Pep’s incredible Blues shape up for derby with title in sight
* Blues are six wins and a draw from clinching Premier League title
* But Reds are unbeaten away from home in 21 games
* Anything can happen in a Manchester derby
Can Manchester City continue their incredible unbeaten run in the Premiership with a win over rivals United in the second derby of the season this Sunday at the Etihad?
Pep Guardiola’s men have now won 21 consecutive games in all competitions. Yes, you read that right: 21 consecutive wins. Not only that, they are also 14 points clear at the top of the Premier League table and 22 ahead of Liverpool, the reigning champions currently lying sixth.
City will go into the game brimful of confidence, having notched a resounding 4-1 win over Wolves on Tuesday evening. United are second – a distant second, it might be said – with the Reds picking up a point away at improving Chelsea over the weekend.
Manchester City remain in all four competitions. Some will say they’ve already won the league title and they face Everton in an FA Cup quarter-final in a couple of weeks.
They are bound to go through to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League as let's face it Borussia Mönchengladbach are very unlikely to come back and beat City. They’d need three goals minimum to even get a sniff of the next round. They’re also in a Carabao Cup final against Spurs which will be played shortly after their trip to Aston Villa. The battle to win all four competitions is definitely ON - and this team will go down in history if they do.
For an English team to dominate in all four competitions in a single season would be dominance we’ve not seen since the Manchester United team of old, known as the ‘Busby Babes’.
But City fans will know the troubles that they’ve faced in the Champions League over the years. As good as a manager Pep Guardiola is, he does have a tendency to alter his tactical style when he reaches the latter stages of the competition. As we saw last season against Lyon in the quarter-finals, Pep switched to a back three which is a system that you don’t really see him use. Some City fans feel he overthinks these important games when he should just let his team play their normal game.
Domestically, Guardiola’s side need six more wins and one draw from their next eleven games to win the league. After the derby, they face Southampton at home followed by a trip to Fulham three days later. City fans will be hoping they win all three and take nine points from their next three games.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Sunday's derby is without doubt a big game, especially in the red and blue parts of Manchester. Assuming United win, they will sit 11 points behind City. Assuming City win, which is probably the most likely scenario, they will extend their lead to 17 points at the top of the table.
Personally, I see City coming out on top. Their team on paper is a lot stronger and even if things don’t go well for City in the first half, they have a bench with ridiculous amount of quality. They could throw someone like Ferran Torres on or Phil Foden or even Sergio Agüero, all of whom are game-changers. United don’t have that luxury. They’re without Paul Pogba, who is usually a big presence in this type of game. Their squad depth isn’t anywhere near as strong as City’s.
But in defence of Man Utd, they do have a tendency to show up in these types of matches and get a result. We’ve seen it before many times where Ole is under a lot of pressure but they manage to grind out a win away from home and everything all of a sudden is okay.
I wouldn’t be surprised if United do come away from the Etihad with all three points, especially when you consider their away form. They are unbeaten in 21 away games. Many of them have been draws, but that is still a record that the United players will fight to hold onto during the derby. On the counter attack, they will be dangerous as Fernandes, Greenwood and Rashford have a great understanding and are deadly finishers. Dan James may even start as this will be a game where he’ll be able to run into space and use his pace which is his main strength. But I just see City’s defence overcoming their counter attacks. Pep has got his team back to the standards of 17-18, 18-19 where they’d instantly press after possession loss to sustain attacks and I think that’ll give Ole food for thought leading up to the game.
The history of the fixture
This will be the 185th Manchester derby. United have won 76 out of 184 games, with City winning 55 and 53 draws. Since City left Maine Road in 2003, United have won eight of 17 top flight meetings.
City are at almost full strength as Pep has rotated his squad and playing style to devastating effect since Christmas. Sergio Agüero was an unused substitute as fellow striker Gabriel Jesus notched two in a dramatic final ten minutes against Wolves. Aguero’s likely to start on the bench again as he recovers from injury. Defender Nathan Aké is still not fully fit after a knock.
For the Reds, Anthony Martial is a doubt after picking up a knock before Wednesday's 0-0 draw away at Crystal Palace. De Gea miseed the game due to personal reasons, while Donny van de Beek hasn't played since mid-February. Juan Mata will be out for another few weeks after the 4-0 aggregate win against Real Sociedad. Phil Jones also remains on the sidelines.
Man City: Ederson; Cancelo, Stones, Dias, Zinchenko, De Bruyne, Rodri, Gundogan, Mahrez, Jesus, Sterling.
Man Utd: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Fred, James, Fernandes, Rashford, Greenwood.
Kick off is at 4.30pm on Sunday. The game will be shown live on Sky Sports, with commentary on BBC Radio Manchester and the Manchester City website.