Match Preview: Manchester United v. Manchester City
The eyes of the World will be on this one. Rarely does a match have so many significant sub-plot lines. Not only is this the first Manchester derby of the season, it’s Pep v. Jose, its Zlatan v. Pep and its the two favourites for the title going head to head. On paper, this game has it all.
Let’s start with the home side. United maintained their 100% record this season with a very late win at Hull City last time out. Marcus Rashford continued his sensational 2016 by slotting home with minutes to go on the clock to save Mourinho’s men. Yes, United weren’t convincing, but it was the sort of result that Alex Fergusson was famous for. Compared to the dismal football and performances of United under LVG last season, this year, everyone in Old Trafford has reason to be buzzing. The most successful transfer window in recent history saw the acquisition of Zlatan, Bailly, Mkhitaryan and of course, #Pogback. The appointment of Jose Mourinho appears to be working, as the man who should’ve got the job in 2013 finally takes his seat in the Old Trafford dugout. Of course, its difficult to predict the success of United this season, given that many of the same players finished 5th last year, and were at times horrendous. Yet, it seems that the new guys have lifted the spirits of everyone in the squad.
To beat City, however, will take a great performance. Yet, it’s worth remembering that Mourinho is often a specialist at getting results in the big games. At Chelsea, he rarely ever lost the big games, even last season he managed to beat Arsenal. In his first season during his second stint at Chelsea, he managed to beat City at the Etihad in what Martin Tyler described as a ‘Monday Night Mourinho Masterclass’ and it was also his Blues who spoiled the Liverpool party with their 2–0 win late in the title race. Mainly due to his meticulous planning and dedication, Jose is able to out tactic his opposition, deploying his players to prevent defeat. However, this game offers a slightly different proposition. United fans wont expect to not lose this game against their rivals… they’ll expect to win.
City, like United, are flying under their new manager. Since Pep’s arrival, the Sky Blue’s have won every one of their competitive games, many in sensational style. The arrival of Pep has brought a new tactical style to the club and also appears to have rejuvenated all the players. Raheem Sterling, as often argued on this blog, has been sensational in every City outing, adding not only assists to his game, but crucial goals. David Silva has also been superb, returning to his best form and proving to be incredibly difficult for the opposition to deal with. Whilst Sergio Aguero has been scoring goals for fun, his suspension for the derby is likely to be crucial as City will go into the game without their talsiman. It’ll be a cause of great frustration for Pep that the Argentinian forward retaliated to the challenge of Winston Reid in last weekends game, as it was seemingly needless. Without Aguero, City’s armoury is far weaker.
It sounds cliche to argue that a game of this magnitude is won and lost in the midfield, but I think its true. In fact, I think the deployment of United’s wingers will decide this contest. If you analyse Pep’s tactics, he utilises his wingbacks as false central midfielders in order to free up space for both the attacking midfielders and also to create one on ones for both his wingers. If Jose’s men, Mata and Martial, are dragged into the midfield, than this will allow Sterling and Nolito to drive at Shaw and Valencia, which will spell danger for United. If, however, Rooney can act as the first line of defence and occupy Kolorov and Sagna, than the City threat might be nullified. Further, United have got to show attacking intent. Pep’s tactics are mastered so to ensure that counter attacks are off little threat, as his team dominate the ball in the advanced stages of the opposition half. If United, however, don’t sit deep but instead leave their forwards up the pitch, then this might offer a decent counter tactic as Pep’s men will have to stick with them. It’ll be very interesting to see how Mourinho sets up Paul Pogba for this game, and whether or not he will be allowed the creative freedom to exploit the City midfield. Deshamps was heavily criticised for his decision to play Pogba deep during the Euro’s final, and he had very little effect on the game. One would expect that Jose would’ve learnt from this.
It’s impossible to call this one and thats why it is so exciting. Expect both teams to go for it and try get that win. Psychologically, this game is massive and could be an early indicator of where the title is heading.
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