United looks to halt City jug­ger­naut at Manch­ester Derby

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - STEVE DOU­GLAS

MANCH­ESTER, ENG­LAND — There will be $1-bil­lion worth of tal­ent on the field, soc­cer’s two most fa­mous coaches re­new­ing their ri­valry, a bunch of records ready to be bro­ken, and po­ten­tially the des­tiny of the English Pre­mier League ti­tle — even in early De­cem­ber — on the line.

The Manch­ester derby can rarely have been grander and more glob­ally ap­peal­ing than when United and City meet at Old Traf­ford on Sun­day.

In the blue cor­ner, there’s Pep Guardi­ola’s City, a dev­as­tat­ing at­tack­ing unit that is look­ing to build an 11-point lead and win a 14th suc­ces­sive league match — an achieve­ment that would be a record in a sin­gle Pre­mier League.

In the red cor­ner, there’s Jose Mour­inho’s United, lead­ing the chasing pack and on a club record­e­qualling run of 40 un­beaten home matches in all com­pe­ti­tions — stretch­ing back to Septem­ber 2016 when it lost to its crosstown ri­val 2-1.

City is the league top scorer with 46.

United has the best de­fen­sive record with just nine goals con­ceded.

City’s ap­proach re­volves around in­tri­cate pass­ing and all-out at­tack.

United’s is all about power and de­fen­sive so­lid­ity.

It’s a clash of styles that has been the hall­mark of games be­tween teams man­aged by Guardi­ola and Mour­inho, ini­tially when Barcelona and Real Madrid met in Spain and now in the same city in Eng­land.

Guardi­ola has had the edge since they ar­rived in the Pre­mier League in the sum­mer of 2016, earn­ing a win and a draw in last sea­son’s der­bies. United beat City 1-0 in a League Cup fourth-round match, when Guardi­ola fielded a largely sec­ond-string lineup.

Given the eight-point gap be­tween them, the onus is on United to win. That might be un­com­fort­able for Mour­inho, whose de­fault set­ting in big games is to set up not to lose. So this might be one of the rare oc­ca­sions in United’s re­cent his­tory where its team sits back in a match at Old Traf­ford and looks to hit a vis­it­ing side on the coun­ter­at­tack.

It’s too dan­ger­ous to do any­thing else against a team as po­tent as City.

“Kill the game when you have one chance,” said United mid­fielder Paul Pogba, who will be miss­ing be­cause of sus­pen­sion, “be­cause they are City and they have qual­ity as well in front and they can kill the game at any time.”

Pogba’s ab­sence, as a re­sult of his red card against Arse­nal last week­end, is a po­ten­tial game-changer, rob­bing United of its best link be­tween mid­field and at­tack.

It re­mains to be seen whether City is with­out one of its con­duc­tors in mid­field, too, with David Silva an in­jury doubt with an un­spec­i­fied prob­lem, ac­cord­ing to Guardi­ola.

Mour­inho has ques­tioned whether Guardi­ola was telling the truth in mak­ing Silva an in­jury doubt. It’s the only barb that has been thrown so far by ei­ther coach in the buildup.

United’s best chance of win­ning might hinge on scor­ing from set­pieces, with City hav­ing a much smaller team. At­tack­ing Fabian Delph, a mid­fielder fill­ing in at left back be­cause of Ben­jamin Mendy’s long-term in­jury, is an­other route Mour­inho will look to ex­ploit.

As for City, which is com­ing off its only loss this sea­son at Shakhtar Donetsk in the Cham­pi­ons League on Wed­nes­day, Guardi­ola will be con­fi­dent of dom­i­nat­ing the mid­field bat­tle with Pogba out and an­chor­man Ne­manja Matic set to be play­ing for United de­spite not be­ing fully fit.

United was em­bar­rassed by City in the cor­re­spond­ing fix­ture last sea­son, the 2-1 score line barely do­ing jus­tice to the dom­i­nance of City, es­pe­cially in the first half. Mour­inho didn’t play with a rec­og­nized de­fen­sive mid­fielder that day — Pogba and Marouane Fel­laini were the mid­field two — but has done so ever since.

Given the cir­cum­stances — United miss­ing Pogba, City fac­ing its tough­est game of the sea­son — both man­agers would prob­a­bly take a draw be­fore the game, though that would keep City as a huge ti­tle favourite with al­most half the sea­son gone.

A City win would, for many, set up a pro­ces­sion to the ti­tle.

“We think about the big­ger pic­ture,” United mid­fielder Juan Mata said, “and for us we have to keep up the pace and keep win­ning and win­ning. I re­mem­ber a few sea­sons ago when United were ahead of City and then they won by (goal dif­fer­ence).

“It’s a crazy league and it’s too early to think that it’s fin­ished.”


Manch­ester United’s Paul Pogba, right, and Manch­ester City’s John Stones bat­tle for the ball dur­ing their Sept. 10, 2016 Manch­ester Derby matchup.

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