Manchester United v Manchester City
Sunday, March 8th, Old Trafford, kick off 4:30pm
Having met each other three times already this season Sunday's hosts, though they trail their local rivals by 15 points, have had the upper hand results wise as with two wins to one. Following a surprise home defeat in the league City's lone success came at Old Trafford. A quick start resulted in a 3-1 Carabao Cup semi-final first leg win and set them up for an eventual 3-2 aggregate victory. Oddly the away side has had the upper hand on each occasion but this has been the norm with these two in recent seasons.
Following a run of three games which saw United pick up just one league point; Liverpool (A) 0-2, Burnley (H) 0-2, Wolves (H) 0-0; the pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer intensified. However since his debut on February 1st against Wolves Portuguese midfielder Bruno Fernandes has brought with him an upturn in creativity, leading to an improvement in results with seven points taken from the last three games; Chelsea (A) 2-0, Watford (H) 3-0, Everton (A) 1-1, though they have been fortunate on occasions. Added to Thursday's FA Cup success at Derby County there has been continued progress in the Europa League and they are now unbeaten in nine. The dark clouds have been lifted, if only for the time being, from Old Trafford and with 10 league games to play they currently lie in fifth place. The prospect of Champions league qualification is no longer an unlikely scenario.
The defence of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, (both slight injury doubts), Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw is working well. In midfield the much criticised Fred, alongside the under rated Scott McTominay, is showing signs of why he was once valued so highly. Upfront, without the injured Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood is currently preferred to Odion Ighalo alongside Anthony Martial. It is the threat of their combined pace and directness which could bother their opponents this weekend. When they set up as the away side and play counter attacking football, as opposed to feeling obliged to take the game to their opponents, they are more successful at exploiting their opponent's weaknesses. Their record against fellow sides in the top 7 is good, with Liverpool the only team to have beaten them; W5, D3, L1. Their weaknesses though are magnified when they face the so called lesser teams who are not afraid to sit deep and frustrate. Ighalo, with three goals in his last two starts, is being held back in the Premier league and is likely to start on the bench.
Last season as City headed for the title their goal scoring prowess diminished. Since their 6-1 victory at Villa Park on 13th January they have scored six goals (with three clean sheets) in their last five Premier league games, which has brought them W3, D1, L1. The temporary return of Aymeric Laporte tightened the defence but he is now back on the sidelines with John Stones or Nicolas Otamendi partnering Fernandinho in the the middle if the back four. Last Sunday's Carabao Cup final saw a familiar scenario as they outclassed Aston Villa for long periods of the game but failed to kill them off. For all their territorial domination, their sloppy finishing left them relying on a late Claudio Bravo save to prevent the match being extended into extra time.
Kevin de Bruyne, such an important cog in the City machine, picked up a knock at Wembley and is doubtful. With Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva currently going through some indifferent form Riyad Mahrez could be given the opportunity from the start. In recent weeks Pep Guardiola has mixed things up attacking wise; opting on occasions for a double attacking spearhead, starting Gabriel Jesus together with Sergio Aguero. Alternatively they could also go without any recognised strikers as happened in the earlier 3-1 Carabao Cup semi final success as well as the recent 2-1 away win in Madrid.
The meeting between these two may have no effect on who wins the 2019/20 Premier league title but it will be fought out as if it was a title decider. The last time United did a league double over their neighbours was in 2010 and the wait may go on for another year, leading to the possibility of neither Manchester side (for different reasons) being involved in next season's Champions league.
Suggested bet : Manchester City win to nil
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