It’s time for arguably the biggest game of the season – the Manchester Derby. The Blues may already be out of the title race, but we all know this is about more than that. This game is about pride and proving our place as the dominant team in Manchester. This decade has seen the balance of power shift in Manchester City’s favour, and it would be fitting if they ended it with an emphatic win at the Etihad.
Victory is by no means a certainty, though. Both teams go into the match with momentum following their midweek wins. City were back to their best with a vintage performance against Burnley, while Solskjaer’s United took on and beat their old manager – Jose Mourinho’s new Spurs side. In the wake of Mauricio Pochettino’s sacking from Spurs and subsequent links to Old Trafford, the United faithful seem to have rallied around their manager and given them the boost their season needed.
In terms of tactics, United will set up to counter-attack. They’ve been at their best against better teams where they can use the pace of Marcus Rashford and Daniel James to strike while their opponents are on the back foot. City’s dominance in possession will play right into United’s hands, but City inarguably have the better squad. We’ll just have to see if City’s quality can pay off. So how could they line up?
In his press conference Pep Guardiola was full of praise for his managerial counterpart, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, calling him an “exceptional person”, but that’s where we can expect the niceties to end.
Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sané remain sidelined until well into the new year and Sergio Aguero is still out with a muscular problem.
There’s some positive news with Oleksandr Zinchenko returning to training this week following his knee injury, and Ilkay Gundogan returns from suspension.
For Manchester United, Paul Pogba will not be available as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he picked up in September. Anthony Martial could play, and Solskjaer has said he wants the Frenchman to feature at some point in the match.
It’s evident now that Ederson in goal and the centre-back pairing of John Stones and Fernandinho are nailed on to start. Picking the full-backs will be trickier. Kyle Walker is the more obvious choice at right-back to provide the defence with pace and to better assist the midfield, while our left-back will move further up the pitch to contribute to the attack. Angelino had a great game on Tuesday, but I imagine he was chosen at Turf Moor so that Benjamin Mendy would be well rested for this one.
Rodrigo in defensive midfield will look to build on his recent man of the match performance and while Ilkay Gundogan could come back into the side to help him combat United’s press, this protective-minded tactic has been frustrating for the team and fans alike, as it leaves us one player short in attack. It’s been Guardiola’s preferred set-up so far this season, but I don’t think he’ll revert to it here. It will again be up to David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne to work their magic with pin-point balls to the front three.
Raheem Sterling on the left-wing is a given, and Gabriel Jesus is the first-choice striker in Aguero’s absence. Pep has hailed Jesus as responsible for City’s latest win and that his goals will be needed if they want to maintain some good form. I can see Riyad Mahrez starting on the right after also scoring in the game just gone. United will look to soak up the pressure of City’s dominant possession and probing passes, so we’ll need to see another quality display from the front three if the Blues going to be the first ‘top six’ team to take all three points from a game against the Reds this season.
That leaves the following on City’s bench: Claudio Bravo, Nicolas Otamendi, Joao Cancelo, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden. It’s a shame for Angelino, but someone will have to make way with players coming back to full fitness.
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