A rivalry forged in Spain spills into the Premier League. Pep Guardiola, hero of all-conquering Barcelona meets his nemesis, Jose Mourinho. Not the Real Madrid Mourinho, but the coach of Internazionale whose strutting across the Camp Nou pitch cut through the Catalan psyche. The translator became the master.
Guardiola, the erudite Spaniard who conquered all-comers at previous clubs, will end up with no trophies this season. Mourinho, a former friend, may consider dumping City into the Europa League places, the perfect revenge. Ah, the layered nuances of this rivalry; personal, professional and football.
Which almost leaves aside their respective sides form. Guardiola must lift his side from the despair they feel after losing to Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final. As matches go, this would probably be the last he’d choose after that result.
Mourinho saw his depleted side win at Burnley. Twenty-three matches unbeaten and still only fifth in the table. Not losing is good; not drawing is even better. If United had the same number of draws as City, they would be second in the table.
A top four finish for both sides is surely the minimum requirement given their positions now. Winning this match is a giant step toward that goal.
The manner of Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final defeat to Arsenal will have cut through to Guardiola’s core. The Gunners were on the ropes in the first half but fought back to deserve their place in the final against Chelsea.
Will United face the wrath of that defeat? City’s problems stemmed from David Silva’s withdrawal against Arsenal and the Spaniard is a doubt for this vital clash. City’s medical team will be working non-stop to get Silva fit. Sergio Aguero also left Wembley in worse shape than he arrived but the prospect of neither making this match is unthinkable.
The return of Vincent Kompany gives City a stronger defensive look – despite the cheap nature of the goals which Arsenal scored – but the question must be whether he is fit enough to play two matches in four days. City have the depth but not the assuredness he brings to their back line.
Others rated as doubtful are Fernandinho, John Stones, and Bacary Sagna although Gabriel Jesus may make the squad for this game.
United’s problems are in the draws column of the league table. Twenty–three unbeaten ought to see them closer to the top of the table than they are. It must be a source of regret for Jose Mourinho, knowing that if they had won half the game they have drawn then the title would be within their grasp.
As it is, United entering the toughest phase of their season without key players. Both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo are out for the remainder of the season and beyond, which may yet undermine the push for top four places. Problems are mounting with Herrera, Valencia and Pogba all rated as doubtful for this clash. It will, however, be a major surprise if they don’t make it for this fixture.
United need to open up though. Goals have been a problem for them all season and Zlatan, their talismanic leading scorer is not there to bale them out. It might be the kickstart Anthony Martial needs for his season. A goal at Turf Moor was a promising time for the much-maligned youngster. Is this the moment he breaks free from the shadow cast by Ibrahimovic? Mourinho must hope that it is the case; he’s criticised the French youngster often enough for his performances for United this season.
It’s a derby game and a number of players who have under-performed this season are due big performances. Can they deliver when it matters?
FORM (Last six games)
Manchester City - DDLWWL
Manchester United - WDDWWW
- United are unbeaten in their last 23 Premier League games.
- City are unbeaten in their last 8 home Premier League matches.
- United have kept 5 clean sheets in their last 7 away games.
- City has seen +2.5 goals in their last 4 Premier League games.
- United have been winning HT / FT in 6 of their last 8 Premier League games.
CURRENT MATCH ODDS (BEST PRICED ODDS)
HEAD TO HEAD
Date Competition Result
16/10/2016 EFL Cup Manchester United 1 – 0 Manchester City
10/09/2016 EPL Manchester United 1 – 2 Manchester City
20/03/2016 EPL Manchester City 0 – 1 Manchester United
29/10/2015 EPL Manchester United 0 – 0 Manchester City
12/04/2015 EPL Manchester United 4 – 2 Manchester City
02/11/2014 EPL Manchester City 1 – 0 Manchester United
These matches are notoriously tight affairs with only April 2015’s meeting at Old Trafford showing any decent goal tally. Other than that, the highest scoring win was City’s 2 – 1 win at Old Trafford last September. With United’s injury woes, don’t expect many goals on their part.
And that suits Mourinho’s safety first approach, playing into his hands almost. The Portuguese was very much second best to Guardiola in Spain, he’s determined not to repeat that record in England, his turf. His biggest issue is a lack of goals. Or rather a lack of match winners.
Overall, Paul Pogba has been disappointing this season but the price tag attached to him always carried a risk of heightened expectations. United won’t care if he scores the only goal of the game.
And a single goal is all I expect to separate the two sides, with United coming away with the three points.