Manchester City couldn’t possibly be in better nick heading into the Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium but bitter rivals Manchester United are not doing too badly themselves — three wins on the bounce with the latest a memorable victory over Juventus — a team almost impossible to beat in Turin.
United are 7th in the Premier League, way below City who as we all know sit on top. Victory for City would propel their chances of retaining the title but as Mourinho’s side showed last season, they have the ability to shock City even when Guardiola’s men are in fine form. Anything can happen on derby day…
Leading into the derby, City Watch takes a look at Manchester United.
PREDICTED XI & MAN TO WATCH
After going to Juventus and pulling off a stunning smash and grab win I’d be surprised if Jose Mourinho doesn’t approach the game with a similar or identical side. United did ride their luck and if City are clinical it shouldn’t matter how the reds line up considering the blues are averaging six goals a game over their last two matches.
In net it will of course be David de Gea, one of the league’s best goalkeepers of recent times. At the back Mourinho surely has to stick with the two who limited Juve to one goal, Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof. United have had defensive problems — something you don’t hear often about Mourinho teams — and he’d be foolish not to build on their momentum. Antonio Valencia missed the mid week game as he’s still recovering from mouth surgery and could return but Ashley Young and Luke Shaw will otherwise be the full backs.
In midfield Mourinho has to decide whether to sacrifice some defensive stability to bring in the hero from Turin — Juan Mata — or stick with Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic. Sorry but I can only see Jose being conservative meaning a spot on the bench for Mata. Paul Pogba will complete the midfield, and he’s my Man to Watch after his display in the Etihad derby last season.
The big United injury news has been Romelu Lukaku’s absence. The Belgium striker doesn’t have a great record against big sides — City included — and I’m not sure how big a miss he’ll be if he doesn’t make it back in time. With that said, I’m going for former blues target Alexis Sanchez in the centre forward position with Jesse Lingard and another danger man Anthony Martial either side.
That’s an unchanged eleven from the team that beat Juventus. Looking at United’s other options I don’t see any need to change it.
Not all reds are unreasonable and I spoke to Mike, a season ticket holder at Old Trafford for over 15 years and occasional writer. Here’s what he thinks about the upcoming derby.
Three wins on the trot – are Manchester United back on track?
Hope so! I’m worried some of the cracks are being papered over because we were still unconvincing against Bournemouth and Everton. The Juventus win was more of the Mourinho we know and could be the catalyst to something better. The Derby will tell us a lot about where we’re currently at.
Feelings on Mourinho? Is he safe now do you think?
Yeah I can’t see him going before the end of the season now. He’s survived a big storm when one Mirror hack even said he was 100% getting the sack, but he’s still here. Personally I’m quietly waiting for a United manager in the style of old but there are none out there who wouldn’t be a risk except Zidane (maybe). Eventually Jose will be judged on United’s league position at the end of the season and how well we did in the CL.
Alexis Sanchez almost joined City but chose United — and a big pay packet! Thoughts on the Chilean?
Calling a spade a spade, he’s been shite for most of his time here and we could’ve got probably more from a player like Zaha. But it is what it is and he’s shown some decent signs lately like against Newcastle where he scored. I’m not sure how much better he’ll get in this system and maybe the old Alexis can only be seen if we get an attacking manager.
Romelu Lukaku is a doubt for the derby — will he be a miss?
Err…not in his current form. Big Rom was banging them in last season and even then didn’t win everyone over because of his clumsy play. This season he doesn’t even have the goals to hide his flaws. Even if Rom is available, he’ll probably go on the bench.
What do you think of this City team under Pep?
I don’t like City but I’m not one of the fans who obsesses over the rivalry and will be honest. You have one of the best teams since ours under Fergie right now and alot of it is down to Pep’s way of thinking and playing. I’d be amazed if you didn’t win the league again, which wouldn’t be bad if it means Liverpool don’t.
Lastly, your predictions for Sunday’s game?
I’m feeling weirdly positive about it and think we’ll steal a 2-2 draw.