The major talking points ahead of the Manchester derby
Title favourites Manchester City face rivals Manchester United in a crucial derby on Wednesday that could have huge implications in the Premier League.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at some talking points ahead of the game at Old Trafford.
The game could be the defining fixture in the title race. The recent scheduling has meant City and Liverpool have been swapping places at the top for weeks but Pep Guardiola’s men – currently two points behind with this game in hand – have had the advantage of knowing their fate is in their own hands. They now have to capitalise and make sure they take the three points from this extra game.
Why is it so critical?
Nothing will be finalised on Wednesday night but it would appear to be the biggest hurdle left facing either side in the run-in. Ordinarily City would be expected to beat their final three opponents – Burnley, Leicester and Brighton – and likewise Liverpool should be confident against Huddersfield, Newcastle and Wolves. If City can claim the derby spoils they will become clear favourites, even with just a one-point lead.
Looking at recent form, City should win
While City have been powering on, winning their last 10 league games and competing for the quadruple until just last week, United have hit a rut. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have lost six of their last eight in all competitions, including Sunday’s embarrassing 4-0 thrashing at Everton. On the face of that, this should be an easy win for City but that does not take into account the unique pressures of a derby or history which shows this fixture can often throw up surprises. United also need the points in their battle for a top-four place. Add to that the tension City will undoubtedly be feeling and the determination of a group of United players to recover from a blow to their professional pride, and nothing can be taken for granted.
Aren’t United fans in two minds about this game?
This is the other interesting factor in play. There is little United fans would hate more at the moment than to see their fiercest rivals, Liverpool, win the title. They know beating City, or even just taking a point against them, would hand the Merseysiders the initiative. Helping City retain the crown would hardly be appetising either, though, and losing derby games is certainly not something they can usually stomach. It is a dilemma for United fans with no happy outcome. It could make for an odd atmosphere, although it is debatable whether such things seep into players’ minds.
How do City replace Kevin De Bruyne?
City have suffered a big blow with the loss of their key playmaker. Admittedly De Bruyne has already missed quite a lot of the season and City have coped well but his performances in recent games have been outstanding. His absence will put pressure on other players who have fought long campaigns. David Silva would be an obvious replacement having sat out at the weekend but he has been under par lately. It could mean another opportunity for Phil Foden but that would be asking a lot of a youngster who has only been used sparingly so far.