The Theatre of Dreams will take centre stage this weekend as Manchester City take the short trip to face their cross-town rivals Manchester United in the pick of this weekend’s premiership games.
United have seemingly turned their season around for the better in recent weeks thanks largely to the impact of January signing Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon. They are unbeaten in their last eight, although their 1-1 draw with Everton last weekend had a fortuitous feel to it, in part due to a controversial VAR decision in their favour. They nevertheless followed that up with a clinical 3-0 win away at Derby in the FA Cup fifth-round tie on Thursday night.
They have faced City on three separate occasions this season and have won two of those, although in the League Cup semi-final, second-leg 1-0 at the Etihad, City would have won had they put away all the clear-cut chances they had in that game.
The Red Devils have generally performed well against the top 6 sides this season. They have only lost once – the 2-0 defeat at runaway league leaders Liverpool. They tend to turn it up against these top sides have been unbeaten in such fixtures at Old Trafford. On the contrary, they have performed dismally against bottom teams and it is their results against these teams in the bottom half that have prevented them from keeping pace with City and Leicester. City did not look convincing in their 2-1 win against Aston Villa at Wembley or their 1-0 FA Cup win against Sheffield Wednesday on Wednesday, and United, having already beaten them twice this season, will fancy their chances in this Manchester derby.
The race for a Champions League finish is well and truly alive with five sides vying for that fourth and final spot. Manchester United have put a good run together and are unbeaten in four league games. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now finds his side in fifth, only three points behind Chelsea. If Frank Lampard’s side are beaten by Everton in the early kick-off, United could leapfrog them with a win due to superior goal difference.
Paul Pogba will reportedly return to first-team training this week but he is still in all likelihood going to miss this game. Daniel James will also be assessed ahead of the derby. Marcus Rashford is still out, along with Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Lee Grant. January signing Odion Ighalo scored a brace in the midweek FA Cup win over derby and that sterling performance may just have been enough to earn him a starting slot.
UEFA’s European ban seems to have lit a fire in the underbellies of Manchester City as they have gone on to win all five of their fixtures since the news was delivered on Valentine’s Day. That includes the magnificent 2-1 comeback win at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid in the Champions League round of 16 first leg tie and the League Cup final win over Aston Villa on Sunday by a similar scoreline to bag their first trophy of the season.
Under Pep Guardiola, City has won three of the last five against United, including two at Old Trafford. But Pep himself has acknowledged that United posed some tactical challenges to his side in their last match, a Carabou Cup second leg tie that United won 1-0 but lost out on aggregate with City having won the first leg 3-1 at Old Trafford.
Manchester City have been vulnerable on the road this season – they have lost four games away from the Etihad and soaked in 17 goals in 14 games. This explains how they ended up falling far behind Liverpool in the title race this season, with Liverpool now virtually having the title under lock and key now.
Aymeric Laporte will miss the game with Fernandinho set to continue in his place in defence. Leroy Sane has recovered from long-term injury but is unlikely to be available for this match. Kevin De Bruyne will be assessed ahead of the game after missing the Sheffield Wednesday game with a shoulder injury although all indications are that he will be fit in time for the game.
It’s not easy calling this game one way or the other. United though, are in rich form, having won five of their last eight, including against City in January in the EFL Cup. The hosts are in their best form of the season following the arrival of Bruno Fernandes while City have been unconvincing of late, despite winning each of their last four. The usually rousing support from the 76,000-capacity home crowd could inspire United to get a result here. Our first betting tip for this game is Double Chance Man United or Draw @ 2.32.
Sergio Aguero is having yet another huge season, scoring 23 goals in all competitions including the winner against Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup in midweek. The Argentine was also on target in the Carabao Cup final against Aston Villa and will be itching to carry on his goalscoring streak against their crosstown rivals. He has scored nine goals in all competitions against City’s greatest rivals. Only City’s Francis Lee (10) and Joe Hayes (10), and United’s Wayne Rooney (11) have netted more in Manchester derbies. We fancy him to equal his club’s record and score anytime @ 1.90.
In five of the last seven Manchester derbies both teams have scored and City have scored in 24 of their last 25 away matches in the top flight. Without Aymeric Laporte the City defence looks shaky, so for our final betting tip, we are backing both teams to score @ 1.72.
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