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Manchester City v Manchester United
Sunday, November 11th, Etihad Stadium, kick off 4.30pm

by John Spillane

A few short weeks ago Jose Mourinho was reportedly on the verge of being sacked from his job as Manchester United’s manager. Since then three come from behind victories over Newcastle United (H) 3-2, Bournemouth (A) 2-1 and Juventus (A) 2-1, and almost a fourth at Chelsea (before a late Ross Barkley equaliser) have steadied the ship and alleviated the crisis, for now. On Sunday he takes his seventh placed side across town to the home of the local rivals and current Premier League leaders hoping to repeat April’s surprise 3-2 result, where they trailed 0-2 at half time.

Where previously this encounter would have had a major bearing on the destination of that season’s honours the gap between the two rivals has grown. City are currently on a run of 15 wins and four draws in their last 19 domestic matches, with a record of 23 goals scored and only one conceded in their last six games. The injuries sustained by Kevin be Bruyne, instead of weakening them, has given an opportunity for others to come to the fore. Riyad Mahrez especially, despite his penalty miss at Anfield, has shown that he is comfortable dealing with the pressure of playing for a high profile team.

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At the back John Stones and Aymeric Laporte have become the first choice pairing, and aided by their high possession stats, in addition to being top scorers (33) they now are also the team who have conceded the fewest goals (4). Fernandinho, whose importance is often overlooked among the higher profile members of the squad, protects the backs four but is also adept at dissecting opposition defences. His ability to keep feeding City’s wide men whenever the opportunity arises will force Ashley Young and Luke Shaw to be alert on full alert at all times, in their attempt to curtail the impact of Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Mahrez. Scoring six against Southampton and Shaktar is one thing but United in all likelihood, despite their problems, will be a tougher proposition.

United’s recent style of sitting off opponents and hoping to gain success on the counter attack may have worked well in recent games but both Bournemouth and Juventus had plenty of opportunities to put the games away before they were overhauled. If they follow suit and allow City to camp in their half for extended periods they may not be so fortunate on this occasion. The partnerships of Chris Smalling with Victor Lindelof at the back and Nemanja Matic alongside Paul Pogba in midfield will need to be disciplined to deny their opponents space and time. Ander Herrera who impressed as a substitute at Bournemouth may have a role to play trying to nullify the threat of David Silva. Only five other sides have conceded more goals away from home than United (10) and they currently all lie in the bottom six places in the division.

Though it took the introduction of Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini to turn things around in Turin, the performance of Alexis Sanchez, in place of the injured Romelu Lukaku, added more fluidity to the play. A possible attacking combination of Sanchez, Anthony Martial (scorer in his last four Premier league games) and Marcus Rashford could spell danger if allowed the opportunity, but they are likely to have to rely on scraps. Southampton who went down 6-1 last week had a number of chances but weren’t clinical and paid the price.
In 21 previous meetings between the two coaches Pep Guardiola leads with nine victories to five.

Suggested bet : Manchester City and both teams to score (availabe at 7-4)

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