This 171st edition of the Manchester derby, to be played Sunday at the Etihad, sees both the sides at what appears to be varying crossroads as the pressure yet again on under fire Manchester United boss Louis Van Gaal ahead of a trip across town to Manchester City.
The ironical pendulum of the season-long referendum on the Dutch manager is again swinging towards despair and ruin following United’s elimination from Europa League at the hands of Liverpool despite a 1-1 draw in the second leg. Scoring one goal on Thursday thanks to a penalty earned and converted by Anthony Martial, has been enough of a chore for sixth-positioned Manchester United, let alone netting three considering they have scored only once in their last five matches.
The blunt toothless display which has made supporters and former United players, pundits angry was again evident as United were literally the second best throughout their 180 minutes infront of a Liverpool team progressing very quickly under Jurgen Klopp.
Now winless in last four appearances in all competitions after four wins on the bounce, Manchester United are in a dangerous stretch of gruelling schedule that could certainly banish them into the wilderness without a European berth.
A defeat at the Etihad would drop them seven points behind Manchester City, who right now own the final Champions League spot, with eight games remaining. On Tuesday, they will step into an FA Cup quarterfinal replay at West Ham, where Upton Park will appear at its most hostile as Hammers play their final cup tie on those grounds.
Meanwhile, in the blue portion of the city, the supporters believe Manchester City is in better spirits. Despite making it to the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time after being eliminated in the round of 16 each of the three seasons prior, there was very little celebration at the Etihad following the Citizen’s goalless stalemate against Dynamo Kiev which allowed them to progress on a 3-1 aggregate.
Both the teams played out a dour goalless draw in the reverse fixture with a combination of two shots on goal all total – none until the 82nd minute. Jesse Lingard came closest to score for United, but his flick struck the crossbar and bounced away, while City failed to threaten without an injured Sergio Aguero.
City will have to manage without their influential skipper Vincent Kompany in this Manchester Derby after he picked a hamstring injury early into his teams’s goalless stalemate against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League on Tuesday night.
The Belgian has endured a stop-start season so far due to injuries and it seems as though he will spend another lengthy spell on the sideline, and there is doubt over his centre-back partner Nicolas Otamendi also, who was taken off with injury in the midweek fixture.
Raheem Sterling has not played the last three matches, but he could be ready for a return in place of Jesus Navas, who could be dropped to the bench.
As for Manchester United, Schweinsteiger has returned to full fitness following a spell on the sidelines and could start against City, but there will be no Wayne Rooney as he is not scheduled to return to action until after the international break.
Ander Herrera is a doubt with a groin issue, that forced him out of Thursday’s European clash, but Ashley Young and Cameron Borthwick-jackson are closing in on their scheduled comebacks.
Mata is available for this game as he has served a one-match suspension after the sending-off against West Brom.
Manchester City predicted line-up:
Hart; Zabaleta, Mangala, Otamendi, Clichy; Fernando, Fernandinho; Sterling, Toure, Silva; Aguero
Manchester United line-up:
De Gea; Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Rojo; Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin; Martial, Lingard, Mata; Rashford
Sergio Aguero vs Chris Smalling
Sergio Aguero is certainly one of the most lethal strikers in modern football and following a dismal start to the campaign is now enjoying classy form yet again, netting twelve goals with three assists in his last 16 matches in all competitions. The Argentine hitman hasn’t been able to find the back of the net in his last two appearances but on his day he is unplayable, combining a scintillating speed and penetration with pin-point accuracy and expert composure in front of goal.
the task of neutralising his threat predominantly comes to Chris Smalling. He is arguably Manchester United’s best defender this season and in the absence of more senior team-mates, is now one of the leading figures of the starting eleven.
Anthony Martial vs Zabaleta
As Wayne Rooney injured and Juan Mata struggling to show consistency on the right-hand side, Anthony Martial steps into this weekend’s derby as United’s most notable attacking option.
He is quick, powerful and incredibly composed, especially for a 20-year-old in his debut season at Old Trafford, and amid a disturbing injury crisis has come up as one of the first names on the United team sheet.
He will be up against Pablo Zabaleta who has enjoyed a recent revival in terms of first team involvement. The experienced Argentine defender is the kind of character Pellegrini needs in a derby like this. He is an incredibly physical defender who can efficiently nullify Martial’s athletic prowess.
Manchester United have won just one of their last eight Premier League away games (W1 D3 L4).
City have won four and lost just one of the last six Premier League meetings with United.
Sergio Aguero has scored seven goals in seven top flight games against Manchester United.
Only five players have scored more against the Red Devils in Premier League history (Ferdinand, Henry, Gerrard & Fowler with eight and Shearer with 10).
Sergio Aguero needs one goal to equal the most goals scored by a player in Premier League Manchester derbies and go level with Wayne Rooney (8).
Aguero has scored 11 goals in his last eight Premier League appearances at the Etihad Stadium.
Manuel Pellegrini could become the first Manchester City manager to win four Premier League Manchester derbies this weekend. The last City manager to win four Manchester derbies in the league was Joe Mercer in 1970 (won five in total).
Manchester City win – 1.83
Draw – 3.75
Manchester United win – 4.75
Manchester City edging this one with 2-1 scoreline.