Manchester United will entertain Manchester City at Old Trafford in a Premier League tie on Saturday in what would be a clash of egos, personalities, and of course, ex-colleagues. This top of the table match will perhaps define the course of the Premier League season as managers Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola prepare to get one over each other.
So ahead of this highly anticipated game, we take a look at how the two Manchester clubs compare in key areas of the pitch.
- United are decidedly ahead in this department with David de Gea in goal. The Spaniard, after a rough first season at the club, has established himself as one of the best goalkeepers on the planet. De Gea has been named in the Premier League PFA Team of the Year in the last two seasons and has been the sole recipient of Manchester United’s Player of the Year award in the last three years.
- City parted ways with Joe Hart this summer as the England No.1 went out on loan to Italian outfit Torino. Guardiola has Willy Caballero and the recently acquired Claudio Bravo at his disposal. Bravo’s £17m signing is a clear indication that Guardiola sees him as his main man in goal but it would be a test of fire for the Chilean as he is in line to make his City debut in the Manchester derby.
- The defensive pairing of Eric Bailly and Daley Blind has worked like a charm as United have been dominant, authoritative and full of invention from the back. Bailly’s no-nonsense approach coupled with Blind’s composure and sharp reading of the game has reduced Chris Smalling, United’s best defender last season, to the bench. Luke Shaw’s return has been a welcome sight for fans and the young left-back has done well since returning from the horrific injury he suffered against PSV Eindhoven in a Champions League clash last season. Antonio Valencia who has seen a resurgence in his United career under Mourinho will return from international duty only a day before the game. But United have the luxury of decent back-ups in the highly rated Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Matteo Darmian and Phil Jones if the Ecuadorian is rested.
- City’s star summer arrival John Stones has seamlessly fit into Guardiola’s plans. The 22-year-old has been the lynchpin at the back, partnering either one of Nicolás Otamendi and Aleksandar Kolarov, in captain Vincent Kompany’s absence who is on his way to full match fitness and unlikely to start in the derby. Kolarov has acted as an emergency centre back under Guardiola and it is a choice between him and Otamendi to partner Stones in the heart of defence. Bacary Sagna will perhaps get the nod ahead of Pablo Zabaleta at right full back and Gael Clichy could reprise is left full back role if Kolarov plays as centre back.
- All eyes will be on United’s world record signing Paul Pogba to see how he fares against a top class midfield contingent that City boast. The French international has so far shown glimpses of his world class talent and with a very unflattering midfield partner in Marouane Fellaini, has dominated the two games he has played so far in the colours of Fellaini has beat competition from Ander Herrera, Morgan Schneiderlin, Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger to emerge as Mourinho’s preferred choice in a two-man midfield. United, even though possessing a dearth of talent in that area, are expected to continue with the duo and Herrera, the top choice for any last minute formation change, ready to step up.
- Fernandinho, even though not cut from the same cloth as Sergio Busquets or Xabi Alonso, has flourished in a ‘lone pivot’ role under Guardiola. The Brazilian offers plenty of options for orchestrating a quick counter or simply bringing the ball out of defence and is expected to anchor the midfield in the derby. Raheem Sterling’s newfound confidence has compelled fans to see him in new light after an underwhelming first season at the Etihad. The former Liverpool man, along with new signing Nolito, will provide width on the flanks and cutting inside as City appear to have taken up a brave 4-1-4-1 system. Kevin de Bruyne and the ever present David Silva will as expected, provide creativity.
- United have an embarrassment of riches in attack and spearheading that company, is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The big Swede has scored four goals in four competitive matches since his free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain in the summer. The supporting cast includes captain Wayne Rooney in the No.10 role, Anthony Martial at wide left in the 4-2-3-1 and Juan Mata at wide right. Summer acquisition Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who made a lively cameo appearance in United’s thrilling win against Hull City, has suffered a slight knock on international duty for Armenia and is unlikely to start the game. United’s hero against Hull, Marcus Rashford, scored a spectacular goal against City at the Etihad last season but the Mancunian will most likely start from the bench.
- In what could be a colossal loss for City, talisman Sergio Aguero will miss the derby after being handed a three-game ban by the FA for violent conduct in the game against West Ham. The Argentinean has scored five goals in his last four Premier League games against United. Guardiola has been quite frank about his admiration of young attacker Kelechi Iheanacho and we could see a straight swap between him and Aguero. Nolito is also capable of playing as a striker as he has often done for his former clubs. That would allow Leroy Sane to make his much-awaited debut for City. There is also the viable third option of playing Raheem Sterling as a ‘false 9’ if Guardiola decides to twist and tweak his already fluid system.