What to expect in the Manchester Derby?

Tracing the roots – Origin of a rivalry

When St. Mark’s (West Gorton) took on Newton Heath LYR in November of 1881, not many people cared much about the game. It was viewed as yet another random game between two of the plethora of clubs that blossomed in the late 70s and early 80s in Manchester.

The two teams were new to English football. St Mark’s (West Gorton) was formed only a year ago while Newton Heath LYR had been in existence for merely three years. The majority of the teams which started operations around the same team never saw their dreams coming to fruition, but these two sides did. 

They stood the test of time. And what essentially started as a friendly meeting between two local teams took the form of a fierce, full-fledged rivalry. Manchester City, known before as St. Mark’s (West Gordon), and Manchester United, known before as Newton Heath LYC, will cross swords for the 186th time this Saturday.

Despite being founded around the same time, the two Manchester giants followed different routes to glory. Manchester United did not take long to become a phenomenon in English and world football.

Since the turn of the 1950s, the Red Devils dominated England, with occasional glory in Europe. By the start of the third millennium, they had already won 13 first division titles and were on the verge of winning the 14th. While United were fighting for titles, relevancy is what City were after.

With one team Manchester winning major honours every season and the other team barely managing mid-table slots, this particular Derby was not alluring the fans as much as a United-Arsenal, or a United-Liverpool clash, which were far more significant from the championship perspective. However, tables turned after the change in ownership at Manchester City. 

The ‘Cityzens’ have brought the once-massive gap in number to honours to 28-66, and the gap is depleting bit by bit every season. Hence, the game on Saturday will not be about winning or losing.

It will be about the red half of Manchester adamantly holding on to their pride, their glorious history, and the tales of yesteryears, as the blue half meets their gaze as if to convey that they will match and surpass their records soon.

Let us have an in-depth look at what we can expect from this match.

How the teams have fared so far

The reigning Premier League champions Manchester City have been fairly satisfactory, but not as flawless as a Chelsea or a Liverpool. With six wins, two draws, and as many defeats, they are sitting in the third place with a five-point deficit to make up.

Manchester United are two places behind their rivals. They have secured 17 points from 10 matches. A win here will not help them overtake City in the standings given the disparity in goal difference, but they will still be level on points.

Talking Tactics

Manchester United’s defensive organization this season has had the strength of a barricade made of hay. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have conceded 15 goals already – more than anyone else among the current top eight in the Premier League standings.

To add some stability to the defence, Solskjaer recently shifted to a back three against Tottenham which earned them their second Premier League clean sheet of the season.

Though Atalanta managed to breach their defence in the Champions League clash, the Norwegian tactician is likely to stick to the 3-4-1-2 formation. With Raphael Varane nursing an injury, Eric Bailly is set to team up with Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire in the back three.

Manchester City might have lost their last match against Crystal Palace, but Pep Guardiola is not a manager known for changing formations after a standalone poor result. Hence, they are expected to line up in the same 4-3-3 setup.

There are, however, two decisions the Spaniard has to make ahead of this highly-anticipated clash.

Bernardo Silva has not done much wrong, but given United’s attacking prowess, Guardiola might want to strengthen his midfield by playing Ilkay Gundogan in place of the Portuguese trickster. 

It will also be interesting to see what position Gabriel Jesus slots in. Despite being City’s only recognized striker, the Brazilian has hardly played as an out-and-out centre-forward. Instead, he predominantly operates on the right flank, with Phil Foden taking up the central role.

However, in this match, it will be crucial to win the one-on-one battles. City’s right-winger will be up against a pacy Luke Shaw. And given his quick feet, Phil Foden might be better suited for this role.

On the other hand, City’s centre-forward will be up against physically strong centre-backs in the likes of Harry Maguire and Eric Bailly. Jesus has got the strength to match them and could slot in upfront. 

City looking to get the monkey off their back

Manchester United might have ruled over Manchester and essentially England for the majority of their history, but the tides have turned ever since Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement from coaching. 

Just around the time Manchester United embarked on a downward spiral which took them from dominance to decadence, their rivals in Manchester City were lifting trophies for fun.

The near-empty trophy cabinet now looked full. But for all of City’s recent glory, they still have found it hard to get the better of their neighbours.

Pep Guardiola’s team has won only one of their last six matches against United at the Etihad Stadium, while they also are winless in their last two games at Old Trafford. Hence, a win here will be significant not only from the perspective of their title defence but also to get the monkey off their backs.