Manchester Derby Preview

English Premier League | Sunday 20 March | Etihad Stadium | 18:00

Another Manchester Derby is upon us with the Sky Blues battling it out against the Red Devils. This fixture has provided us with some mouth-watering match-ups in the past with both sides proving that recent form means nothing coming into a game of this magnitude. Manchester United have dominated the Premier League for many years under Sir Alex Ferguson – but it was Manchester City who inflicted Fergie’s biggest home defeat when the Citizens ran riot in 2011, winning 6-1 at Old Trafford. A new era is upon us which is likened to end very quickly – the “LVG” era. Louis van Gaal has received massive criticism at United recently and has even been called to step down as manager by most fans. Could it be Man United’s turn to inflict City’s heaviest home defeat? Would that be enough for van Gaal to win the fans over? Or could Manuel Pellegrini finish his last Manchester Derby off in style?

To Win (90mins)
Manchester City 15/20
Draw 26/10
Manchester United 36/10

Manchester City

With the Premier League title slowly slipping out of the hands of Manchester City, it’s now or never for the Citizens to grab maximum points to catch up leaders Leicester – and what a time to do it against their city rivals. However, Man City’s league form has been poor of late and certainly not up to the level of their full potential, earning four points from a possible 15 in their last five matches. This could be the first time in five years that City finish outside of the top two come the end of the season. 

The Citizens are now 12 points adrift of Leicester with a game in hand. To make matters worse, Man City haven't won back-to-back Premier League games since October 2015 (6-1 vs. Newcastle and 5-1 vs. Bournemouth). A positive for City, though, is that they will welcome the return of Yaya Toure in midfield. The four-time African Footballer of the Year missed his side’s trip to Carrow Road to take on Norwich last weekend, which saw the match result end in a goalless scoreline. Despite being criticised for his low work-rate at times as he got older, Toure proved what a difference City’s midfield is without him last weekend. Along with the skill and trickery of David Silva in the middle of the park, the duo can be frightening against the best of defences on their day. Silva is leading the club in terms of assists, providing 10 so far for his teammates. Combine that with Sergio Aguero’s 16 goals so far in the league and you’ve got one of the best combinations in Europe. City could be even more deadly after the international break with Kevin De Bruyne expected to return to full fitness. 

This will be Pellegrini’s last Manchester Derby after confirming that Pep Guardiola will take charge of the Sky Blues from the beginning of next season. What a send-off it would be for Pellegrini’s side if they were to grab all three points against their bitter rivals. 

Manchester United

Manchester United will look to turn their disappointing season around when they travel just a few kilometres away to take on Man City. Things are looking bad for van Gaal and his men with the great Sir Alex Ferguson even predicting them to miss out on a top four spot this season – with West Ham to pip them – not even Manchester City. United have been far from their usual self recently, failing to win in their last three matches in all competitions. Prior to that, the Red Devils won four games on the spin. 

Despite the inconsistency levels of this United team, van Gaal continues to have faith in youth players such as Marcus Rashford up front and Guillermo Varela at right back. It may have worked for players like Jesse Lingard and to some extent Cameron Borthwick-Jackson. But surely van Gaal has to turn to experience for a game of this class. It may have been a forced action, though, that LVG has no choice but to turn to his youngsters. Much of van Gaal’s misery this season has come through key players being injured at the worst possible times. As soon as Wayne Rooney showed signs of returning to form, he too was then struck by the injury curse hovering over the Manchester club. 

Bastian Schweinsteiger returned to action last weekend in a 1-1 FA Cup draw at home to West Ham. The German powerhouse, nicknamed “the Berlin Wall” in his country, will be key for the Reds in midfield, bossing the game from the centre with his well-timed tackles and his ability to push the team forward. Arguably United’s best player this season has been David de Gea. The Spanish shot-stopper has saved the Red Devils many points this season – single handedly at times – no pun intended. De Gea has made key one-on-one saves this season and some would even take it as far as saying that he has saved van Gaal’s Manchester United career. The Red Devils will need to be at their very best if they are to take maximum points off City.

Probable line-ups:

Manchester City: 4-2-3-1
Hart; Sagna, Mangala, Demichelis, Clichy; Fernandinho, Toure; Navas, Silva, Sterling; Aguero.

Manchester United: 4-2-3-1
De Gea; Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Rojo; Schweinsteiger, Herrera; Lingard, Mata, Martial; Rashford. 

Betting Verdict: Manchester United Double Chance (1/1)
Despite the fact that this is Pellegrini’s last Manchester Derby as Man City boss, I’m predicting van Gaal’s young guns to come out firing. City may have won this fixture 1-0 last season, but that was against a 10-man United side with Chris Smalling getting sent off in the first half. If the referee can keep it the way the game starts – 11 vs 11 – then I can see Man United getting something out of this match. Form means nothing coming into a Manchester Derby. With Schweinsteiger back for United, along with the speed and trickery of the youngsters around him in midfield, the Red Devils can hurt this aging City side when they in the mood. Be safe and back them on the Double Chance at even money.     

Written by Jesse Nagel