Following Wednesday’s comfortable victory over Marseille, the Blues head to the unsightly Old Trafford for Saturday’s much-anticipated clash with Manchester United.
The two teams are separated by just one point in the league table, and with both sides currently sitting outside the top four, victory is essential for both sides in order to avoid falling further behind league leaders Spurs.
City’s form heading into the derby is very encouraging with Pep’s side having picked up five consecutive victories, whilst also recording a clean sheet in each fixture.
United, on the other hand, have failed to record a clean sheet in their previous five matches and will be looking to bounce back having been eliminated from the Champions League in midweek. Solskjaer’s side will have to endure yet another season in the Europa League, a fate which Alex Ferguson once referred to as a ‘penalty’.
Here’s how we think Manchester City will line up on Saturday…
Between the sticks, Ederson is certain to start after being rested in midweek. The Brazilian has recorded four clean sheets in his previous four appearances; yet despite this, has occasionally been found wanting this season with his poor performance against Spurs springing to mind.
Additionally, Ederson has failed to keep a clean sheet in his last two derby appearances and the Brazilian will need to be at his best to deny a United side that has scored in each of their previous eight fixtures.
At right-back, we expect the consistent Kyle Walker to feature from the off. Walker has been one of City’s stand-out performers this term and his commendable work-rate, and blistering pace will surely be key to Pep’s plans at Old Trafford. United are likely to take a pragmatic approach to the game – akin to the counter-attacking tactics used in their October victory over PSG – and due to this, Walker will be relied upon to repel the inevitable counter-attacks.
At centre-back, we believe that Ruben Dias is a shoo-in to start the game. Dias has been simply incredible since he arrived from Benfica in summer and his impact on improving the assuredness of the City backline has been clear and impressive. As well as proving to be reliable defensively, Dias has also shown himself to be a threat from set-pieces and his first City goal seems to be coming sooner rather than later. Alongside the Portuguese international, we believe that due to his impressive form as of late, Pep will select John Stones to start the derby.
At left-back, we believe that Joao Cancelo shall return to the starting line-up having been rested in midweek. The Portuguese International has been mostly excellent in recent weeks and City’s creativity going forward is noticeably better when Cancelo is present. Also in contention is Benjamin Mendy, who has played well in recent weeks.
In midfield, we expect Pep to field Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri in the polarising double-pivot. Gundogan’s excellence this season has often gone unrecognised owing to the flashier players around him but his adeptness in retaining possession usually ensures that City can control the game. Also, Rodri’s domineering presence and aerial prowess may be necessary for City to effectively deal with United’s physical side.
The fielding of both Gundogan and Rodri is vital should City wish to effectively contain United’s talisman Bruno Fernandes, and Rodri particularly will need to be at his very best to ensure that the Portuguese has a quiet game. Moreover, the utilisation of the double-pivot will also allow De Bruyne to effectively have free rein going forward, which will hopefully allow the Belgian the opportunity to significantly impact the game.
As mentioned, we expect that alongside Gundogan and Rodri in midfield, Kevin De Bruyne will start and captain the Blues. After a slow start by his high standards, De Bruyne’s form has markedly picked-up since the season’s outset and having recorded four goal contributions in his last two appearances De Bruyne’s upturn in form could not have materialised at a better time.
Often reminiscent of the best footballer on the school team, De Bruyne’s ball-playing ability is rivalled by few, his work-ethic both going forward and defensively is exemplary, and should we beat United this weekend, then it will likely be through the Belgian’s efforts.
On to the attack. On the right side of the front three, we believe that Pep will again opt to start the in-form Riyad Mahrez ahead of Phil Foden or Ferran Torres. Following a slow start to the season, which included a run of 10 City appearances without a goal or an assist, Mahrez fired three past Burnley and followed it up with solid showings in the victories over Fulham and Marseille. The Algerian superstar scored in City’s most recent win over United and considering his current form, I wouldn’t bet against him scoring on Saturday.
On the opposite flank, we expect Raheem Sterling to start at Old Trafford. Sterling is going into the derby in decent form having scored in each of his previous two City appearances and City fans and Pep will be hoping that Sterling will be able to avoid being pocketed by Aaron Wan-Bissaka as he was several times last season. Sterling has never scored against Manchester United and should Sterling again struggle against AWB then I would hope that Pep will switch Sterling to the right side game early in the game as opposed to waiting until late in the second half.
And finally, we expect Gabriel Jesus to lead the line. In Aguero’s absence, the young Brazilian has led the line well but with Aguero returning with a goal on Wednesday, Jesus’ time in the starting XI will come under serious threat should he fail to provide the goals expected of him. Jesus will likely look to press United’s often unconvincing backline from the off but with Aguero fit for the derby, I expect to see the Argentine replace Jesus at some point in the evening should City find themselves in need of a goal.
Substitutes: Zack Steffen, Benjamin Mendy, Aymeric Laporte, Phil Foden, Ferran Torres, Bernardo Silva, Sergio Aguero.
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