Preview: Manchester United vs. Manchester City
Preview: Manchester United vs. Manchester City
Manchester United head into the 175th derby showdown with Manchester City trailing the league leaders by eight points in the Premier League table.
City make the short trip to Old Trafford having suffered their first defeat of the season against Shakhtar Donetsk, but Pep Guardiola will point to 13 successive wins in the top flight as reason why their Champions League setback was a minor blip.
United enjoyed their fair share of good fortune during the 3-1 victory over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium last weekend, but there is a growing feeling that Jose Mourinho’s team are starting to click into top gear during a crucial period of the season.
The result in North London came on the back of a 4-2 triumph at Watford and while Mourinho has developed a reputation for narrow wins and clean sheets, there will be a sense of relief that his recent claims about his side’s ambition on the pitch is being justified.
A concern will remain over the form of Romelu Lukaku – despite his goal against CSKA Moscow in midweek – and although getting back on the scoresheet for just the second time since September 30 is a positive, his all-round game will be tested against a team of City’s quality.
Marcus Rashford is another player to endure a period of time without much joy in the final third, but the England international will only have benefitted from gaining a much-needed 90 minutes under his belt ahead of a fixture in which Mourinho will value his work-rate on the flank.
Sunday’s fixture takes place after United equalled their club record of going 40 matches unbeaten at Old Trafford in all competitions in midweek, and the occasion is perfect to set a new mark in style.
However, while United have been unbeatable at the Theatre of Dreams, extending that streak to 41 games with a draw will realistically not be deemed enough with Mourinho and co having to take advantage of an opportunity to reduce City’s lead down to five points as the season approaches the halfway stage.
Recent form: WLWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WLWWWW
After three hard-fought wins in succession, it had appeared more likely that City were close to suffering their first defeat of the season and although that occurred against Shakhtar, Guardiola may feel that it is a weight lifted off his team’s shoulders.
The City boss made numerous changes to his squad for what was effectively a meaningless game for the Premier League leaders, and it gave some of his key men the opportunity to rest ahead of what is the club’s biggest match of the season.
With Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero not necessarily firing on all cylinders in front of goal, much of City’s recent success has been earned from the boots of Raheem Sterling, with the winger scoring important goals in six of his last 10 outings.
David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne continue to put opportunities on a plate for their teammates, but it has been Sterling who has taken games by the scruff of the neck and it is the reason why he has emerged as City’s player of the season.
There will be a few concerns over their defensive game, however, with no clean sheets being recorded in four games and more fitness concerns emerging over Vincent Kompany, who City need fit given the continued absence of John Stones.
Guardiola will naturally hope that his side can register a 14th consecutive victory in the top flight, but more importance will be placed on ensuring that they maintain their unbeaten record in the league, which would coincide with City overcoming another step in their quest to becoming the new invincibles of English football.
Recent form: WWWWWL
Recent form (all competitions): WWWWWL
Mourinho has revealed that Zlatan Ibrahimovic will feature in his squad after missing Tuesday’s game with CSKA Moscow to work on strengthening his knee in the gym.
Phil Jones and Nemanja Matic have also been declared fit, while Marouane Fellaini will undergo a late fitness test ahead of the game.
However, Eric Bailly and Michael Carrick remain on the sidelines, with Paul Pogba serving the first of his three-match ban for his sending off against Arsenal.
Guardiola has confirmed that David Silva is fit to start after recovering from a minor knock, but Kompany is doubtful after complaining of an unknown injury.
Fabian Delph will also face a fitness test after suffering with a sickness bug in recent days, with Danilo on standby to deputise for the Englishman.
Aguero is expected to be recalled in place of Jesus, despite having failed to score from open play since November 1.
Manchester United possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Lindelof, Smalling, Rojo; Valencia, Matic, Herrera, Young; Lingard, Rashford, Lukaku
Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Danilo, Otamendi, Mangala; Walker, Fernandinho, D.Silva, De Bruyne, Sane; Sterling; Aguero
Head To Head
Sunday’s encounter will represent the 175th time in which these two teams have faced each other in a competitive contest, with United prevailing on 72 occasions in comparison to 50 wins for City.
Between 2012 and 2014, City enjoyed a period of dominance over United, but United have had the better of recent meetings, with three wins and two draws coming from half-a-dozen games.
However, the one defeat came in last season’s corresponding fixture, with goals from De Bruyne and Kelechi Iheanacho earning City a 2-1 win in September.