The Theatre of Dreams will host a near-Christmas cracker on Sunday, as Manchester United entertain neighbours Manchester City, with the latter side hoping to extend their lead at the top of the table into double digits ahead of a hectic festive schedule, writes Maryam Naz.
Whilst the stadium has hosted some historic derbies, the two managers, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, also share some history; both have managed in Spain, locking horns in many iconic El Clasicos. Yet this is where the similarities end: whilst Mourinho may enjoy a more suppressive form of football, Pep’s rally against Southampton star Nathan Redmond suggests a desire to ‘attack, attack, attack’. If anything is certain, Mourinho will need to utilize all his assets as potently as possible to stave off Pep’s high-flying City.
Guardiola has clearly worked wonders on his City players this season; they have grabbed 43 points from a potential 45 in the league, a tally that would’ve ensured a team an eighth place finish last season. Not only have they shown to be difficult to win against, but they have proved that they can win against teams difficult to break down. Three consecutive 2-1 victories against West Ham, Huddersfield, and Southampton, with late goals from the resurgent Raheem Sterling and the magician that is David Silva, reveals the Guardiola mentality: win, and win our own way.
Mourinho, whose side have won five of their last six games, has the Paul Pogba debacle looming over his head. The Frenchman, whose talent this season has been palpable to all, was given a straight red in United’s 3-1 win against Arsenal. His absence may prove costly, if United’s less-than-fluid performances during his injury are anything to go by.
Yet there may be some hope for the Red Devils. They have been aided out of a few tight spots by their keeper, David De Gea, the man with the wrists of steel. Despite being 2-0 up against Arsenal, the only thing that ensured them of the win was his man-of-the-match performance. His inclusion will serve to boost United’s confidence, with the reassurance that if he is tested, he will do whatever possible to defend his goal.
Mourinho also has Ashley Young up his sleeve. The winger-turned-fullback has undergone a recent resurrection, which is evident given his performance against Watford, where he scored two goals in a 4-2 win. Watford piled the pressure on late in that game, but Jesse Lingard made sure of the points with an incisive counterattack of his own. If Man City slip up here, there is every chance that Mourinho’s side will be waiting, ready to pounce.
What a promo for the Manchester Derby! pic.twitter.com/YrpumjSV1s
— BM²² (@CrossLikeMendy) December 4, 2017
Mourinho will be banking on the fact that Guardiola will have certain players injured. On top of the list is Benjamin Mendy; despite displaying his passion when he hobbled down the touchline at the end of City’s 2-1 win against Southampton, he is still suffering from a serious cruciate ligament injury.
City are also without John Stones; the Englishman has been sidelined for some time now with a hamstring injury, forcing the Spaniard to reshuffle his defence with Vincent Kompany and Fabian Delph also 50-50. This constant remodelling will cause the Spaniard more anxiety, especially due to the presence that United possess in their attack in the form of Romelu Lukaku. To counter his physicality, Kyle Walker and co will need to be alert and wary.
The question remains if City can pass this latest test, or if United will spoil the party. Both have proved that they have can ensure victories in the dying moments of games with late goals, but United’s rapid start against Arsenal proves that it might be the beginning of the game that holds more importance — no matter how late City like to score, if Mourinho’s side seal two early goals, then even ‘Fergie time’ might not be enough to save them.
Predictions? United will shock spectators by snatching a 2-1 victory on the counter, serving City a spoonful of their own medicine with some late drama.