The Manchester Derby: Tale of the Tape

Sep 9 2016 BY Byron Grant

There is no doubt that the introduction of managerial heavy weights Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho have escalated the hype in the lead up to the Manchester derby.

In reality, the significance of United vs City was fairly menial until about 2008, the year in which City were taken over by Abu Dhabi billionaires. Since then, what was generally a routine fixture for the Red Devils has proven to be anything but, with most clashes being settled by the odd goal or a moment of brilliance (think Owen’s 95 minute goal to secure a 4-3 United win and Rooney’s bicycle). Since the 2010/11 campaign, City lead United 7-5 in head-to-head victories, including City’s humiliating 6-1 win at Old Trafford.

However, United have won 2 of the last 3 meetings in the Premier League in fairly convincing fashion. Having found a new lease of life under Mourinho, and with the encouraging performances of new arrivals Ibrahimovic, Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Bailly, United will be looking to close the aggregate gap on their ‘noisy neighbours’ come Saturday afternoon.

City themselves have been fast out of the blocks this campaign. With 3 wins from 3 games, and with a goal to game ration of 3:1, City top the table and look to be a major force for the title this season. Under Guardiola they look reenergised, tactical astute, and more threatening going forward than ever before. With Stones looking solid at the back, Silva and De Bruyne working in tandem and Raheem Sterling looking more and more like the £50m forward City thought they’d signed, it is clear even at this early stage that City will almost certainly finish in the top 2 come May.

Focussing on the match itself, Manchester United go in to the fixture as slight favourites over the sky blues. Home advantage is sure to be in the favour of United, whose home fans always ramp up the noise when a big game is on. Added to the equation is the absence of City marksman Sergio Aguero. Given a retrospective ban by the FA for elbowing Winston Reid, Aguero will miss the next three fixtures, a huge blow in City’s efforts of overcoming their arch rivals.

Below we have looked at each section of the pitch, and reviewed where the match will be won and lost.

Goalkeepers

There’s not much to say about David De Gea that hasn’t been said already: the guy is a phenomenal goalkeeper. Arguably only second to Manuel Neuer, De Gea has established himself as one of the world’s best at keeping the ball out of the goal, and will always be the first name on the team sheet barring injury. The same stability cannot be found between City’s sticks. With Joe Hart exiled out on loan to Torino, Willy Caballero has been given a rare run in the side in recent times. However, with an inability to keep clean sheets in any of the three premier league games so far this season, and a tendency to kick balls directly in to the dugout, it is more likely that new signing Claudio Bravo will get the nod on Saturday.

Winner: United

Defence

United currently boast the best defence in the league, with only one goal conceded in the first three games. Luke Shaw’s return from injury feels like a new signing at left-full back, adding dependency to that flank when defending and providing a real forward threat when going the other way. New signing Eric Bailly looks like a ridiculously good signing in his early days at Old Trafford. Immensely strong, quick across the ground, reliable on the deck and powerful in the air, Bailly complements Daley Blind’s more subtle approach to defending perfectly. City also look good in defence without being awe-inspiring. Stones looks like he could really be on the road to becoming a world-class centre back under Guardiola, bringing the ball out from the back confidently and looking stronger when actually defending. Those around him look slightly less assured though, with Clichy/Kolorov and Sagna/Zabaleta being interchanged seemingly at will. Who will partner Stones long term is also a mystery, with captain Vincent Kompany’s fitness always the topic of discussion.

Winner: United

Midfield

United now possess the most expensive football player in history in Paul Pogba, who they ironically sold for a fraction of his now £89.3m price tag four years previously. Pogba looks to have (re)settled into United life well, playing 90 minutes in his first two games and providing the midfield drive and running power that United have missed for years. United fans’ scapegoat Fellaini has also upped his game upon Mourinho’s arrival, and looks as though he could cement himself as a Mourinho favourites. The midfield area is perhaps where lies City’s biggest strength. In Fernandinho they have a player who can read the game very well, snuffing out attacks and even contributing to them on occasion. Silva has been deployed in a slightly deeper role of late, allowing him to set moves off earlier and remain an influential player throughout the course of the game. Kevin De Bruyne is arguably the best player in the league and in him, City possess a true game changer. His delivery from set-pieces is extremely reliable and is bound to be an asset on Saturday. It will be interesting to see whether City’s guile and craft is able to outperform United’s force and power in the middle.

Winner: City

Forwards

This is arguably where the match will be won and lost. City will either play with no recognised no.9 against United or play with Kelechi Iheanacho as the main target man. Neither option is ideal for Guardiola who will be ruing the loss of Aguero. Iheanacho has performed well when given the opportunity of first team minutes, but whether he will be effective against such an in-form Manchester United defence is highly questionable. On the other hand, United have Zlatan Ibrahimovic… not much more needs to be said. Zlatan generally turns up for the big games and has already shown that he can handle the physicality of the premier league; he will surely fancy his chances against Stones. United generally have more options in their front 4 than City do, with Rooney, Mata, Memphis, Martial, Rashford and Lingard available. City’s options are rather limited in Sterling, Nolito and Navas, although they may experiment with untried youngster Sane for the element of surprise.

Winner: United