Why Manchester City might trump Manchester United in the upcoming Manchester derby
The Manchester derby is fast approaching and with it, a tense build-up of expectations from fans of both football clubs. Supporters from either side want their team to win and with the way recent events have unfolded, fans from the blue side of Manchester might just have a more legitimate claim over the three points than their much-revered neighbours in red - the reason for the above statement is the focal point of this article.
Every statement that will be made going forward only reflects objective forecasts and predictions based on information from events that have transpired leading up to this moment, both in the English Premier League and in the other meaningful competitions.
The match between Manchester United and Manchester City will be played on Sunday, the 10th of December 2017 at Old Trafford (United's club stadium) with Manchester United having home advantage.
As the title says, this piece seeks to explore the reasons why Manchester United will fail to win the match and the points backing up this statement will be discussed under three headings: Tactics, squad depth, and both teams' current form.
Out of all the clubs in the Premier League, Manchester City seems to be the one that has the most solid tactical and strategic plan. They have been described by the Daily Mail's sports publication as playing "easily some of the best football in the Premier League" and although the reasons for this are numerous, they all boil down to the club's fluid, free passing, attack-minded strategy.
After a faltering 2016/17, Pep Guardiola's men look to have found their team spirit and rhythm and with it, are tearing teams apart this season.
This is perhaps most evident in their exploitation of "the pocket". A very catchy name no doubt, the pocket is a term used to refer to the space on the football pitch between the opposing team's centre-back and fullback.
Because teams are taught to spread the defence to cover each attacking player from the opposing team and ultimately prevent a shot, the pocket of space always opens.
That is not to say that this space is easily exploitable (with great defenders ever aware and ready to put in a well-placed tackle and shut down the killer pass), but with a team that can pass like Manchester City can, these pockets become a much more dangerous weakness for the opposing team.
This was evident in the game against Crystal Palace where Leroy Sane, aware that Silva was with the ball at his feet, made a darting run into this space on the wing. Receiving the ball through an inch-perfect pass, he cut past Scott Dann (who, to be fair, did the best he could) and fired the ball beneath the Palace keeper Hennessey to open the scoring.
Manchester City have shown themselves to be quicker on the counter, swift with their passes and ultimately, more decisive in the box than Manchester United this season. They have cut teams apart with their quick and deceptive play, time and time again, and it shouldn't be any different against Manchester United.
Admittedly, this is a term that is used very often, but in this case, Manchester City seem to possess a much deeper squad than their city rivals this season. It seems that with every position on the pitch, there is an equally able replacement on the bench to fill in as the need arises.
Bernardo Silva is every bit the kind of player David Silva is, Ilkay Gundogan is an able replacement for Fernandinho and heck, Yaya Toure is still on the team. With the glass-footed Vincent Kompany out for long stretches this season, Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones played together at centre-back and it was business as usual for City.
Add all these to the consistency of players like Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Aguero, and Benjamin Mendy, and Manchester City's squad looks frighteningly stacked.
That is not to say that Manchester United does not stock an adequate squad by any means but with them, the changes aren't that seamless. Both, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku seem to be cut from the same cloth and offer little variety when either is substituted for the other.
Also, Ander Herrera has looked out of sorts of recent, leading to the manager snubbing him the past few games - this has also been the case with Henrikh Mkhitaryan as well. However, the spike in form of both, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial, may prove to be enough to sway the odds in united's favour - the operative word being "may".
If nothing else, City have a fuller, more robust midfield that will not break apart with the injury or drop in form of a single player (as was seen with Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan respectively) and this can prove crucial in determining the tie.
Manchester City have already scored an astonishing 46 goals in the league this term, with the second (Manchester United), third (Liverpool FC) and fourth (Arsenal) placed goal-scoring teams with 35, 33 and 29 goals respectively.
No one can make the argument that they haven't met top teams either, with a 5-0 demolition of Liverpool in September and a 0-1 away win at Stamford Bridge part of their 11-game winning streak.
Gabriel Jesus has been a revelation this season, having bagged an astonishing 8 goals already (leaving him just 4 behind topper Mohamed Salah, with 12). The more important fact, however, is that alongside Jesus, there are three other Manchester City Players in the top 10 Premier league goal scorers chart right now:
Sergio Aguero (9), Raheem Sterling (9) and Leroy Sane (6). This leaves City with 43 points, eight more than their nearest competitors in the league table. Manchester City have only dropped points once in the league this season, and it was with their 1-1 draw to Everton.
How do all of the above compare against Manchester United? Well, United have been good this season, not great. After an explosive start, winning six out of seven Premier League games, they have somewhat lost the spark that they seemed to carry around in droves and have calmed somewhat, this coinciding with Lukaku's loss of confidence in front of goal (a haul of one goal in his last 8 Premier League appearances is a testament to this).
United have looked slow on the buildup play and downright methodical at times, with their attacks seeming laboured. This has meant that United have taken just 16 points in their last 8 Premier League games (out of a possible 24 points) as opposed to 19 points in the first 7 games to start the season (out of a possible 21 points).
Important to acknowledge, however, is that Manchester United have begun to ride a wave of red-hot form these past two weeks as seen in the effortless, decisive wins against both Watford (4-2) and Arsenal (3-1). Lingard (scoring three goals in the last two games) and Martial seem to be in red-hot form, and if anything can sway the tie in the Reds' favour, it's this fact.
On the other hand, Paul Pogba will miss the clash owing to the red card he was shown against Arsenal and is expected, this will weaken the strength of the midfield.
The potential starting line-up on the day for Manchester United is: David de Gea, Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof, Marcos Rojo, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Romelu Lukaku.
Manchester City will most likely go with a line-up of Ederson, Vincent Kompany, Eliaquim Mangala, Fabian Delph, Kyle Walker, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Bernardo Silva, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero.
Anything can happen on the day. Indeed, this article is just casting predictions based on both teams' run of form this season.
Manchester United, however, have the better recent head-to-head record having won 3, drawn 2 and lost just 1 in both clubs' last 6 meetings stretching all the way back to 2015, but it is a new season and with both teams in considerably good form (1st and 2nd in the league table respectively), the contest on Sunday is, at the very least, going to be an entertaining one to watch.