The battle between the Reds and the Blues of Manchester always promises to excite, but perhaps no more than now with both sides a distance away from where they would’ve liked to be at this stage of the season. Liam Rowsell shares his opinions ahead of a huge match at Old Trafford.
Are Manchester United really title contenders?
Well, the easy answer would be no given some awful performances as of late, but there is more to it than that. There seems other sides far better equipped for a title challenge than the Red Devils at the moment and it’s those sides who are, quite rightly, being spoken about as the real title contenders. The likes of Chelsea, Tottenham, and Liverpool seem a long way ahead of Man United at the moment.
They’ve lost three Premier League games so far this season, one of those being the 6-1 humiliation at the hands of Tottenham in October. And now they’re out of the Champions League, thanks to a 3-2 defeat in Leipzig on Tuesday night, and perhaps some United fans would’ve preferred a complete exit from Europe rather than a place in the Europa League last 32. ,
Some dreadful first half performances have really let the Red Devils down, and they’ve had to come back from a goal behind to win on five separate Premier League occasions already this season. Their only win this season in which they did not concede the first goal came against West Brom, where they were victorious by a narrow 1-0 scoreline. We can see this in one of two ways.
It can be construed as a positive that United don’t seem to know when they’re beaten. It’s often a sign of an excellent team to pick up results when they’re not playing well. That’s exactly what Solskjaer’s side have done in recent games and to some, as long as you come out on top, the performance doesn’t really matter.
However, these first half horror shows cannot be allowed to continue as they will get found out. That very nearly happened last weekend when West Ham could and should have been out of sight by the 60 minute mark. And it did happen during the week when RB Leipzig had built up a 3-0 lead by 70 minutes to put a United comeback just about out of their reach despite a better second half performance.
I would suggest its not all doom and gloom for United just yet, as at the time of writing, they sit within the top six, five points off leaders Tottenham and with a game in hand. A title challenge may not be out of the question at this early stage but they will certainly need to find a more consistent performance level, if they’re to compete with this season’s very best.
Have Manchester City turned a corner?
The Premier League title would have been Pep Guardiola’s principal ambition for this season, having lost out to Liverpool by 18 points in 2019/20. But they haven’t quite hit the ground running this year and at the time of writing, sit seventh in the table.
City came out on top in their first game of the season against Wolves, although there were clear signs of some defensive frailties in that game, which were exploited a week later in a shock 5-2 defeat to Leicester. 1-1 draws against Leeds and West Ham have also blighted their record somewhat and it’s been those such games, where they’d normally be expected to come out on top, that have cost City the early start they were looking for.
Serious questions were asked of Man City after their frustrating 2-0 defeat to a typical Jose Mourinho display, as to whether they still have that attacking brilliance that they have had in the last few years. Their ten Premier League goals scored up until that point was the lowest goal tally by a post-takeover City side at that stage of the season, which would have worried Guardiola greatly.
But City since seem to have put any serious rumours of a goal-scoring crisis to bed with ten goals in their last four outings in all competitions. And they’re European form has been exceptional, completing their group stage campaign by an aggregate score of 13-1 and qualifying to the knockout stage as Group C winners.
Defensively, they certainly look more sound than they did at the start of the season, having kept clean sheets in all five of their last outings. Statistically, they now have the joint best defence in the league, behind only current Premier League leaders Tottenham. This defensive solidity is a major requirement for any side challenging for the title, and it was a key component in Liverpool’s success last season.
So have City turned a corner? Perhaps too early to say, but certainly after this Manchester Derby, it will become quite a lot clearer as to where this Man City side stand. Just like Man United, they too have a game in hand on those teams at the top of the league so, despite a rocky start, the Citizens must not been ruled out of any title challenge yet.
Who’s expected to come out on top this weekend?
It looks pretty tight on the face of it, with just one point separating the two sides in the Premier League table. One things for sure and that’s that Man United simply cannot afford another sloppy first half because Man City will inevitably punish it. If that was City playing United last weekend, they would have found themselves completely out of sight with an unassailable lead at half time.
If United can keep it tight and pick their moments to attack, they may well have a bit of joy, in a similar way to how Tottenham overcame Man City a few weeks ago. But any more lapses at the back will be punished, so if United are not confident with sitting back and letting City play in safe areas of the pitch, it will be up to them to break down a resolute City defence whilst potentially leaving themselves more open at the back.
Under normal circumstances, I’d expect Man City to take the three points but because this is a Manchester derby and there’s more at stake than just the three points, it will likely be tighter than most people imagine. If United can’t be up for this one from the very first whistle, then they have an issue far deeper than what we originally thought.
Unfortunately, there won’t be any fans at Old Trafford for this one, such are the governments restrictions on the area but that doesn’t mean we will won’t be in for a really good game. No matter who comes out on top, we should be in for a really good game of Premier League football.
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