Three of the last four Manchester derbies have ended with Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side victorious. This season, the trip to Old Trafford is a game Pep Guardiola can’t afford to lose.
With City already lagging behind in the title race thanks to a sluggish start and a dismal defeat at the hands of Tottenham, it’s crucial that they capitalise on the form of a rival team who have been leaking goals of late.
But United have a track record of bouncing back from losing big games, and will be itching to redeem themselves after their disappointing elimination from the Champions League in midweek.
Something a bit less serious to kick things off, but which players do you feel have been the ‘Kings’ of the Manchester derby for both clubs in recent years?
‘Kings’ are few and far between for Manchester United but the derbies in recent years have come up with some memorable moments rather than one or two players consistently doing it on the big day.
Wayne Rooney definitely falls in to that category however – he just had a knack of coming up with the good and no less on derby day.
In the last four or five years there have been standout moments such as Paul Pogba’s inspiring performance in 2018, but one that will live on for much longer than that day is Marcus Rashford’s winner in 2016. It was his first derby and less than a month after his unexpected debut for the club and he’s continued to do it against City ever since.
As for City, you can’t really look further than Sergio Agüero. He’s creeping up on Rooney as the top goalscorer in Manchester derbies but there are few, if any, who have inflicted more pain on United supporters than the Argentinian. The last-minute winner on the final day of his debut season was just the start and it seems like he scores every time he faces United.
Mario Balotelli, who is still very much the pantomime villain, always managed to get under United’s skin. He caused quite a stir at the 2011 FA Cup semi-final, drawing just about all of United’s players to a brawl whilst being completely oblivious to it with a sly smirk on his face. You could sense that the Italian was happy with himself but also very unbothered.
His infamous ‘Why Always Me’ reveal was just months after the semi-final and although that was his last positive contribution to a Manchester derby, it still bothers the Old Trafford faithful.
Given how late United signed him, how impressed have you been with the impact of Edinson Cavani since his arrival in the summer?
The arrival of Edinson Cavani was unexpected once we were approaching deadline day but yet the signing took no one by surprise. It might not be the most carefully planned recruitment or one that took too much extensive scouting but sometimes that’s not needed.
There are few strikers out there that can match Cavani’s experience and in a young squad like United’s, that’s invaluable. Two goals and an assist in that thrilling comeback against Southampton proved that he can still do a job in Europe’s elite leagues and I think we’re yet to see the best of him.
The uncertainty surrounding Anthony Martial, even if the Frenchman made huge strides last season, will give Cavani the chance to prove his worth and get that 12-month contract extended for a further year.
The whole situation is very similar to when United brought Zlatan Ibrahimovic in four years ago – a then 19-year-old Marcus Rashford thrived off playing besides the Swede and his idol Wayne Rooney. I think Cavani’s presence could help Mason Greenwood in a similar fashion.
Do you think the Paul Pogba news will have any effect on his performance on Saturday should he make an appearance? It certainly seemed to have a positive impact against RB Leipzig in midweek!
Mino Raiola’s comments is not the Italian going completely rogue and undermining his client – his outburst will have been carefully planned and with the blessing of Paul Pogba. It epitomizes Pogba’s four-and-a-half year stay since his return: cowardly and always trying to make the narrative fit whatever mood he’s in.
On the eve of United’s most important game of the season, Pogba and his agent felt like sabotaging and it played out exactly like how they envisioned it. Raiola forced Solskjær’s hand – he could no longer start the Frenchman and his preparations were completely scuppered.
Whatever impressive performances Pogba musters out between now and the end of the season will be to make his name a bit more appealing for a potential suitor ahead of his exit.
I’m not alone in hoping that Pogba does not feature in the derby on Saturday and United are better off without him. United’s most impressive performances this calendar year have been without Pogba and the worst have subsequently been when he has featured.
Over the entire calendar year of 2020, Manchester United sit pretty in second just three points behind Liverpool with one less game played. A lot has been blown out of proportion, including the Pogba debacle. Their turnaround in 2020 has largely been without Pogba and they will continue to improve when they see the back of him.
What do you make of the suggestions that Mauricio Pochettino could be eyed as a successor to OGS at Old Trafford, and do you feel he’s someone who could succeed at Manchester United?
In many ways it does feel like Solskjær is struggling to keep breaking barriers at United. His side is a much, much better team than the broken squad he inherited from José Mourinho but can he take it further than this? There is a suggestion that Ole Gunnar Solskjær is a stop-gap appointment to steady the ship before someone better comes along but Mauricio Pochettino has been available for over a year now.
I’m still not convinced by Pochettino and although he could very easily be appointed at another top European club and do very well, it’s far from guaranteed that he would improve United.
United started this project with Ole Gunnar Solskjær and their deep into it – sacking him to replace him with Pochettino, another unproven manager, would be a step backwards.
His fine work at Southampton and Tottenham is commendable but appointing Pochettino would be just as big of a risk as when United gave Solskjær the job in 2019.
On the managerial situation, do you feel OGS remains the right man for the job after the Champions League exit?
It’s an interesting one because a lot of has been made of United in the past 12 months but there is steady and consistent improvement. That’s the part you might not see on the back-pages.
As mentioned above, United are still one of the best performers this year and have evolved since last seasons first Manchester derby. Many say that replacing Sir Alex Ferguson was the job no one could do, as David Moyes came to find out. But I would say replacing José Mourinho was just as difficult.
The Portuguese left the club in an utter mess and whoever chosen to repair it would have needed time. We’re now two years into his reign and signs are promising on some fronts but just like his predecessors, the Norwegian has been let down by the suits above him.
Solskjær has been forced to settle for second, third and fourth choice signings and the one time United signed someone Ole had earmarked as a priority, it wasn’t until six months later. I don’t think there are many other people who could have given United a better lift when he first arrived and also then repair the broken squad once the ‘honeymoon period’ was over.
It’s still a work in progress but perhaps one that needs to be moving along a bit quicker.
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