The Manchester derby rarely disappoints and this weekend’s should be no exception. Manchester City may be nine points and several places better off than Manchester United in the Premier League table, but the local rivalry and the frosty relationship between both dugouts acts as something of a leveller, even if the reigning champions are inevitably the favourites on paper.
United proved that only last season when they halted title celebrations by staging an incredible comeback at the Etihad Stadium, the venue for this Sunday’s clash as well. So, should we expect a City onslaught or another act of United defiance? This week’s expert, Manchester City-mad Chris McMullan, shares his thoughts and predictions ahead of the 4.30pm kickoff…
It’s been a near-perfect start to the season for City in the Premier League, and a pretty much a perfect buildup to the first game the fans look out for when the fixtures are announced in the summer. City’s last two outings have seen twelve goals scored and just one conceded, including a 6-0 demolition of Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday night.
But do you still see weaknesses in this team that need to be addressed?
“Defensively, City have looked shakier than normal over the last few Premier League games, and that could be an issue this weekend. But be careful with predictions like that: City are still the most solid defence in the league and this time last year every analysis of a team that would go on to break almost every record in the book centred around whether or not the defence would prove to be the downfall. It certainly wasn’t.”
One key issue on the minds of City fans is the decision to appoint Anthony Taylor to referee his first ever Manchester derby. While it’s tough to dispute Taylor’s overall ability as a referee – he’s one of the rising stars amongst top flight officials right now – there are concerns that he holds some form of allegiance to the Red Devils, having grown up in a supposed United supporter stronghold. It’s lead to some pretty strong allegations on social media and created question marks over what is proving to be a very controversial appointment.
How do you feel about the appointment?
“My general reaction to any refereeing controversy of this nature is “if we can’t trust a referee to be objective and fair then why do we employ him as a Premier League referee at all?” Given Anthony Taylor is a top flight referee we should surely give him the benefit of the doubt.
“That being said, I can understand the outrage even if it has boiled over into the ridiculous at times. His handling of City’s FA Cup exit last season at the hands of Wigan Athletic when he sent off Fabian Delph angered many. Before that, Taylor had been in charge of City’s home fixture against Chelsea the season previous, when his failure to send off David Luiz amongst other things riled Pep Guardiola’s players – and indeed the fans – by the end of the game.
“Put all that together with the fact that last season’s home derby was ultimately decided by Martin Atkinson’s decision to give nothing against Ashley Young for two penalty box lunges and you see why so many are up in arms.”
For Manchester United, meanwhile, the garden’s much rosier than it was a few months ago but every impressive result, not least because most of them have required late comebacks, feels more like paving over the cracks than a genuine turning point for a side that looked devoid of confidence and passion during the opening weeks of the season. At the back, there’s plenty of work still to do but Jose Mourinho certainly has options up front – Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez aren’t even guaranteed to start at the moment, such has been the form of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.
Which forward options do you think are capable of causing City the most damage?
“For sure it’s Martial and Rashford. The travails of Sanchez and Lukaku are well-documented while the two young guns (players Mourinho inherited when he arrived at Old Trafford) are the ones on form. And indeed, if City’s defence turns out to be shaky after all, these are the players who will expose it.”
Where exactly will this game be lost and won?
“Mourinho says he wants his players to go toe-to-toe with City, and if so it’ll be about who wins the midfield battle.
“I don’t believe the United manager will be that adventurous, however. Instead, I think they’ll sit deep and look to spring counters. With Martial and Rashford on the pitch, that could be dangerous.
“A special mention has to go to the never pretty but always effective Marouane Fellaini: if United are still in the game in the final five minutes, the big Belgian’s reputation alone appears to frighten defenders into mistakes.”
And finally, let’s hear your score prediction…
“1-1. Nothing would surprise me, but the big games have mostly disappointed after the World Cup, and I think this could be no different.”