Fireworks are expected in the 178th edition of the Manchester Derby. This match has often been the first game that fans of both teams look out for when the fixture list is released. But this one could be of even bigger significance than usual.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side are chasing a second consecutive Premier League title. The Cityzens know that four wins from their last four games would deliver the title to the Etihad Stadium.
Any dropped point could prove fatal for the blue half of Manchester at this stage. After all, Liverpool have been equally relentless in their pursuit of a first-ever Premier League title, and are currently ahead of City by two points (having played a game more).
It has been a chastening few weeks for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team. Defeat after humiliating defeat - by Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League and Everton in the Premier League - have washed away the optimism that followed the Norwegian’s appointment as United’s permanent manager.
Form going into the Manchester Derby
Manchester United have been dire of late and need an end-of-season boost. In their last five games in the league, the 19-time champions have won just twice - two scarcely-deserved 2-1 wins against Watford and West Ham.
In this same period, they have lost to Arsenal (2-0) and Wolves (2-1) and suffered Sunday’s 4-0 humiliation against Everton.
The team’s supposed stars Paul Pogba, David de Gea and Marcus Rashford among others have been poor lately. Moreover, Solskjaer has looked clueless about fixing the issues in the team.
All of this has made the undue haste to appoint him as the permanent manager look ever stranger.
On the other hand, aside from the VAR-inspired exit to Tottenham Hotspur aside, Manchester City have been peerless (well, except for Liverpool) in the Premier League.
With PFA Player of the Year nominees Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling leading the attack, the Shark Team is on a run of 11 wins in 11 games.
So relentless has the City machine been that in any other season, they would have had their 4th Premier League title sewn up by now.
Recent history of the derby
Ever since Guardiola turned up in England, Manchester City have beaten their city rivals more times than United fans would like to remember.
In the five Premier League meetings over the last three seasons, City have won four times - with United’s solitary win coming at the Etihad last season.
This will be Solskjaer’s first derby experience as a manager, and he will want to prove a point (and inadvertently help hated rivals Liverpool in the process).
With City desperate for the three points and still smarting from their exit from the UCL, the wise money would be on a Blue win at a stadium where they have only lost once in the last seven visits.
However, the state of play in the race for the remaining two UCL qualification slots means the Red Devils still have something to play for. Therefore, they too need the three vital points.
City’s attacking threat should prove too much for Manchester United’s leaky defence to contain. A 2-1 win for Guardiola’s men looks to be on the cards.Published 23 Apr 2019, 16:38 IST