This is the 169th time the Manchester teams are meeting since 1881. In recent times, the blue half have had the upper hand, winning three times in the last three games.
Manchester United welcome their city rivals to Old Trafford after losing in November 2014 at the Etihad stadium. This time things have greatly changed since last year. In terms of current form in the last five matches, United is the better team by winning all five, while City have lost three. Both teams are fighting for an automatic Champions League slot and this game is a chance for one team to get ahead of the other. Already Manchester City are nine points behind the league leaders – Chelsea, and hopes of retaining the EPL title have been shattered beyond repair.
A win will be good for both managers. Losing will mount more pressure on Pellegrini.
Manchester United seems to be the most optimistic of the two going by the public statements so far.
Louis van Gaal:
“Of course I dream of it [winning the derby], every player shall dream of it. When you win, the third place is now reachable, which months ago you all said was impossible. If we finish third, we are securely in the Champions League and one place better than our aims.”
”It’s a massive game. It’s the derby, so it will be intense for the players and the supporters. We want to play in the Champions League next season so we have to win in front of our supporters. We have to do everything to win.
Manchester City are without Wilfried Bony and Stefan Jovetic. Also, another big blow to the teams lineup is that Vincent Kompany may not make the XI given that he is returning from a hamstring injury but will undergo a late fitness test.
Manchester United will miss four players. Robin van Persie is still recovering from injury, Chris Smalling is out due to illness, Luke Shaw still nurses his hamstring injury and Jonny Evans is still suspended.
Louis van Gaal is expected to continue with the team’s current system, while Pellegrini is expected to stubbornly play his much criticised 4-4-2. Manchester United’s aim should be to dominate the midfield. Making Fellaini drop back to join the fantastic midfield duo of Carrick and Herrera will most likely shut out their rivals in that area.
It will be strange to see Pellegrini add a man to the midfield to neutralise this effect. This is what he should do given that he won’t be able to play two men in front due to unavailability, except he starts Edin Dzeko.
Identified key men are Aguero and Fellaini.
Aguero has a very good record against the Red Devils, having scored four in his last three matches. He would fair well playing alone upfront, and a second half sub in Edin Dzeko could kill off the game if they are anyway leading (Edin Dzeko has scored all of his four goals against United in Old Trafford). Aguero has not scored in his last six games.
This season has seen a huge turn around in the big Belgian’s performance. He has suddenly become untouchable following his superb showing in this year’s campaign. Fellaini will be crucial to balance the team especially in the midfield. His 85% passing accuracy, 60% aerial duel success will be needed in a game that features a forlorn Yaya Toure on the side of the pitch. He may or may not battle the Ivorien in the midfield, but will preferably do well in places beyond Toure’s influence. Many however will prefer an individual battle between the “giants”.
Other players that can influence the game are Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, David Silva and Yaya Toure.
The end of the season is at hand and both teams must win this game to achieve something meaningful this year. From the look of things United are the better team and City are struggling. Derbies are a spontaneous lot, and can go any way. The better team should win. A loss may preempt Pellegrini’s sack. A draw is a safe ending.