Derby day is upon us once again. After decades of dominance Manchester City finally came out of Manchester United’s shadow in the last decade. The Blues have gone on to dominate the English game with several trophies to show.
But despite giving the Red Devils a taste of their own medicine by inflicting them with numerous painful defeats even in their backyard, several of the last league meetings have not swung City’s way.
Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the shift in power seems to be returning back to where it’s been for so long. This derby offers a unique opportunity to further that narrative. Or for Pep Guardiola and City to refute that claim.
With that in mind, here are five talking points heading into the derby.
1. Manchester City Blowing Hot and Cold
When Wilfred Zaha squeezed his shots past Ederson at the Etihad Stadium last Saturday to give Crystal Palace a 1-0 lead, it seemed like nothing to worry about. It was just a bump that Manchester City would get over to record another win in front of the home crowd. Except that rather than things getting better, they actually got worse.
City have been blowing hot and cold this season. The team is either tearing opponents apart with huge goal margins or failing to have any breakthrough in front of goal. Tottenham, Southampton, Paris Saint-Germain, West Ham and Palace have all shut City out in different competitions this season.
The most recent game against Club Brugge captured City’s form this season. The two halves of the game were opposites. After struggling to make a headway in the first half, the team came out flying in the second.
The biggest issue now is which City team will turn up at Old Trafford.
2. Ronaldo on Fire
Cristiano Ronaldo has had his critics. But boy, does he know how to answer them? It’s safe to say that the Portuguese has single-handedly saved his manager’s job.
Currently, the 5-time Ballon d’Or award winner is on a high. After destroying Tottenham and forcing a change at the Spurs dugout, he reminded the world how good he still is in the Champions League. He will be looking to continue his exploits against City. And Guardiola knows what his team will be facing.
“We saw it last season. They have one of the best players in history, a guy who can be a scoring machine,” Guardiola said in his post-match press conference after the Club Brugge game.
Bernardo Silva has also given an inside scoop on how they will face the danger posed by his fellow countryman, and United as a team.
“I think he is doing well. He is helping United with late winners this season,” Bernardo said in an interview with Sky Sports.
“He is a player that people know, he can decide the game. We’re going to try and stop him, and make sure that he doesn’t score on Saturday.
“But we’re not playing against Cristiano, we’re playing against Manchester United. We’re going to be focussed on our job.”
3. Ole has Pep’s Number
Perhaps the most telling of City’s disappointing results this season have been shutouts in home league games against Southampton and Crystal Palace. These are teams that deployed the same tactics. They narrowed the pitch and gave the Blues no space to play their usual free-flowing game. The results were only one and three shots on target in each game respectively.
Manchester United are masters at this. Not only do the Red Devils know how to sit back, soak up pressure and narrow the pitch, but under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the team specialises in using counter-attacks to inflict damage.
It’s a style that has won trophies as Mikel Arteta can testify of its efficacy when everything goes according to plan. It is a style that has allowed Solskjaer secure some memorable and job-saving victories against Guardiola and City.
The only question is whether it will continue to work against the same opponent. For a manager big on the small details and preparations, Guardiola should have learned his lessons and come up with solutions. Against Patrick Vieira’s Palace it was a surprise, but against United it shouldn’t be.
4. Another Game Another Home Defeat for Manchester United?
The memories of Old Trafford A’s a slaughter ground for even the biggest teams on the continent is fast fading into oblivion.
Manchester United have won only one of their last five matches in the league. The team has lost two of the last three home games. The last was particularly gripping. Liverpool battered the team 5-0 in front of the home fans. It was a complete whitewash.
All round, the team has been quite poor this season. Even the games the side has won have come with a struggle, relying on Cristiano Ronaldo to pull the rabbit out of the hat.
It’s a run Solskjear will be eager to stop. Another heavy home defeat could be catastrophic. So what better occasion than against City to bring the poor run to a halt?
5. Derby Win a Boost in Title Race
It may seem too early to talk about the title race. But every game counts, especially against a title rival. Beating a title rival usually provides numerous benefits.
Apart from giving the team extra confidence and belief, such a game is more or less a six-pointer.
With Chelsea already making a statement of intent early on, losing any more ground could be costly. City are already five points behind the league leaders while United are eight points back. Thomas Tuchel’s men have suffered just one defeat in the first 10 games which was to City.
From then on, the team has been dispatching opponents with relative ease and collected 25 points from a possible 27. The two points were dropped against Liverpool in the 1-1 draw at Anfield.
Early signs show title-winning form.
As for Man United, Solskjear is yet to cap his rebuild at the club with a trophy. A loss here could mean the end of any lingering title hopes.
Apart from bragging rights, City also need to win this game to stay within touching distance of the league leaders. The London side could be out of sight before the new year if City suffer more defeats and lose further ground.