Manchester United and Manchester City are set to face off at Old Trafford on Wednesday in a match which could decide the Premier League title.
If City win they will re-take top spot and clear the last major hurdle on their fixture list with just three games left to play. It’s the title clash many have dreamed of, although only City are actually challenging for the trophy.
Not that United have only personal pride to fight for; they desperately need a win to give themselves a realistic chance of making the top four and thus qualifying for the Champions League next season. So the stakes are high for everyone involved.
But what do we think will happen? How will the game go? We’ve had a look:
1. Pep will go all-out attack
Manchester City have nothing left to fight for except the Premier League. Well, there’s the FA Cup but the final is still a ways off. They won’t have enjoyed being eliminated from the Champions League but it will have narrowed their focus onto defending their title.
With that in mind, and with this being their game in hand, City will want to win. Not only that, but they will want a fast start to establish their superiority early on; in the first 10 minutes of games this season City have scored 12 times and conceded 0. If you expand that to the first 20 minutes they get two goals against but their goals scored goes up to 25. No one else even comes close to that.
So you’ve got City desperate to win, with nothing else to focus on, and with a tradition for fast starts this season. There’s also the Leroy Sané factor. The German winger has been held out of recent line-ups by Guardiola as the Catalan tried to squeeze Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling into the same XI – but with De Bruyne out injured the flying German will surely be called on.
Now imagine a player as direct and dangerous as Sané running at the omnishambles that is United’s rotating cast of right-backs. City could end this as a contest before half-time!
2. United will play for fouls
City’s skill on the ball and ability to dominate possession will force United to operate on the break, but that will suit Solskjaer just fine as he prefers to set his side out that way anyway. So the Red Devils will play on the break, but they won’t always push it forward hard and fast.
No, expect United to occasionally drive at the heart of City’s midfield even if it looks like they won’t get anywhere, because they will be trying to play for fouls and get the raucous Old Trafford crowd to get the City players in trouble.
Before the game Solskjaer said to the media: “they will snap at your heels and ankles and and kick you, they won’t allow us easy counter attacking, there will be fouls, absolutely no doubt about it,” which is a classic move from Sir Alex Ferguson’s playbook.
He’s conditioning the referee to expect City to foul, so he’ll be more likely to “see” fouls when City go into the tackle and that will benefit United by making the game stop-start.
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3. Aguero will score
Sergio Aguero has scored just once in his last four games, and although it was a fine finish against Spurs, his profligacy in front of goal was partly to blame for City’s inability to get by Spurs in the Champions League. He’s a striker in need of a goal to boost his mood and push him ahead in the golden boot race.
Luckily for him, no player has scored more Premier League goals in Manchester derbies than he has. The Argentine has eight, level with Wayne Rooney, and he will be looking to become the top scorer in the derby at the weekend. Hell, if he’s feeling ambitious and bags a hat-trick he’ll become the most deadly marksman against Manchester United (in the league) beating Alan Shearer’s record of 10.
With United a mess at the back, Aguero could fancy his chances. Hell, David de Gea is so vulnerable to long-shots right now (six of the last seven he has conceded have come from outside the box) that the Argentine could let fly from range and probably bag his third goal from outside the box this season.
4. Pogba will score or assist
He’s been heavily criticised lately, but Paul Pogba is undeniably a brilliant player who is being asked to do something he isn’t really capable of. He can’t organise United’s midfield because he isn’t that kind of player, he’s a maverick who you cut loose to impact the game.
That’s exactly what United did last season when they spoiled City’s title party by beating them 3-2 at the Etihad. Pogba scored two goals in that memorable comeback and he comes into today’s game having been involved in nine goals in his last eight league games at Old Trafford.
With that kind of production rate, you wouldn’t want to rule Pogba out from impacting the stat-sheet before the match is out.
5. Man City will win
Regardless of whether or not Pogba scores, there’s only really going to be one outcome here. Manchester City have lost just once in their last seven visits to Old Trafford, winning a staggering five of those.
Guardiola has won both trips to the Theatre of Dreams by a 2-1 scoreline and City in general have won as many away games at Old Trafford as any other side (six – level with Chelsea).
There’s just no real scenario where you can see United coming out of the match with a win. They’ll approach the game with great fury for sure, and will work as hard as they can, but ultimately they will be found lacking because they are quite simply not good enough.
Sure their forwards are full of potential, but their midfield is misshapen and their defence is Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw and a couple of buffoons who were back-ups in 2012 and have no business starting in 2019. Then there’s De Gea, their safety blanket, who looks thoroughly dejected and disinterested with things for now.
City know that a win puts one hand on the Premier League title, so expect that they will get the win. United fans can discuss about whether or not they’d want City to win (to deny Liverpool the title) until they’re blue in the face; the bottom-line is that Manchester United will have about as much say on the outcome of this match as a packet of digestive biscuits.
If City are focused and execute their gameplan, they will stomp a mud hole in Manchester United and then walk it dry.