Manchester United travel to the Etihad on Saturday evening looking to build on Wednesday’s impressive win over Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham. A double from the inform striker Marcus Rashford ended a run of three games without victory, and lifted the Red Devils up to sixth.
Pep Guardiola’s side bounced back from a disappointing draw against Newcastle with a resounding 4-1 win over Burnley, keeping them third in the table. Needing to keep up with the run away leaders Liverpool, the Citizens will be keen to get one over their city rivals, so how will the game shape up tactically?
Although United looked to play on the front foot and take the game to Spurs on Wednesday, which admittedly came as a surprise, it is expected to see a deeper, more reserved side on Saturday, as they try and keep the Champions at bay. Averaging 61.1% possession this season, it is no surprise to see Manchester City dominate so many games, and the balance of the midfield for Manchester United will be key if they are to get a result against Guardiola’s side. The devastating counter attacking ability of City was on show on Tuesday as Burnley chased the game, and United will be wary of this threat, further reinforcing a deep United backline.
Kevin De Bruyne is in imperious form, and stopping the Belgian will be key to any hope that Manchester United have of returning from the Etihad with any points. The midfielder has eight assists and five goals this season, and he impressed on Tuesday night once again, as he dictated the tempo excellently, and allowed City to open up Burnley at will, especially on the counter. City have racked up an xG of 43.82 this season, and often in the games where they have dropped points, such as Newcastle last weekend, it hasn’t been down to a lack of chances created.
Manchester United were able to welcome back Scott McTominay to the midfield against Tottenham, and the impact of the Scottish midfielder on the side was huge. Slotting in alongside Fred, the midfield felt much more balanced, and managed to keep an under-par Spurs side at bay for large periods of the game, offering much needed control. McTominay carried out his defensive duties well, and helped keep the in-form Dele Alli quiet for large periods, and who Solksjaer opts to try do the same to mark Kevin De Bruyne is particularly interesting, and potentially pivotal role within the match. Liverpool were able to keep De Bruyne quiet, although this was in part down to an odd tactical decision from Guardiola to play him further forward, and he should take up his preferred role, continuing his attacking form. The return of McTominay also allowed Solksjaer to bring in Jesse Lingard in a fluid attack, and the
Englishman’s contribution in the final third was a breath of fresh air in a side that has been struggling to create on a consistent basis, with Andreas Pereira and Juan Mata both struggling. He will be expected to contribute more defensively on Saturday due to the nature of the game, but with Fred and McTominay in behind, the midfield does feel more balanced.
Tuesday saw a return to form for Gabriel Jesus with a brilliant opener, and the striker’s movement in around the box very hard to defend against, playing off the last defender but also looking to drop deep, he becomes a nightmare to mark for defenders and midfielders, and with the array of creative talent at Guardiola’s disposal, how Solksjaer opts to set up his side to stop City awaits to be seen. Solksjaer will be keen for his side to keep their defensive shape throughout, but with the Brazilian’s movement, coupled with the fluidity of City’s attacking play with the likes of Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva drifting in from the wings, marking players and avoiding being dragged out of position is particularly problematic, espexially when playing at a high tempo like on Tuesday. Key to breaking down the United side will be a high tempo, and will bring out the best in striker Jesus.
Rodri’s return to the side was particularly important on Tuesday as he dictated the game brilliantly, and a similar approach is expected from the Spaniard on Saturday, as he possesses the important job of helping stop the United counter attacks. With United looking to break on City, and the full backs pushing on, it leaves Rodri with a large role to play, as well as dictate possession and tempo as aforementioned. Completing 94 passes on Tuesday, it highlights how important he is to City’s play and possession style of football, and his presence was sorely missed when drawing to Newcastle on Saturday.
The overlapping full backs, particularly down the left flank, have been key to providing width for Guardiola’s side, and Angelino impressed when called into action on Tuesday night. Without an assist this season, the full back has an xGa of 1.92 (0.53 per 90) and looks a much more defensively solid option than counterpart Benjamin Mendy. Kyle Walker has been employed as a central midfielder when in possession in the last two games due to their domination, allowing the right midfielder to drift to the touchline and create space. This is certainly an area where United have proved vulnerable in the past, with Spurs’ equaliser coming from a cross when Rashford had been overloaded 2v1, so expect to see a similar angle of attack down the left side. It is worth noting that with Ashley Young at right back, Guardiola may opt to target the veteran full back and use the dynamic Joao Cancelo to get beyond either Riyad Mahrez or Bernardo Silva. As a result, this opens up the angle of the crossing markets, but they haven’t been priced at time of writing.
However, the pace of the United attack on the counter does mean that City will be vulnerable to these breaks, and they have shown throughout this season particular struggles to stop goals coming from these attacks. Newcastle were able to capitalise in Jetro Willems’ opener, whilst sides such as Wolves have come to the Etihad and counter attacked effectively, all be it riding their luck in front of goal from the other end. With Dan James and Rashford able to stretch the full backs and utilise their pace, they should be able to make the most of this.
Anthony Taylor takes charge of the clash, and he has a reputation as one of the more card happy referees, with 105 yellow cards and four reds across 20 games this season. Factoring in that it is a derby, and the tactical pointers of which would see United trying to break up City attacks, particularly with their counter attacking threat, as well as City being vulnerable to the break and having a tendency to rack up tactical fouls, Over 1.5 cards for each side at 2.10 (Bet365) is the stand out option.
With Manchester City expected to dominate and particularly target the Manchester United flanks, the corners should add up for Guardiola’s side. They are averaging 8.93 a game, and as discussed previously, a packed central area will lead to attacks down the wings, as they look to get to the bylines in attack. A more conventional back four than in recent games is expected, and available at 1.90 (Bet365), City to have over 7.5 corners takes appeal.