Manchester United and Manchester City return to Premier League action this weekend following contrasting fortunes in the Champions League.
Pep Guardiola’s side cruised to a 3-0 win over Marseille, cementing their position atop of Group C, while the Red Devils bowed out of this season’s competition following a 3-2 loss at RB Leipzig.
There’s no better opportunity to put that disappointment behind them when their neighbours visit on Saturday evening. Bragging rights aside, both teams are separated by just one point, five points off first place and have a game in hand on leaders Tottenham.
Man Utd vs Man City odds with William Hill:
- Man Utd: 7/2
- Draw: 3/1
- Man City: 8/11
*You have to be 18+ to gamble. All odds and offers within this article are accurate at the time of publication (09:30, 11/12/2020). BeGambleAware.
Although only one team comes into the 183rd Manchester derby full of verve, it’s worth remembering that form goes out the window with a fixture like this. So here are five things to expect.
1. Three at the back for United
So far during this campaign, across three competitions and 18 matches, United have most commonly played a 4-2-3-1 formation. However, on two occasions (away to Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig in the Champions League) they have fielded three centre-backs. It didn’t quite work out most recently in midweek but against Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Co. they recorded a 2-1 win.
Axel Tuanzebe lined up alongside Victor Lindelöf and Luke Shaw while Fred and Scott McTominay reprised their budding central midfield partnership. Bruno Fernandes, in a free ‘No.10’ role, pulled the strings and considering City hover in the same stratosphere as PSG, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Saturday’s hosts deploy this formation once more.
Harry Maguire, who missed their Paris win, should come in for Shaw while Mason Greenwood may support Marcus Rashford up top as both Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani are fitness doubts. Despite coming off the bench to great effect against Leipzig, there’s no spot expected for Paul Pogba amid renewed speculation regarding his long-term future at the 20-time English champions.
2. Creative Cancelo on the left?
No Premier League manager enjoys rotating his side more than Spanish football’s most successful modern coach. Few at the club are guaranteed a regular starting berth under Guardiola, Ederson and Kevin De Bruyne being the among the rare mainstays.
It is likely Guardiola retains the 4-3-3 formation that has served him well up to now, but plotting who’ll line up is another matter. That said, we can take clues from previous patterns this season. Many of those who play their Champions League games (especially dead rubbers) often find themselves on the bench a few days later.
One area where things are becoming interesting happens to be at left-back. There are several candidates to fill that role, but recently in the league that honour has befallen either Benjamin Mendy or Joao Cancelo. Both present something different, but the latter arguably is more of a creative threat. Nominally a right-back, where he played last time out against Fulham, the Portuguese international has spent 55% of his league minutes on the left this season. He has created 15 chances since the Premier League restarted in June and only Aaron Cresswell (17) and Andrew Robertson (19) are ahead of him in this respect when it comes to defenders. United’s vulnerability on the flanks, as shown against former City player Angelino for Leipzig, is something Guardiola’s men could exploit, more so if Cancelo features.
3. Fernandes to strengthen ‘MVP’ status
United’s narrow 1-0 win over West Brom (courtesy of a 56th-minute retaken Fernandes penalty) in late November was a strange landmark moment for the club as it was their first Premier League home success this season. An incredible situation considering their stature as one of Europe’s ‘super clubs’. It was nevertheless fitting who bailed United out, though. Since completing his long-awaited move from Sporting CP earlier this year, no one in England’s top division has been more productive in terms of setting up goals or putting them away himself. To attach some numbers to this statement, Fernandes has registered 15 goals and 11 assists across just 24 games.
His introduction at West Ham the previous weekend at half-time, with United trailing 1-0, was a true catalyst. He had a hand in Pogba’s equaliser while effortlessly playing between the lines. Fernandes is the host’s most important chess piece, and he’s matching the Premier League’s creator-in-chief, Kevin De Bruyne, stride for stride when it comes to chances created (18) so far in the competition this season, and the City star hasn’t actually scored from open play.
United have scored four goals from ‘fast break’ situations in the Premier League this season, the most by any side. If they are to breach Ederson’s goal on Saturday, expect to see it come courtesy of Fernandes in some way or a counter-attack.
4. Sterling breaks his duck
City’s last visit to Old Trafford was a frustrating one for Raheem Sterling. The Londoner (who grew up supporting the Red Devils) wasted several chances reminiscent of that 2-3 home defeat in April 2018. You could hardly blame Sterling for thinking he was cursed, as in a sense this remains his least-favourite opponent. Heading into this weekend, he’s faced United on 17 previous occasions, either while representing City or Liverpool, and has managed just two assists. Of the 11 different clubs Sterling played 10 or more times, it’s United alone he’s never scored against.
Solely in the Premier League, it’s 16 appearances, during which he’s attempted 29 shots (13 on target). That is at least 10 games more than he’s faced any other side in the competition without a goal.
Sterling was on the scoresheet last time out against Fulham, so he enters the Theatre of Dreams with some momentum as City’s top-scorer in open play, enough perhaps to break that duck and subsequently become the first English player to score in a Manchester derby for City in the league since James Milner in April 2013, according to Opta.
On that aforementioned day, City ran out 1-2 winners at Old Trafford. After Milner put the hosts in front, skipper Vincent Kompany accidentally levelled proceedings before Sergio Aguero secured all three points. This victory just so happened to be the “noisy neighbours” third Premier League success on the road against United, having taken place the season after their historic 1-6 rout. Saturday’s game isn’t expected to be as one-sided, but Guardiola’s men come in as favourites.
Three of their last four visits have gone in City’s favour and with United reeling following a Champions League exit, plus their wretched form at home in the league, they are seemingly there for the taking.
But it remains a derby and, despite all the pressure surrounding him, the United boss is not to be underestimated in these high-profile matches. Of all managers to have faced Guardiola at least four times in all competitions, this week’s adversary has the highest win rate having won three of their five meetings (60%).
City are becoming more and more familiar with draws, too, having recorded as many this season already (3) as they did during 2019/20 and one more than in the whole of 2018/19. It’s been five years since this fixture ended honours even. Long enough?