On Saturday, Manchester City welcome Manchester United to the Etihad – where a win and 3 points will end the already one-sided Premier League race this season as a contest.
This should be a cause for celebration – as City have given themselves the precious opportunity to win the league at home in front of their crowd against their biggest rivals. The stars are truly aligned for what is set to be a historic moment for the club under the Spaniard who has not just outspent but also thoroughly outclassed and out-thought his fellow managers in the league.
But the Blues will go into this game – with a bit of concern after their momentum was brought to a crushing halt by a heavy defeat in the Champions League Quarter-final first leg away from home against Liverpool. With the second leg at home scheduled for next week, it will be interesting to see if Guardiola opts to field his strongest eleven against United knowing that the outcome on Saturday is not a make or break for his side in terms of winning the league title.
For Manchester United, this is a horrible fixture. Faced with the prospect of watching City seal the league title by beating them, United’s approach on Saturday will be measured and cautious knowing Mourinho’s must-not-lose mentality in big games away from home, let alone one that could damage the morale, should it go awfully bad.
The Red Devils have an FA cup semi-final at Wembley to look forward to in the coming weeks – but little else and a win at the Etihad would mean a huge step towards confirming their participation in next year’s Champions League – which was bare minimum at the start of the season.
City could be without top scorer Sergio Aguero, who missed Wednesday’s 3-0 Champions League quarter-final first-leg defeat at Liverpool through injury. John Stones and Fabian Delph were unused substitutes at Anfield and could be involved on Saturday after recent injuries, but Benjamin Mendy is expected to remain sidelined.
Mourinho will be boosted by the return of Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Ander Herrera ahead of the short trip to the Etihad.
Saturday’s game will bring together the best defences in the Premier League this season, with United conceding 23 goals and City just 21 in 31 games so far.
United hold the edge in the 40 Premier League encounters between the sides, winning 20 to City’s 13 while there have been eight draws – including the goalless stalemate in last season’s corresponding fixture 12 months ago.
Pep Guardiola could become the third manager to win the title in England and at least two of the other big five European leagues, after Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho.
Raheem Sterling – Manchester City
Sterling has had a stellar season for City – and is arguably the most improved player under Guardiola. He has hugely improved in the final third – making more mature decisions in front of goal which has translated into a remarkable number of goals and assists – vital ones at that – for Manchester City this season. His pace and knack of getting behind the opposition defence unnoticed will be crucial to unlocking what is expected be a low block Manchester United back six on Saturday.
Alexis Sanchez – Manchester United
It was timely that Sanchez returned somewhere close to best – since joining Mourinho – just before taking on Manchester City, his first choice when he decided to leave Arsenal. Sanchez scored and set up the other against Swansea at home but City away will be a different proposition and one that he will need to step up and take the mantle in for United.
United need a match winner in the final third in these games and Alexis Sanchez could be that man to break City hearts once again this season.
I see a boring non-event further ruined by refereeing errors.
Manchester City 1-1 Manchester United.