Not even the biggest derby of the day, coming after the Tyne-Wear relegation apocalypse in schedule and significance – which says a lot about both of these sides.
Final alarm call for Manchester City. It was assumed the campaign’s final months would bring consistency, concentration and a concerted title push, but an upturn in form has taken so long to materialise that City have no more second chances. If they don’t win here, they’re out of the title race.
Obviously this is all Pep Guardiola’s fault. The real turning point, though, came five days after news of his impending arrival, when City – unbeaten in seven – lost 3-1 at home to Leicester. The gap has doubled to 12 points since then.
Forked tongues are wagging ahead of this derby. Roy Keane’s opinion, as City face the club he represented for 12 years, is that “watching [their] games has been torture”. Rio Ferdinand’s opinion, as City face the club he represented for 12 years, is that “they’ve gone backwards – they’re further down than at any time since the money was injected”. On a totally unrelated note, in late 2008 City lined up with a full-strength XI that included Tal Ben Haim, Javier Garrido and Ched Evans.
Yet Manchester City are the only English team left in the Champions League. They’d probably be the only one left in Europe if Liverpool hadn’t qualified by default in drawing another English team.
Ah yes, Manchester United – home of the false dawn. February’s win over Arsenal should have heralded improvement, not a scrappy win over Watford, a crappy defeat at The Hawthorns and defeat to Liverpool either side of a fortuitous stalemate with West Ham.
The queue to bash Louis van Gaal runs around the block. He, like David Moyes, could be dismissed the moment United mathematically miss out on the top four. Good thing a win here would bring them to within a point of that target.
Facts and figures
- Man United have won just 1 of their last 8 Premier League away games (W1 D3 L4).
- Man City have won 4 and lost just 1 of the last 6 Premier League meetings with United.
- Sergio Aguero has scored 7 goals in 7 Premier League games against United. Only five players have scored more against the Red Devils in Premier League history (Ferdinand, Henry, Gerrard and Fowler with eight and Shearer with 10).
- Aguero needs 1 goal to equal the most goals scored by a player in Premier League Manchester derbies and go level with Wayne Rooney (8). If he scores in this game then Aguero would have managed that in 8 games, while Rooney took 16 derbies to do that.
- Aguero has scored 11 goals in his last 8 Premier League appearances at the Etihad Stadium.
- There were just 2 shots on target in this fixture back in October and 12 shots overall. The latter figure is the second lowest in any Premier League game this season.
- United failed to muster a single shot in the first half of a Premier League game for the first time since 2003/04 (including blocked) when these two sides met at Old Trafford earlier in the season.
- Manuel Pellegrini could become the first City manager to win 4 Premier League Manchester derbies this weekend. The last City manager to win 4 Manchester derbies in the league was Joe Mercer in 1970 (won 5 in total).
- United haven’t lost 3 successive league games away at City since 1955 (lost 4 in a row then).
- Marcus Rashford has been involved in 3 of United’s last 4 league goals (2 goals, 1 assist).
The groaning Manchester United ward includes Wayne Rooney (knee), Ashley Young (groin), Phil Jones (foot), Luke Shaw (obviously) and Donald Love (fictitious).
City are without Kevin De Bruyne, Fabian Delph and Samir Nasri, plus Nicolas Otamendi’s a doubt with a dead leg. Most importantly, Vincent Kompany’s persistent calf injury is back. The City defence’s capitulation in their captain’s absence is arguably rooted more in psychology than ability, but that’s why the problem perpetuates; why they concede a goal, on average, twice as often when he’s out.
Still, Kompany’s taken it on the chin, saying: “My whole life at the moment is forgetting what has gone before.” Bleak.
Key battle: Martin Demichelis vs Marcus Rashford
It’s possible Eliaquim Mangala will play (especially if Otamendi joins Kompany on the sidelines), which could be nervewracking given the midweek Dynamo Kiev game was his first appearance since January 6. Martin Demichelis’s place in the team looks guaranteed.
Demichelis’s last league game was the aforementioned defeat that threw City’s title challenge under the bus. The 35-year-old lost the famously sneaky Robert Huth for Leicester’s first goal, was humiliated by Riyad Mahrez for their second and lost Huth again for the third (he’s practically a ninja).
Meanwhile, 18-year-old Marcus Rashford somehow hasn’t lived up to the double double that brought four goals in his first two senior appearances, scoring none in the five games since. However, he hasn’t been helped by circumstances – or his team-mates – and the way in which he evaded Arsenal defenders to find space for his brace augurs well for his match-up with Demichelis.
What won’t happen
Both sides convince in a competitive display of high-quality football that leaves the giants of Europe quaking in their Diadoras.
What will happen
Manchester City concede but win to keep their title hopes alive while Van Gaal contemplates retiring to the country (or managing one). 3-1.
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