Will Manchester be blue or red come Sunday evening? That will be the burning question in the north-west, and indeed across the country this weekend. It is a city divided, not only in their colours but in their style of play and their managerial figureheads.
Manchester has indeed been blue quite a lot of late. The Citizens have won six of the last eight derbies and that dominance is not something their red cousins are used to. Last season it was a win apiece, but if it hadn’t have been for Chris Smalling’s incredible stupidity in receiving two bookings in the first half at the Etihad, United may well have been looking at a pair of successes.
This weekend’s Old Trafford showdown could potentially see the winners go top of the division. With teams in the Premier League reaching the 10 game mark, the league is starting to take shape and sitting top of the pile could have a massively psychological effect that will emanate far beyond the walls of Manchester.
In order to win this game certain players must perform in certain areas, here we take a look at where the Manchester derby will be won and lost this Sunday and why it will be Manchester City who take the spoils.
City’s Wingers v United’s Full-Backs
This is the big one for this clash. The full-back positions have become something of a nightmare for Louis van Gaal in the last month or so. Firstly, he lost Luke Shaw to that horrendous injury and that was teamed with a serious drop-off in for on the other flank from Matteo Darmian.
This has resulted in a shift in the back four. Marcos Rojo has come in at left-back and has looked, quite frankly, atrocious. The argentine does not look happy out on the flank and on Wednesday night he did his very best to single-handedly aid CSKA Moscow’s cause, such was the inadequacy of his display. Antonio Valencia looks a little more comfortable at right-back but his use of the ball leaves a lot to be desired and he is not a natural defender.
City have an incredible footballer in Kevin De Bruyne and there is no doubt that he will park himself on Rojo’s touchline and terrorise the defender. It’s five goals in seven starts for the Belgian and he should give Rojo nightmares. It may seem a bold statement, but Rojo’s presence in the side will cost the Red Devils dearly.
United’s Heartbeat v City’s Energy
We all know by now that Van Gaal’s men love to dominate the ball. They average 58.8% possession in the top-flight this term, no side can top that. However, their problem has been turning that possession into goals. Apart from their ruthless showing at Everton last time out, United seem to enjoy the foreplay a little too much.
City are a team who also love the football, they are the only side who comes close to their rivals in terms of possession, with an average of 57%. In Yaya Toure and Fernandinho they have players that will upset the rhythm in their opponents’ midfield and won’t give them time to settle on the ball and dominate possession.
The dynamic three of De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Jesus Navas will pester United’s two holding players into submission. City can stop United at source if they kill the two midfielders and that should be the case here. Expect to see Fellaini on after 60 minutes with the hosts losing the midfield battle.
Wilfried Bony V Phil Jones and Chris Smalling
Bony has been decent since replacing the stricken Aguero, bagging a brace against Bournemouth and playing a role in his side’s opener against Sevilla in midweek. In contrast, Phil Jones looked all at sea in Russia, struggling with the pace and power of the CSKA forward line. The ex-Blackburn man was turned on a regular basis and his shaky perofmance seemed to rub off a little on the so far excellent Smalling.
The two Englishman were superb against Romelu Lukaku last week, bullying him into submission but City will get the ball into Bony’s feet more than Everton did. The former Swansea striker has the capability to both roll his defender and pop it in behind for the explosive three in support. That could spell disaster for the regularly rash and eager Jones.
City’s energetic and, at times, direct build-up could cause Jones some real strife, thus pulling his partner out of position. If that happens at Old Trafford then it could be an embarrassing day for those in red.