Football Features

Man Utd vs Man City: Five things we think will happen in EFL Cup semi-final

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:22, 6 January 2020

The season’s second Manchester Derby is upon us.

Manchester United won 1-2 at the Etihad in their first meeting, but this clash is different as it is a semi-final. The first-leg of the Carabao Cup semi-finals, to be exact, pitting the last two sides to have won the competition against each other.

Manchester City beat Liverpool on penalties in 2015/16 under Manuel Pellegrini’s charge, then José Mourinho‘s United triumphed in 2016/17 when Zlatan Ibrahimovic fired them to victory against Southampton. Then in 2017/18 Pep Guardiola‘s City smashed Arsenal 3-0 and retained their crown in 2018/19 with a penalty shoot-out win over Chelsea.

So now, in 2020, which of these two sides will be heading back to Wembley in an attempt to keep that impressive streak going? We’ll have to tune in and find out, but here are five things we expect to happen as these two juggernauts have a Carabao clash.

1. Pep to make one strange team selection

Guardiola is the greatest coach in the world and he has been for the last decade. His influence on world football since his Barcelona side began to hit their stride in the Autumn of 2008 has been all-encompassing. He literally changed how football is played, coached and even spoken about. He is a genius. He also loves making weird team selections.

There’s always one, right? Way back at the start of the decade in a must-win game against Inter, he started centre-back Gabi Milito at left-back and then switched to a back-three five minutes into the game. At Bayern Munich he used Philipp Lahm as a defensive midfielder and David Alaba as a centre-back. Even at Manchester City he spent his first season playing Aleksandar Kolarov at centre-back because he could pass the ball well. Kolarov is a player whose defensive instincts are as sharp as a toddler’s plastic spoon, nevertheless Pep persisted.

So that trend will continue here in 2020. In an effort to try and stem Manchester United’s rampant transition game, expect Guardiola to do something really weird. Whether that’s Rodri at right-back and Cancelo on right-wing, or maybe Walker at centre-back, or a decision even more baffling that that… something strange this way comes.

2. Big Game Rashford to score on the break

Marcus Rashford absolutely loves a big game. He made his debut bringing United back to life in the second leg of a European tie, made his Premier League debut with two goals and an assist against Arsenal, and absolutely demolished Martin Demichelis in his Manchester derby debut, scoring the game-winning goal.

This season his big game theatrics have been key to Manchester United killing the other big sides on the counter-attack. It’s not a coincidence that their only defeat against a ‘big six’ rival was to Arsenal, the one side Rashford doesn’t dominate (those two goals he scored on his league bow remain his only strikes against the Gunners).

Rashford‘s performances in the big game across all competitions in 2019/20 have been frankly ludicrous. He’s played eight games vs. the big boys (including two matches against Chelsea and Arsenal plus one against high-flying Leicester) and scored a massive nine goals. What’s more is those nine goals came in just six games as he fired two blanks against Arsenal.

So what’s going to happen when both sides square off at Old Trafford? Manchester United will obviously play on the break, they will probably have great success at it despite Guardiola‘s mad tweaks, and when they score it will probably be Marcus Rashford, Manchester United’s big game behemoth, who finishes Manchester City off.

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3. De Bruyne to play at least one absurd through-ball

Kevin de Bruyne has been having one hell of a season. He’s currently miles ahead in terms of the Premier League‘s playmaker award (he has 12 assists, the nearest rival has eight) and will be looking to break Thierry Henry’s assist record of 20. But even if his team-mates blow the chances he creates, he will certainly create those chances.

That’s the thing about watching De Bruyne. He’s one of the rare players at the elite end of the game that doesn’t need to score or assist to have been pure value for money. The aesthetics of watching De Bruyne more than justify the time and money spent to see him in action. He’s liquid in his movement, drifting and gliding away from opponents – and his passes are simply majestic.

That’s what we’ll see in the derby; De Bruyne splitting the atom with at least one (potentially a few) unreal through-balls, rendering Manchester United’s defence to pieces as it soars across the Old Trafford turf. A man can be an artist at anything. It only depends how good he is at it. De Bruyne’s art is through-balls, and he’s about to paint his masterpiece.

4. Sterling’s scoreless streak to see him miss a sitter

Raheem Sterling’s evolution into a world-class wing-forward has been a treat to watch. He’s gone from a dribbling dynamo to a great goalscorer. So often Sterling is the man to pop up and win Manchester City the points, he even does it in the Champions League (only for VAR to deny him). Sterling is simply immense.

Except against Manchester United. The Englishman just cannot seem to wrap his head around playing the Red Devils and has quite incredibly gone 17 career games without once registering against Manchester City’s arch-rivals. In the Guardiola-era alone, Sterling has had 10 shots in Premier League derbies without finding the back of the net.

So in this Carabao Cup derby, that sad scoreless streak is set to go on. It will probably be a magical De Bruyne pass that puts him through, but honestly it could be anything, you can expect Sterling to pass up a golden opportunity against the Red Devils.

5. Manchester United to win… just

Manchester United smashed their rivals last time the two faced off. That the game only ended 1-2 was a minor miracle. This upcoming clash won’t be as one-sided as all that, you can expect Pep‘s men to be better prepared to deal with the unique threats Manchester United pose. But there is no doubt that Manchester United do pose a unique and serious threat, and it’s one that Manchester City cannot wrap their head around.

Expect the Red Devils to triumph in this first-leg, but only just. Expect something close like 1-0 or 2-1. A victory, a very impressive and important one for Manchester United given their stature and current form. A massive boost for the whole club that will reaffirm their position as a club of immense potential that just needs a bit of investment to reach the next level. A tight win would also set the stage for a blockbuster second-leg at the Etihad in February, where the fireworks can really fly.

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