The 172nd Manchester Derby is less than 24 hours way and looking back, we certainly have come a long way, starting from the appointments of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola as the managers of Manchester United (May 27th, 2016) and Manchester City (July 3rd, 2016), respectively.
Both these giants of the English Premier League endured tough 2015/16 seasons and were in definite need of replenishment, an attribute which Louis van Gaal and Manuel Pellegrini were probably incapable of providing, taking into account the number of years this managerial duo have spent in the game and their personalities too.
Manchester City started to become stale towards the end of Pellegrini’s second season at the Etihad Stadium, even though they capped off the 2014/15 season with six straight wins and began the 2015/16 Premier League season with five wins. Van Gaal, on the other hand, could not deliver an exciting brand of football throughout his reign, although United’s record against almost every top Premier League club—including Manchester City (2/4), Liverpool (4/6), Arsenal (2/5), and Tottenham Hotspur (2/4)—barring Chelsea, during the van Gaal era was great.
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We cannot be hasty in passing on our verdicts on how the Mourinho and Guardiola eras are taking shape at Old Trafford and Etihad Stadium, respectively, with tomorrow’s fixture being United’s fourth of the 2016/17 season and City’s sixth and both of them also going into their ‘first big game’ of the 2016/17 Premier League season, also on the back of 100% win records so far.
Before kick-off, you can expect the 172nd Manchester Derby, which is likely to be watched in a whopping 190 countries, to be an even contest, particularly after Manchester City went into the last six Manchester Derbies, all during Pellegrini’s time, as clear favourites. During the 2013/14, 14/15 and 15/16 seasons, the Blues had the better personnel, more match-winners and collectively were playing a lot better than United—well, at least for the most part.
I do not think the same can be said about tomorrow’s Manchester Derby, which will have an almost even spread of match-winners and superstars in Manchester United and Manchester City, although Sergio Aguero’s absence due to a three-game suspension could be seen as a significant blow for City. From the visitors’ viewpoint, they may not have a settled line-up and potentially field three different players in their starting XI for tomorrow’s game, from the one which played and won against West Ham United.
From the hosts’ point of view, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, in particular, are capable of producing game-changing moments and their status, as match-winners, will not only take the pressure off other players’ shoulders but could also see them thrive, because they will be devoid of the pressure element, which can often undermine players of slightly lesser calibre.
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The Aguero-less Manchester City, which will stride out onto the Old Trafford pitch, will still be a dangerous side, capable of causing problems for United. The Blues are the flair team while the Red Devils exude a lot more muscle and physicality.
But the focus is really on how Mourinho sets his team up: he had highly technical players at Chelsea, just as he now has at United, but the pragmatic Portuguese did not change his philosophy and emphasised on defensive solidity over artistic football, during his two-and-a-half year stint on his second spell at Stamford Bridge. Even when they won the Premier League title in 2014/15, Mourinho’s Chelsea scored only 1.9 goals/game—a considerably small figure, taking into account the kind of attacking talent which was available to the now Manchester United manager—but in line with the Portuguese manager’s preference, the West Londoners conceded a meagre 0.8 goals/game and were rock-solid at the back, led by their inspirational skipper John Terry.
Because the stakes are high and Manchester United, one of the 2016/17 season’s Premier League title contenders, are up against a direct rival, Mourinho is highly unlikely to give most of his players the freedom to go forward and mount meaningful attacks. Manchester United will look to keep the ball and probe in the Manchester City half when they have possession, but they will probably not be too keen on keeping possession and wearing City out. Rather, the Red Devils’ gameplan will be to make quick transitions and catch City disorganised at the back.
Rationally too, Mourinho does not have the fancy attacking players Guardiola has at his disposal. On the flip side, the Catalan does not have the robust players possessed by Mourinho, although Guardiola, unlike his counterpart, is keen on playing front-foot football and wants his team to score goals.
Although a fundamental aspect, Manchester United’s defence v Manchester City’s attack will probably shape the 172nd Manchester Derby. Manchester City have yet to keep a clean sheet in the Premier League this season and United have conceded just one goal in three games, so if you were looking for a clear indication of which team is good at what, then you probably have an answer to your question. Tomorrow is, however, a fresh day and Manchester United’s rearguard will face its biggest test yet while Manchester City’s attack have the ideal setting to prove to itself and everyone watching, how incisive it actually is and whether as a unit City are reliant on Aguero.
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Mourinho, earlier today, revealed that Manchester United have a completely fit squad for the 172nd Manchester Derby clash, saying “everybody is available”. The Portuguese manager also revealed that Manchester City’s Argentine defenders, Pablo Zabaleta and Nicolas Otamendi, took direct flights from Venezuela, paid for by City.
Likely Manchester United Starting XI v Manchester City (4-2-3-1): David de Gea (GK); Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw; Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini; Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney (C), Anthony Martial; Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
As far as tomorrow’s visitors are concerned, Guardiola, in the customary pre-match press conference, said that Claudio Bravo and Leroy Sane are fit to play, whilst also adding Ilkay Gundogan is “much better” and no risks will be taken with Vincent Kompany’s fitness.
Likely Manchester City Starting XI v Manchester United (4-1-4-1): C Bravo (GK); Bacary Sagna, John Stones, N Otamendi, Aleksandar Kolarov; Fernandinho; L Sane, Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva (C), Raheem Sterling; Manuel Agudo Duran (Nolito).
With both the Manchester clubs possessing an almost equal number of match-winners, the 172nd Manchester Derby is likely to be an even contest, featuring the visitors’ attacking force against the hosts’ robust defence. Owing to the international break, Guardiola and Mourinho will not have had enough time to prepare for a huge game as tomorrow’s is, so expect Manchester United v Manchester City to be cagey to start off with.
But, do not be surprised if you get served a football treat!