchester United players compared to their counterparts.
Marouane Fellaini incurred a back injury during Manchester United’s 0-1 victory over Hull City before the international break, and Mourinho, during his post-match press conference, had said: “it’s not good.” According to reports, however, Fellaini has regained fitness and will probably play against Manchester City on Saturday. And, the Manchester United manager would covet having the Belgian midfielder fit for the upcoming Manchester Derby, given Fellaini’s aerial prowess and the consequent threat he can be in the City box. Fellaini has played the full 90′ in Manchester United’s first three league games this season and during that period, the 6 ft 3 inches Belgian has won 73% of his headed duels (15).
If Fellaini starts for Manchester United against Manchester City, it would be great news for the hosts, who, anyway, have significantly taller players. United have yet to score a goal from a set-piece, but, with Ibrahimovic in their ranks, they have been rather direct and tried to find him with accurate crosses from the flanks. The tall swede headed in Manchester United’s 2016 FA Community Shield winner against Leicester City and scored a far more powerful header to open the scoring against Southampton, providing you with an inkling of one of the scoring avenues for United on Derby Day.
With their tall players, set-pieces and crosses will be of great emphasis for Manchester United in the home clash against City, who have significantly diminutive players.
The visitors have yet to concede from a set-piece in their five games, but United will pose a far greater challenge to them in that department than Sunderland, Steaua Bucuresti, Stoke City, and West Ham United did. Lest we forget that Michail Antonio latched onto an Arthur Masuaku cross in their clash against City before the international break, as the Englishman pinned Gael Clichy to the ground, leaped and directed his back-post header into an almost empty net. Against Manchester United, you can be assured that Guardiola will play Kolarov at left-back and partner John Stones with Nicolas Otamendi or Vincent Kompany, who could play the 172nd Manchester Derby, at central defence, taking into account the ‘height’ factor in the United ranks.
With Mourinho’s Chelsea on the brink of becoming the champions of England for the first time since 2009/10, when they won the Premier League under Carlo Ancelotti, Manchester United visited Stamford Bridge in April 2015, with Louis van Gaal as their manager. Chelsea won the game 1-0, but the highlights were they did so with just 28% possession and having created just four chances. That is a reminder of Mourinho’s forte as a football manager who prefers to let his teams play without the football.
Against Guardiola’s Barcelona in the 2009/10 UEFA Champions League semi-final, Mourinho’s Internazionale won 3-2 on aggregate but, again, the major highlight was the possession they needed, to achieve such a scoreline: an average possession of 24% over two legs!
Guardiola is a proponent of possession football, Mourinho, on the flip side, is a proponent of counter-attacking football. The 172nd Manchester Derby is likely to be a battle between Manchester United’s defence against Manchester City’s attack. Mourinho’s Manchester United have kept two clean sheets and conceded just one goal, against Bournemouth, in their three league games. Southampton posed quite a lot of problems to the Manchester United rearguard—the fact that they did not score from any of the 11 chances created was a major surprise and testament to how profligate they were in the final-third—but the same cannot be said about Bournemouth and Hull City’s performances in their home games against United.
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Guardiola will want his team to dominate possession and, more importantly, create goal scoring chances. So, the question for Manchester United, as the side who would want to thwart their vibrant visitors’ attack, is: “Can they stay watertight for a majority of the 90 minutes against an incisive City side who have score nine goals so far?”. In addition, will, being asked to defend and work hard out of possession, nullify the threat the likes of Pogba and Ibrahimovic can have going forward, not to forget Anthony Martial too?
Mourinho’s sides have always been solid at the back, but can the Portuguese’s Manchester United stifle and stop a dangerous attacking side as Manchester City from scoring goals? You will get the answer in five days’ time and you must also keep an eye out for who is keen to get hold of the ball and set the tempo for the game.
Goal Conceding Propensity
This aspect is very much in relation to the previous one, but focussing on Manchester City’s rearguard and its flimsy nature. The three goals conceded by City so far this season, have been soft.
Against Sunderland, Jermain Defoe was allowed to run into the channel by an inattentive Bacary Sagna, while Stones was also at fault for rushing out of his position and allowing Jack Rodwell to pick the pocket left behind. For a clear understanding, you can check out the video below.
Against the Hammers, as was aforementioned, the goal conceded by City did not show their backline in good light. Masuaku was allowed to dribble and make space by Pablo Zabaleta (mistake No. 1) and then, at the back-post, Clichy did not get off the ground (mistake No. 2) and allowed Antonio to leap and connect with Masuaku’s cross and halve City’s lead. Neither of these mistakes can be afforded against United, given their tall personnel who will crowd the City box and await crosses from Martial, Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia.
Guardiola’s men, not to forget, have to defend set-pieces well too and their real test, in that department, will come against Manchester United in the 172nd Manchester Derby on Saturday. In simple terms, Manchester City will have to do their basics right when they defend and talking about fundamentals, they will have to stop crosses from the flanks and not lose their marker while defending corners and free-kicks.
Will Aguero’s Three-match Suspension Dent Manchester City’s Chances?
Without Guardiola, we could have all agreed that Manchester City, in Sergio Aguero’s absence, will be a significantly weak opposition for a Manchester United side as assembled by Mourinho.
But, given the variety of formations City have played in—2-3-4-1, 3-2-4-1, 2-5-3, to name the more common—when they have had the ball and considering the significance of midfielders and wingers in those systems, Aguero has been less influential and not seen much of the ball either, and that is taking into account his six goals in five appearances so far this season.
Aguero’s performance against the Hammers, before he was substituted moments after the incident involving him and Winston Reid, was poor by his standards and, even against the Black Cats on the opening day of the season, the Argentine did not have a good game, as he saw less of the ball after scoring the penalty which was won by Sterling, in the fourth minute of the match.
The 172nd Manchester Derby will definitely hinge on the troika of aspects mentioned above. It does promise to be a fascinating tussle, with the Mourinho v Guardiola being at the forefront of subplots. Manchester City have won only one of their last four clashes with Manchester United, who won two of their four derbies during the van Gaal era, including a 4-2 win at Old Trafford in April 2014. This derby is likely to be an even contest, unlike in recent times, and neither of these two high-spenders in the 2016 summer transfer window can be called as favourites.