17:30 BST, Saturday 7th April, Etihad Stadium (Manchester, England) Sky Sports
Replacing the disappointment of their first-half horror show at Anfield last Wednesday, City now return to Premier League action with desires to clinch a third league title in seven years. A run of five straight wins and 14 consecutive home victories in the league has put them on the precipice of clinching this achievement, however, they haven’t beaten United at home since 2014.
José Mourinho was brought to Old Trafford as the supposed answer to Pep Guardiola’s appointment just a few miles away. A single win from four meetings (L2, D1) has left the United manager with only a 20% success rate from their previous head-to-heads (W4, D6, L10) and kept the Red Devils tucked in the shadow of the rising blue moon. Still looking to recover from their own Champions League exit, Manchester United are looking to build bigger and better things and there would be no greater tonic than beating their rivals who have been hogging the spotlight this season.
Last Time Out
Liverpool 3-0 Manchester City (Champions League)
City suffered a huge setback in their European ambitions when they fell victim to a Liverpool side that have already haunted Guardiola in recent times. While City enjoyed the majority of possession from the opening 10 minutes, they could not break into the final third of the pitch as the home team kept them at arm’s length.
A rapid-fire three goals in less than 20 minutes then tipped the game swiftly away from City’s grasp as Liverpool ruthlessly punished defensive errors by the Citizens. It could have been worse for Guardiola’s men if Virgil van Dijk had converted a good chance, however, they perhaps deservedly fell into the interval with a huge deficit.
Much of the blame was shifted onto the manager’s shoulders following his decision to rest Raheem Sterling against his former club in favour of fielding an extra midfielder in the shape of Ilkay Gündogan, but the truth of the matter was that Liverpool overawed then outperformed City who had no answer to the questions posed by a vibrant Liverpool side.
Manchester United 2-0 Swansea City (Premier League)
It was very much a game of two halves as United made swift work of a Swansea side who have struggled on their travels this season. United stormed into this match with two goals in the opening 20 minutes, playing the type of football reminiscent of the form they showed during the early parts of this season.
Romelu Lukaku claimed his 100th Premier League goal in the fifth minute before Alexis Sanchez turned provider to scorer with a 20th minute strike. The Chilean winger was lively throughout this game and had undoubtedly his best game in a United shirt to date.
While the first half was an example of attacking fluency, the second half proved to be a more attritional affair for the United fans. David de Gea was twice called into action to deny Tammy Abraham but the home side proved sturdy in defence as United wrapped up a comfortable home win.
Manchester City Lineup
Bernard Mendy (knee) inches closer to a return but will not feature this week, although, he is the only worry Guardiola has for Saturday’s Manchester derby. Sergio Agüero (knee) could make a return to the starting lineup but may be introduced from the bench to keep him fresh for Tuesday’s Champions League showdown against Liverpool.
Manchester United Lineup
Mourinho also has few injury problems to work around with only Sergio Romero and Daley Blind likely to miss out through respective knocks. The Reds have the advantage of having had a full week to rest and the Portuguese manager will no doubt have worked on a gameplan for this huge clash.
Key Battle: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) vs Nemanja Matic (Manchester United)
The Belgian maestro has been placed as the favourite to pick up this season’s player of the year award by many onlookers after a phenomenal campaign at the heart of City’s midfield. After making comments that he had no problem with the reception City received from Liverpool fans on the way into Anfield this week as long as nobody was hurt in proceedings, he will look to put the spotlight back onto footballing matters on Saturday. He could easily be the spark which sees his team lift the league title this weekend.
While Scott McTominay could play an important role in this game for the Red Devils, Matic is once again set to be the midfield enforcer for United. While not on the same scale as De Bruyne, Matic has played a vital role in the team this season. Applying equal amounts of passion and composure, he must be at his finest if he is to restrict City’s midfield control of this match but could once again prove why he’s so trusted by Mourinho.
City losing it
Manchester City lost possession 177 times on their way to defeat at Anfield last night. Not only was this more than any other game of this campaign, it was the second-highest figure during Pep Guardiola’s reign at the Etihad.
The highest..? that would be Liverpool’s Boxing day victory of 2016 at Anfield.
City’s susceptibility to the gegenpressing techniques of Jürgen Klopp have shown a way to expose a weakness in this seasons champions-elect. With Mourinho’s side trailing far behind Liverpool in terms of the average distance covered during a game, it’s unlikely they can provide the intensity of the Merseysiders in closing down City’s midfield.
What Mourinho’s men have going in their favour, however, is their use of fast counter-attacks. With the games transitions proving to be City’s undoing on Wednesday, two of Liverpool’s goals before the result of a quick attack following tackles, United will need to effectively deploy this to stand a chance of winning at the Etihad.
Good times or bad?
With the league title all but wrapped up for City, this derby game comes sandwiched between two games against Liverpool which are arguably both of higher importance. Guardiola spoke of prioritising the Champions League fixtures at the expense of this encounter, however, a derby match is still a derby match.
The heavy defeat at Anfield could prove to be either a blessing or a curse for the Reds going into this match. City will be downbeat following the potential end of the road in their European ambitions this year. With extra fixtures to play compared to United, City will also harbour thoughts in the back of their minds as to how they can overcome a 3-0 deficit next Tuesday.
However, they will also be eager to bounce back and to do so by clinching the league title in front of their own fans and against their cross-city rivals will surely provide them with huge motivation.
Prediction: Manchester City 2-2 Manchester United
Mourinho is unlikely to swerve from his usual tactics in light of City’s capitulation on Wednesday but United could look to provide a similar early blitz which they recently launched against Liverpool, a blitz which undid City at Anfield. Much of the result in this game will hinge on how City’s players react from their defeat and while there should be goals in this game, there may not be a winner in the race for bragging rights.