In the first instalment of the Manchester derby of the season – something quite intriguing is brewing in the powerhouse of the North West.
For the first time in quite some time, both clubs are on a high, in terms of momentum and confidence levels and for Manchester United, in particular, this is quite a turnaround – given the way they started the season.
City are favourites to retain the Premier League title – and the fact that the last time that happened was ten years ago – by none other than their arch-rivals Manchester United goes to show how competitive the league has become and what it takes to win consecutive titles in England. The blue half of Manchester – bar a wobble in Europe against French side Lyon, have had a near-perfect start to the campaign and now with one-third of the season over, they have looked as ominous as ever, under the obsessive perfectionist Pep Guardiola.
Despite the last few days being dominated by the infamous Der Speigel leaks, the focus on Sunday will solely be on the football and at the Etihad Stadium where Manchester City can once and for all end any hopes of their neighbours mounting a credible challenge to wrestle the Premier League crown away from them in Mourinho’s third season in charge.
It’s an upturn in form and fortunes – that was rather unexpected for Manchester United and Mourinho. From looking dead and buried in the pre-match press conference before the game against Newcastle, Mourinho stole the limelight again on Wednesday night, this time playing the quintessential pantomime villain at the Juventus stadium – with his trademark taunts – sparking both delight and outrage in equal measure.
If anything, the Portuguese’s edge seems to have come back – fuelled by the team’s good run that began in the comeback win against Newcastle United at Old Trafford – accelerated after the positive performance at Stamford Bridge even though they only drew despite doing enough to win on the night. On Wednesday however, United weathered the storm early doors – went 1-0 down to an outrageous goal from Cristiano Ronaldo but snatched victory again from the jaws of defeat, thanks to an expertly converted free kick from Juan Mata and a touchline kerfuffle that ended in United’s favour.
All in all, United are riding a crest at the moment and they will look to carry that into a stadium where they have had some success in recent years.
City have no fresh injury concerns but Kevin De Bruyne and Claudio Bravo remain absent, while Eliaquim Mangala has a knock, though he is out of favour at the moment and likely won’t feature regardless.
Gabriel Jesus will probably drop back down to the bench despite scoring a hat-trick in the win over Shakhtar Donetsk in midweek.
Paul Pogba is a fitness doubt, with what Man Utd are calling ‘a little injury’.
Romelu Lukaku could return to action after missing the trips to Bournemouth and Juventus with a hamstring complaint.
Diogo Dalot has been out with an injury sustained during the international break, while captain Antonio Valencia is back in contention having travelled to Turin.
Man City have not lost any of their last 53 Premier League matches against sides starting the day outside the top four (W44 D9 L0), since a 4-0 loss at Everton in January 2017.
Man Utd, who won 3-2 at the Etihad Stadium last season despite being 2-0 down, are looking to achieve a second successive PL victory at the ground for only the second time, having previously done so in November 2008 and April 2010.
Pep Guardiola has never lost consecutive home league matches against a single opponent in his managerial career.
David Silva – Manchester City
Manchester City are littered with attacking talent – with Sergio Aguero spearheading the efforts going forwards, flanked by Sane, Sterling, Bernardo Silva all complementing the Argentine and also thriving on their own – create and score goals aplenty. Then there’s De Bruyne who is not even in the picture these days.
But the beating heart of it all, the centrepiece of a machine whose success is measured by craft and creativity is without a shadow of a doubt, David Silva. City play well if Silva is on the ball – and the more he is on the ball, better their chances of winning any game of football.
It is that simple.
Juan Mata – Manchester United
Mata has been on fine form of late – scoring vitally important goals that have not only led to key results for Manchester United but it may also have saved Jose Mourinho his job at the club.
The Spaniard’s ability on the dead ball is well established but it will come crucial again on Sunday when the stakes are high and the margins are fine. Playing on the right, Mata’s link-up play with Ashley Young has also vastly improved giving the team a lot more balance from what once was a very left sided team going forward. United are not expected to dominate possession on Sunday, making it all the more vital for a player like Mata – who rarely gives the ball away in the final third, to be involved in the thick of the action for United to have a good chance of getting a result at the Etihad.
United have been much better away from home this season and are exuding a lot of self-belief. But their defence is still suspect at best and it is hard to go against Manchester City at the Etihad.
Manchester City 3-1 Manchester United