Wilfried Bony’s move to Manchester City is becoming an increasingly frustrating affair: the foot injury that kept him out of City’s defeat at Crystal Palace on Monday means he will miss Sunday’s derby as well. Pablo Zabaleta, who was left out at Selhurst Park, could return of Manuel Pellegrini decides he is sufficiently recovered from the fatigue of two international games on the other side of the Atlantic and his wife giving birth.
United, meanwhile, will have Robin van Persie back from a foot injury, while Chris Smalling is a doubt as he looks to recover from injury. Jonny Evans remains suspended.
Since beating Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup on January 4, City have won just four of 14 games in all competitions, a miserable run that has left them with nothing left to play for but Champions League qualification. United, meanwhile, seemed suddenly to click in the 3-0 win over Tottenham three games ago, the hope at Old Trafford being that that game will come to stand as Bayern Munich’s 4-1 win away to Juventus did as the moment at which the players suddenly grasped Louis van Gaal’s philosophy.
City won the derby 1-0 at the Etihad, but never really took full control of the game despite the dismissal of Smalling just before half-time.
When City beat United in November, they were playing a relatively defensive 4-2-3-1 with Stevan Jovetic behind Sergio Aguero, James Milner on the left and Fernando and Yaya Toure at the back of midfield. The tendency of late has been for a straight 4-4-2, even in the home game against Barcelona, but given the absence of Bony and Edin Dzeko’s run of poor form – just two goals in 22 largely undistinguished starts – it’s hard to believe Pellegrini would attempt something similar against United.
More likely would be for David Silva to play centrally behind Aguero, with Milner on one flank and either Samir Nasri or Jesus Navas – both out of sorts of late – on the other.
THE FELLAINI FACTOR
Surprising as it may have seemed at the beginning of the season, one of the great strengths of United currently has been the form of Marouane Fellaini, laying almost as a deep-lying target-man, surging from a position on the left of a midfield three to win knockdowns from Antonio Valencia’s long diagonals.
Few defences have found a way to cope – poor Emre Can took a real battering in United’s recent win at Liverpool – and City must find a way of dealing with him. Vincent Kompany, who as City’s right-sided centre-back is the natural opponent has had a poor season by his standards, and will need more cover from Toure, assuming he operates on the right of a deep-lying pair, than he has offered for much of this season.
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It’s very hard to pinpoint what has gone wrong at City this season because so many things have.
Monday’s defeat at Palace was a case in point: City dominated the game, had 74% of possession and 22 shots to Palace’s five. They hit the post and were denied a clear penalty. Palace’s first goal was possibly just offside. Yet while they probably felt they were a touch unfortunate, they were also culpably lacking in ruthlessness. There were three opportunities to make a challenge in the build-up to the first goal and none were taken; the second resulted from a free-kick awarded after Glenn Murray had been allowed to run away from Silva and Martin Demichelis before being needlessly chopped down by Fernandinho.
Navas, Silva and Dzeko were all poor. There seems to have been a collective loss of hunger, confidence and belief in Pellegrni. If City are that poor at Old Trafford they will be destroyed.
Given recent form, even if City are unlikely to be as enervated in the derby as they have been in recent weeks, it’s frankly incredible United are as long as 2.60 to win.
City have lost each of their last three away games in the league and won only one of the three before that. United have won five in a row and have lost only one of their last 15 at home in the league – and most of those games were before they started playing well. There’s almost a temptation to get greedy and add a handicap on the Asian line, but really there’s no need. 2.60 is astonishing value.
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