In a clash of two teams recently bounced from the Champions League, this Manchester Derby is shaping up to be another classic. The implications for this iteration run deeper than simply which color Manchester will be for the remainder of the year, as the Citizens need a win to continue to challenge Liverpool’s ascendency to the Premier League throne. Corner Kick has you covered for an in-depth breakdown and prediction for the matchup of these two teams.
Attackers and Midfielders
Sergio Aguero has been white-hot in front of goal the past few weeks, even more so than his bleached hair. The Argentinian has hit five goals in his last seven, giving Pep Guardiola a reason to keep youthful star Gabriel Jesus on the bench. His 19 goals in the league this year lead the Blues. With Kevin De Bruyne expected to miss the match because of injury, Man City will rely heavily on Aguero as a main goal-scoring threat.
You can’t talk about the City forwards, however, without mentioning superstar winger Raheem Sterling. The pint-sized powerhouse has been an absolute headache for wing backs in both the Champions League and the Prem. The world saw his potential last Wednesday when he tore apart the Spurs defense for two decisive goals and nearly worked a miracle with a third that was ruled offsides.
Bernardo Silva has had a breakout year for the Blues, and I can see him having a critical role in deciding this tie. Curling in six goals so far this year, the shifty Portuguese winger loves cutting in on his favored left,. He is also the definition of unselfish with his eight assists, and I would count on him to be curling balls in front of the Red Devil goal all day. Whether he plays from midfield or on the wing, though, could be crucial to determining what form his attacking prowess takes.
The United offense has at times looked top tier but consistency has been an issue for the Reds. Paul Pogba is the definition of “can’t live with him, can’t live without him” for the Devils. The talented French midfielder has been bossing the Premier League since the appointment of Ole Solskjaer, with 13 goals and 9 assists to his name. However, I honestly forgot about the superstar when watching the tie with Barcelona, and he was dreadful in United’s capitulation to a mediocre Everton side at the weekend.
Similarly, Anthony Martial has been playing with the heartstrings of the United fan base. He has been world-class at points this season, firing in 10 goals and saving the day on several occasions. Yet, the Frenchman has a serious tendency to vanish in games, as evidenced by the most recent tie with Everton.
Last but certainly not least is the hulking Belgian Romelu Lukaku. Will he boss the attack, or will he move like a MAERSK freighter and be a black hole for the United midfield into which infinite through balls simply vanish? I can see him having a big game for the Devils, but it is always a toss-up. Ander Herrera will also be available for the first time in a while for the Man U midfield, giving the United attack more creativity if he is featured.
While people were quick to label that Spurs match in the Champions League as an instant classic, defensive purists were probably having aneurysms. I will concede that City had to play attacking football to try and get the goals to win on aggregate, but their defense had more holes than Swiss cheese. However, the Citizens’ 1–0 shutout of Spurs on Saturday was a fine redemption. Kyle Walker has been a rock for the Citizens on the right, contributing dangerous crosses into the box and eliminating dangerous wingers with his immense speed. He will have his hands full with the likes of Martial or Marcus Rashford, but the Englishman looks up to the task.
Pep Guardiola has started a handful of center backs, but I have to believe that veteran captain Vincent Kompany will be his top choice in this fixture. The experience that the Belgian brings will be crucial to a game like this. Ederson has seen little competition for his place in the City net this season and for good reason. The Brazilian trails only his countryman Alisson for the most clean sheets this year, with 17 shutouts.
The United defense has been notoriously spotty this year. The club as a whole have managed a disappointing seven clean sheets on the season, with all seven going to typically first-class keeper David De Gea. I have to wonder whether or not he’ll be still be haunted by visions of Leo Messi throughout this Derby, though. Look for the Spaniard to return to form in this game, despite heavily underwhelming in the recent weeks.
De Gea will need help from center backs like Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, who were run ragged against both Barcelona and Everton. Smalling has still been decent this season to anchor the United defense, as his 23 blocks place him squarely in the top 20 for that statistic in the Premier League. I’d imagine Solskjaer will be asking Nemanja Matic or Herrera to sit back in front of the back four, and give the backline some relief. Matic ranks 20th out of all players in passes completed this season and can bring some poise to the United side.
With transfer rumors from big clubs swirling around his head like the sweet smell of Grandma’s rhubarb pie, Leroy Sane will need to show for Manchester City or else find a new home. The German youngster is the definition of a spark plug, but his diva tendencies have many fans calling for Pep to hold off on inserting him into games. This is his final chance before the end of the season to demonstrate his class on the main stage. I’ll be looking for Sane to pounce on this chance and turn the tide of the game for the Blues, but we could also see him pouting on the bench the whole time.
I’ve got two names that always jump out to me on the United subsheet: Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata. Mata has had a knack for being the ideal impact substitute with his free-kick ability and wizardry through the middle. The Spaniard might be getting up there in age, but a chance to foil the title aspirations of United’s sworn rival will certainly be enough motivation for him to change the tide of this match. Lingard is a highlight machine when he’s in form. I have never seen him come alive against City though, so I’ll be hoping for a screamer or two from him to turn the game on its head.
Manchester City wins 2–1