Manchester City-Manchester United Preview
The 182nd edition of the Manchester derby has the feel of a disjointed matchup giving the differing ambitions for both City and United heading into Sunday's showdown at Old Trafford.
Much of that is due to City's two-year ban from European play handed down by UEFA last month. While City will appeal the ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the hopes of getting it at least reduced, it has cast a pall over the blue side of Manchester as the Cityzens (18-3-6) again chase their first Champions League title and a second consecutive domestic cup double. A third straight Premier League title is off the books given Pep Guardiola's side are 22 points adrift of Liverpool.
"The situation this season is a little bit different because we are playing to improve and finish second, not to win the title. For them it is so important to qualify for Champions League," Guardiola said at his Friday press conference looking ahead to the match.
"But it is special to improve, to prepare for the next game. Especially two knockout games at the end of the month against Madrid and Newcastle and to improve what we want to do.
Manchester City completed the first leg of the aforementioned domestic double by defeating Aston Villa 2-1 on Sunday at Wembley Stadium to win their third straight Carabao Cup. Sergio Aguero and Rodri staked City to a two-goal lead in the first half-hour, and the defence repelled Villa after yielding a goal late in the first half.
City then pushed their winning streak in all competitions to five with a 1-0 victory at Sheffield Wednesday on Wednesday when Aguero's goal on 53 minutes separated the sides. It also completed an impressive four-match run outside the Etihad in four different competitions in which Guardiola's side were victorious - most notably a 2-1 first-leg victory over Real Madrid in the round of 16 Champions League tie.
Manchester City are now trying to become the first United opponent to win four consecutive league matches at Old Trafford since reeling off five straight victories from 1968-72 while in the First Division.
"It's better to go there winning games," Guardiola noted to the club's official website. "Better to go there in the FA Cup rather than out."
Aguero - Manchester City's all-time leading goal-scorer - back in a rich vein of form is ominous for United considering he has been a consistent antagonist in their meetings. The Argentina international has nine goals in 15 career meetings, including four in five visits to Old Trafford.
While Aguero is on song, teenager Phil Foden may be ready for a bigger supporting role. The 19-year-old England international assisted on Aguero's goal in the Carabao Cup final and has three goals and four assists in 25 matches across all competitions. Guardiola's decision to sit Foden midweek had more to do with City dominating Sheffield Wednesday while running up a 20-1 edge in shots.
"We were playing good 1/8against Sheffield Wednesday 3/8," Guardiola said. "When we are good and 1-0 I don't wanna change much. But he's ready and he has to be ready. Next games he is going to play."
Top playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who is four assists shy of matching Thierry Henry's single-season Premier League record of 20, is questionable for this contest with a knock picked up versus Villa. The match also comes far too soon for Leroy Sane, who recently resumed playing with City's EDS side as he recovers from a torn ACL.
In an ironic twist, City's ban may benefit United (11-9-8) the most. Ole Gunnar Soslkjaer's team enters this contest in fifth place ahead of Wolves on goal difference, and right now, that place would be good enough to claim the final Champions League berth pending City's appeal.
Manchester United are also playing arguably their best stretch of football this term and enter this contest unbeaten in their last nine matches (6-3-0) in all competitions while conceding just two goals in that stretch. They are also through to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup, dispatching of club legend Wayne Rooney and Derby County in a 3-0 romp on the road Thursday night.
Odion Ighalo had a brace on either side of halftime after a goal by Luke Shaw, and keeper Sergio Romero did well to stymie Rooney as he gave an inspired effort against his former team. Ighalo has made an instant impact leading the line since his January arrival as the former Watford forward has three goals in six matches since arriving from the Chinese Super League.
"Of course when you've got strikers you want them to be happy and confident going into the next game and we've got a big game on Sunday," Solskjaer told BT Sport post-match. "He's come in here and of course we've still got a few injuries and Anthony 1/8Martial 3/8 has struggled a little bit lately with some injuries so it's great to have Odion to call upon and he's a different type of striker. He holds it up well and he scores."
Solskjaer, like Guardiola, does have some injury concerns heading into the derby. Centre back Harry Maguire is racing to be fit after being held out Thursday night with an ankle injury suffered in training. Right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka picked up a back injury in last weekend's draw versus Everton while winger Daniel James has been sidelined since taking a knock in the second-leg Europa League round of 32 win over Club Brugge.
Forward Marcus Rashford and midfielder Paul Pogba remain long-term injury absentees.
This is the fourth meeting between the teams, with City ousting United over two legs in the Carabao Cup semifinals. The road team has won all three meetings this season, with City's 3-1 victory in the first leg last month running their winning streak in all competitions at Old Trafford to three. The Cityzens have also won their last three league matchups at the Theatre of Dreams and are 6-1-1 in their last eight visits in top-flight action.
United's 1-0 second-leg victory, while not enough to overturn the aggregate deficit, gave them a 75-54 lead in the all-time series to go with 52 draws between these eternal rivals.
Updated March 7, 2020