Venue: Etihad Stadium
Date: 27 April 2017
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Kick off: 20:00
A huge game. To some, the biggest game of the season, regardless of all other factors. Of course, I’m talking about derby day.
There are talking points galore, as usual. So, what are the main ones heading into the latest battle between Pep and Jose?
City Don’t Need to Win, But We Cannot Lose
I know it’s a bit of an odd place to start, to say that City don’t need a win. However, they really don’t. The reality is that whatever happens on Thursday night, City will still be well in the hunt for a top four finish; and even though I include losing the game in that assessment, a loss would be catastrophic for other reasons. Of course, City exited the cup on Sunday, but it was the manner in which we lost the game that made it particularly disappointing. To have controlled the match for up to 70 minutes, only to throw away two very avoidable goals was very poor. It was made more puzzling than it perhaps should’ve been at times by some very strange substitutions from Pep. The pressure is truly on for tomorrow’s game. A loss could create some legitimate doubt, Pep’s position could start to look more precarious, and it would just breed negativity in general. If City were to draw, it would be no disaster. Another point, no derby loss and a favourable set of fixtures to come would make it a useful result, rather than a desired one. Obviously though, we want the win, and what better way to get over Sunday’s disappointment than recording a league double over the enemy.
The Line-Up Needs a Shake-Up
After 120 minutes in a cup semi-final just a few days ago, legs are sure to be tired. Consequently, there will need to be a shake-up to the staring XI. Some of those theoretical changes though could be enforced by poor form rather than fatigue. It’s difficult to envisage Yaya Touré and Fernandinho starting against United; both are the wrong side of 30 and both played large parts in the loss to Arsenal. I’m expecting Fabian Delph – perhaps shockingly to some – to start against United. Leroy Sané’s afternoon at Wembley was rather counterproductive. The young German winger knackered himself to the point that he actually stopped running at one point – and yet Guardiola left him on the pitch. I expect Sané to be rested on Thursday, though his recent form would hardly merit a place in the starting XI anyway. Gabriel Jesus is apparently fit and ready, so one can only hope that he’s ready to take to the pitch, but will he start or will he come on later? Who knows.
United’s Pace is a Big Concern
For a while now, Jose Mourinho’s tactic in big away games has been to sit back and take a point – I’m expecting no different on Thursday. United are in a similar boat to City in the sense that the derby won’t determine their season, though a loss would be a little more damaging to our opponents. For this reason, I’m expecting a strong unit from United to be selected, with the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial to feature as counter-attacking threats. United will likely sit off City, allow them the ball and aim to utilise their pace, especially in wide areas. A plan that City will have to be prepared for. This may mean that selecting Jesus Navas at right-back would actually be a fairly logical move. I struggle to ever advocate starting Gael Clichy, but the Frenchman is City’s only real option on the left-side since Aleksandar Kolarov’s move to central defence. If City can keep the pacy players of United quiet, the threats should be fairly minimal, with colossal striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic out for the game.
To be honest, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the game finished 1-1. I’ll be positive though and say City to nick it 2-1. Gabriel Jesus to make a goal-scoring return.