The unstoppable force meets the immovable object this weekend as Pep Guardiola’s table-toppers City travel to Old Trafford to face Jose Mourinho’s United in the most intriguing Manchester derby in years.
For the first time since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, it finally feels like it will once again be a battle between the two Manchester clubs to determine the destination of the Premier League title – a battle that the visitors will draw first blood in with a win on Sunday.
This is the contest that was envisaged when Pep and Jose moved to the same city 18 months ago – with the two heated rivals coming face-to-face in a match that could have huge implications for the title race, it has given rise to a number of very interesting early narratives.
How does Mourinho approach this game?
Before last Saturday, Mourinho had a certain blueprint for approaching big games – keep it tight and, if a chance was available, inch forward and look for a 1-0 win. It earned Man United a 0-0 draw at Anfield, and the plan was the same at Stamford Bridge. However, they attacked Arsenal from the off and it paid dividends handsomely. Saturday’s 3-1 win at Arsenal was remarkably open and while the manager will have been impressed by their endeavours going forward, the space they left at the back for the Gunners to create a whole host of chances will not have gone unnoticed. We could see Jose reverting to type, though that is a risky strategy in a must-win game.
Are Man City in bad form?
It might be curious logic to suggest that, having made the best start of any team in Premier League history, Man City could be in bad form, and their recent results point to a few hiccups creeping in.The 2-0 Champions League to Shakhtar Donetsk notwithstanding, Pep Guardiola’s side have needed late goals to bail them out and get them wins in each of their last three Premier League games – against Huddersfield, Southampton and West Ham. It could be argued that this is the mark of a champion but how long can that keep happening before time will run out for them to get that winner.
With Paul Pogba out, how do Man United approach the midifeld battle?
Given the form he’s been in recently, Paul Pogba will be a massive loss to Man United on Sunday. His ability to control the midfield and create chances has come on leaps and bounds in the past few months, and the side’s centre is poorer in his absence. How Mourinho replaces him will be telling in his approach. The midfield will be there to stifle, as Mourinho doesn’t have another midfielder at Pogba’s creative level, but to what extent will be made obvious by whichever of Ander Herrera or Marouane Falleaini gets the nod.
Is it time to unleash Zlatan Ibrahimovic?
With Romelu Lukaku in flying form at he beginning of the season, many wondered if there was even a need to extend Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Old Trafford contract for another year. However, the Belgian’s form has dipped dramatically since then, scoring just two goals in his last 13 games and generally looking out of sorts. Given his poor form, questionable big game record and likelihood of a more direct style for Man United, would it make more sense to start Ibrahimovic in game that could suit his strengths more.
How would a Man City win affect the title race?
As it stands, Man City are eight points clear in the Premier League table – a sizeable (but not insurmountable) lead at the top. Should they win on Sunday, that gap extends to eleven. Psychologically, that could be huge and with the games coming thick and fast over the next few weeks, Man United would be under serious pressure to win every game. Conversely, if Man United win then the gap is narrowed to five points – and with the pressure lessened over that same period, the onus would then fall on City to fend their rivals off.
In this week’s episode of the Mixer Irish Football Podcast, We chat to former Limerick and Cork City striker John O’Flynn about his search for a new club, we discuss Robbie Brady’s injury and recap the latest LOI transfer news.