The FourFourTwo Preview: Man United vs Man City
Premier League champions in each of the last four seasons meet in a battle for silver, bronze or... fourth.
MAN UNITED FORM
- Man Utd 3-1 Villa (Prem)
- Liverpool 1-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 3-0 Spurs (Prem)
- Man Utd 1-2 Arsenal (FAC)
- Newcastle 0-1 Man Utd (Prem)
MAN CITY FORM
- Palace 2-1 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 3-0 WBA (Prem)
- Barcelona 1-0 Man City (CL)
- Burnley 1-0 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 2-0 Leicester (Prem)
‘Outrage!’ screamed the back page of The Sun in the aftermath of Manchester City’s 2-1 defeat at Crystal Palace on Bank Holiday Monday, the champions’ seventh defeat in 13 games. ‘Furious City owners set to give three the axe.’
Other newspapers were no less harsh in their assessment of City’s recent slump, from being what seemed like Chelsea’s only likely contenders for the title to fourth in the table and battling to secure automatic Champions League qualification.
If you’re to believe what was written after the loss at Selhurst Park, then City’s owners are preparing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The players aren’t good enough, the manager is rubbish, the chief executive and director of football are useless and the grub served up in the canteen is awful too, probably.
That City are the latest team aboard the crisis club Catherine wheel is no surprise, really. Their form has been abysmal: five defeats in their last seven games and seven in their last 13 - particularly poor when you consider that losses to the likes of Barcelona, Arsenal and Liverpool have been interspersed with reversals against teams like Burnley, Palace and Middlesbrough.
Such a run has seen Manuel Pellegrini’s side fall a point below United, and Sunday’s clash is a chance for both to steal not only bragging rights but a march in the race to finish above one another.
In contrast to their noisy neighbours, Manchester United are looking as fluid and well-constructed as they have at any point in the Louis van Gaal era; three straight wins and just two defeats in their last 14 games propelling the red half of town to third in the table, only a point behind second-placed Arsenal.
While City appear to have aged before our very eyes - putting in a string of tired performances epitomised by the 2-1 loss at Anfield where Liverpool had played in the Europa League just days earlier and were expected to be the ones looking jaded - United are playing with organisation, enterprise and confidence.
Wins against Spurs, Liverpool and Aston Villa suggest that the penny has finally dropped; the players acclimatising to Van Gaal’s much-vaunted philosophy and the manager settling on a first choice setup.
United have lost their last four straight games against City, though, beaten 7-1 over the two meetings last season after twice being humiliated under David Moyes on derby day. “If anything, it’s a good moment to go into a derby,” Vincent Kompany claimed after the Palace game. We’re about to find out if he’s right.
Wilfried Bony is carrying a slight knock for the visitors, but that aside City have a fully-fit squad to choose from for the short trip across town. Robin van Persie is back in training for the Red Devils, tweeting that he’s ‘fit and able’ for selection - a cyber nudge for the attention of his manager if ever there was one. Jonny Evans is still suspended for spitting, while Chris Smalling is struggling with illness.
Key battle: Juan Mata vs David Silva
The silky Spaniards are likely to be in direct competition on Sunday. Van Gaal’s formational tweaking has seen him use Mata on the right hand side of midfield in recent fixtures, while Silva has played City’s last eight league games from a position on the left. Both players love to cut inside, so this battle will be as much about the resultant space they may leave down their respective flanks, how exposed they leave their full-backs (Antonio Valencia and Gael Clichy or Aleksandar Kolarov), and how much defensive work they put in as much as how much magic they conjure when on the ball.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- City 1-0 United (PL, Nov 14)
- United 0-3 City (PL, Mar 14)
- City 4-1 United (PL, Sep 13)
- United 1-2 City (PL, Apr 13)
- City 2-3 United (PL, Dec 12)
The pressure has eased on Louis of late. The laughter at his long balls has ceased, for however long, and with his team in fine form he’s looking relatively relaxed.
Furthermore, the Dutchman’s record in the bigger games is good - he’s taken 17 points from games against the top seven this season.
There won’t be any Moyesian patter about ‘aspiring to be like City’ before this one, that’s for sure.
Pellegrini can be forgiven for feeling the strain. City have lost their last three away games, and after crashing out of the Champions League, FA Cup and title race in such a short space of time the Chilean has now been cut to bookies’ favourite to be the next Premier League manager to vacate his post. Such is the power of the derby, though, that a win against the old enemy would make everything rosy in the garden again.
Facts and figures
- Man United have lost their last 4 league games against Man City; they’ve never lost 5 in a row.
- Sergio Aguero has scored 4 goals in his last 3 Premier League matches against Man United.
- No Man City manager has lost 4 successive Premier League away games since Stuart Pearce in September 2006.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
City will be up for this one, but it’s about time United put in a performance in the derby. 3-2 to the Reds.