The heavyweight fixture between Manchester United and Manchester City takes place this weekend, adding another chapter to the Pep Guardiola vs. Jose Mourinho rivalry. They first met when Mourinho’s Inter Milan took on Guardiola’s Barcelona, but much has changed since then. The two endured a fiery rivalry when at the opposite ends of the dugout during the El Clasico matches, and to see Hollywood-style drama and over the top post-match press conferences follow the action on the pitch wouldn’t come as a big surprise.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho might give you a reason to think otherwise, stating how his approach to managing in the Premier League differs to other countries. “To speak about one manager, one club…I don’t think it’s right in this country. It is one thing in two-horse race like when I was in Spain, or in Italy, three teams. In the Premier League it makes no sense. Focus on one opponent, the others will be laughing.” Mourinho might be giving us a reason to focus on one thing that seems to be drifting under the radar amidst the anticipation of seeing these two rivals square off: football.
Both teams will take to the field at Old Trafford with 100% winning starts, but at least one of the sides will not leave with that record intact. Guardiola is a tactical mastermind whose inverting of systematic normality gives his side a unique look, one that Mourinho will not be completely unfamiliar to due to the history between the two. One interesting point to note is how Mourinho plans on dealing with Guardiola’s overloads in midfield, particularly with the full-backs operating as central midfielders.
Team News – Manchester City
The most obvious issue to address is how Manchester City will cope without their talisman Sergio Aguero, who received retroactive punishment in the form of a three match ban following a previously undetected elbow to West Ham’s Winston Reid. The Argentine started the season in scintillating form, scoring six goals from four games in all competitions. As far as strikers are concerned, City aren’t blessed with depth as youngster Kelechi Iheanacho is the only other recognized striker on their books. Iheanacho is a decent option, he did score eight Premier League goals last season, but perhaps Guardiola sees potential for fluidity in the position. He could achieve this by playing Raheem Sterling as a false nine, which he did occasionally while at Liverpool.
In better news for City, a number of players have returned to training to boost their chances for selection. Vincent Kompany, Bacary Sagna and new signings Ilkay Gundogan and Leroy Sane are all available, with the two new signings yet to debut for the club. Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo completed his 17-million-pound transfer, but will not have his first training session with his new teammates until Thursday. This brings his fitness into question, with the same applying for the previously mentioned players who have returned to training. City possess quality in depth, and won’t need to rush any of these players back into action.
Guardiola has tougher decisions to make in defence, with Argentina internationals Pablo Zabaleta and Nicolas Otamendi playing as late as Tuesday night in their 2-2 draw with Venezuela. If Guardiola deems Otamendi unable to start, he can look to Aleksandr Kolarov to take over at centre back. The Serbian full-back has gathered plaudits from his manager, who strongly believes he is capable of playing in that position and has thus far proven him right. The pressure of a Manchester derby, however, may call upon players with more experience in their natural positions.
Predicted XI: Caballero, Zabaleta, Otamendi, Stones, Clichy; Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva; Nolito, Jesus Navas, Raheem Sterling
Team News – Manchester United
Jose Mourinho has less problems in selecting his match day squad, in fact his biggest problem is one he would welcome: whether or not to start teenage sensation Marcus Rashford after his impressive hat trick for the England under 21 side against Norway. With many quality, experienced options ahead of him it seems to be unlikely, but his appearance off the bench could cause serious problems for City.
United’s limitations to the squad are minimal, with only Marouane Fellaini and Henrikh Mkhitaryan doubtful, not omitted, for Saturday’s clash. The Armenian midfielder limped out of their 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic last week, stating he would need “a week to ten days” to recover. There is better news for Fellaini, though, as he managed 84 minutes in Belgium’s 3-0 win over Cyprus. Mourinho previously stated that Fellaini would be out for “a while” after their 1-0 win over Hull before the international break, but his performance on Tuesday suggests he could play a role. Fellaini has not missed a single minute of Premier League action this season, and looks a different player under Mourinho.
Although United’s team sheet seems relatively easy to predict, I presume Mourinho has something in store for Guardiola. That’s not to say the same won’t happen from Guardiola’s end, but Mourinho must be searching for some kind of counter-move to Guardiola’s midfield dominance. A 4-2-3-1, with the likes of Rooney, Mata and Martial in the three attacking positions behind the striker will be key, and this might be the moment Juan Mata’s Manchester United career is truly defined. He will be asked to track back repetitively, ensuring City don’t dominate the game. This is the part of his game he struggled to work on at Chelsea, and was probably the main reason Mourinho sold him. Mourinho is known for his tactically disciplined and defensive teams, but will the Old Trafford crowd be accepting of this should Mourinho line up in a more pragmatic manner?
Predicted XI: De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Shaw; Fellaini, Pogba; Martial, Rooney, Mata; Ibrahimovic