Manchester Derby Preview
Manchester United are heading into a derby with Man City in the most optimistic mood possible, following a streak of eight successive wins. Couple that with City’s indifferent form, compounded by a miserable 2-0 Carabao Cup defeat to Southampton in midweek, and Erik ten Hag may never get a better chance to paint the city red.
Yet the notion that United are actually favourites for the Saturday lunchtime cross-town clash is debunked by the bookmakers. City are still City; Pep Guardiola still boasts incredible talents, and Erling Haaland still has 21 goals in 16 Premier League games – an extraordinary return despite a quieter post World Cup period. For all those reasons, a City win at Old Trafford remains odds on at 10/11, with the draw 3/1 and United at 16/5.
Those United odds are an indication, however, of how far Ten Hag has taken this team. They’ve come a fair distance from the side that was demolished 6-3 at the Etihad in October. In truth that defeat should have been heavier and only two late Anthony Martial goals saved United from further embarrassment.
City have made sure Manchester remained blue after the past three derbies, in which they’ve struck 12 goals past United goalkeeper David de Gea.
This fixture last year had the most modest scoreline, just 2-0, although Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players looked bereft of ideas as City cruised to a straightforward win without ever releasing the handbrake. The manager didn’t last much longer, and the starting lineup is quite different now, too.
The additions of Casemiro and Christian Eriksen to the United midfield make them a better side on the ball, while Lisandro Martinez’s partnership with Raphael Varane at the back make them more solid off it. Meanwhile, Marcus Rashford is in irresistible form in attack – he’s scored in eight consecutive home games and has seven goals in his past six – and tends to show up in derbies.
For once, though, City may have more Mancunian players in their lineup than United, if young full-back Rico Lewis is selected along with Phil Foden by Guardiola. Lewis has capitalised on the poor form of Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo for City this season, but throwing the 18-year-old into the cauldron of an Old Trafford derby would be a serious gamble by the City coaching staff.
Guardiola will have to hope Haaland finds the form that saw him net a hat-trick on his derby debut in October and that Kevin de Bruyne returns to something approaching his best form. Both looked off the pace against Southampton. Foden also scored three in the derby earlier in the season, but whether the Stockport-born forward starts over the in-form Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez remains to be seen.
It should all come together to make the most intriguing derby since the Solskjaer years at Old Trafford. The Norwegian found regular success against City by priming his players for the counter-attack with a deep lying defence. Ten Hag’s instinct will be to match City, especially buoyed by a home crowd.
Will that be the Dutchman’s downfall on his first home derby day? Or can United finally take the bragging rights for the first time at Old Trafford since Covid? For fans of both teams, it will be a tense watch; neutrals can just sit back and enjoy.