Derby day. Always one of the biggest days of the football year and this season is no different. After last season’s ultimate showdown of Pep and Mou the media have had to come up with a new angle to sell this game and it’s the classic unstoppable force meets and immovable object narrative we’ve seen in the build-up. To be fair, they have a point. United are unbeaten at home since the last time City played there in the league and City have only dropped points to Everton and Shakhtar so far this year.
Speaking of Shakhtar, the fact that so many key players were rested – which was evidently the reason we lost that game – gives us a pretty clear indication of who Pep is planning to play come Sunday, should it not be snowed off anyway.
Here’s how I predict the Blues to line up.
I thought that Claudio Bravo would be given a start in Ukraine but the fact he wasn’t is in no way an indication that he was resting the Chilean for the weekend. Ederson will start as he has done in every other Premier League game so far.
Kyle Walker has been such a welcome addition this year and he finally got a chance to breathe when he was dropped from the starting eleven on Wednesday. He’ll return to the starting lineup and I expect him to be quite busy with the likes of Rashford and Martial on the counter attack. Fabian Delph was also given a precautionary break from the team and although Pep mentioned that the left-back was suffering from some sort of illness, I expect him to line up with his fellow Englishman in the full-back position Sunday afternoon.
With John Stones still way off a full recovery and considering they were both rested in midweek, I’d put good money on both Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi returning to the lineup. The Argentine has come on leaps and bounds since Pep took over and surprising to many has become one of our most composed figures at the back. Partnering him will be the ever faithful captain. Vinnie has been plagued with injuries for the last few years and I think he deserves a huge amount of credit for each time picking himself up and fighting to come back stronger and usually in perfect timing. In the past couple of weeks pundits have been quick to point out our supposed vulnerabilities from set plays but let’s not forget that we’ve been quite prolific from our own as well so let’s hope that one of these guys – or even both – manage to get on the scoresheet.
The midfield trio basically picks itself if we want to perform to our full capability now. Fernandinho was one of the few key players that actually played in Ukraine and he was deployed in the unfamiliar position of centre-half, which he managed to look like a natural in with the ball. The Brazilian is going to be key in cutting out United’s counter attacks before they’re allowed to develop and will be responsible for recycling possession between our attack and defence. In front of him will be the best midfield pairing since Xavi and Iniesta. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne were both given rests ahead of the big game and although there was some worry over Silva’s fitness earlier in the week, Pep confirmed El Mago would be ready to start the game in his press conference yesterday.
Our most dangerous front man plays on the wing nowadays. Raheem Sterling has surely been the subject of Young, Blind and Shaw’s nightmares this week as all of them dread at the thought of having to deal with him. What’s impressed me most about him this season is the fact that he’s so effective in tight spaces and with defenders in front of him, rather than relying purely on his pace to get into the space in behind and if United’s showing against any other of the top 6 is anything to go by, there won’t be too much space to exploit in behind. On the other side of the pitch it’s likely that Leroy Sané will be given the green light. The young German has come off the boil in recent games from his usual electrifying form and lucky for him and the team others are stepping up and so he’s avoided a lot of potential criticism. This Sunday is going to be a huge opportunity for him to get going again and we can only hope he takes the chance.
Up top is a 50/50 shout really. Neither Jesus or Aguero have got me on the edge of my seat in recent games and although for Jesus that’s mainly through lack of opportunity, can we really drop our highest ever goal scorer for the most important game of the season so far? No is my answer. I think Sergio Aguero will start the game. Partly because he didn’t start in midweek and partly because of the moments of magic he can bring to a game, one of which I’m sure we’ll need on Sunday.