Manchester derbies are always tasty, but this one seems to be bigger than ever. Even forgetting the local rivalry that has raged for decades, this is the most expensive football match ever played with over £1 billion worth of talent on the pitch. It is a collision of two 100% Premier League records. It is also a meeting between two of the modern game’s great managers: Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.
But amongst all the build up and the hyperbole, a football match needs to be played. It is likely to be a tactical but committed game, with both sides knowing that defeat will hand their rivals significant initiative in the early stages of the title race.
Both sides are in perfect form. United started their campaign with an excellent 3-1 win over Bournemouth, were clinical in a 2-0 defeat of Southampton in their only previous home game and struck late to snatch a 1-0 victory from Hull City.
City’s form looks slightly better due to goal difference. They edged past Sunderland on the opening day 2-1, but since then have smashed Stoke City 4-1 at the Bet365 Stadium and West Ham 3-1 at the Etihad.
The international break would have interrupted their momentum slightly, but neither team’s preparation could have been much better.
Injuries and Suspensions
Both sides have a few fitness concerns ahead of the derby. United have no guaranteed absentees, but are currently sweating on the fitness of Luke Shaw, who had to come home from England duty with a calf problem, Antonio Valencia, who has been on international duty in South America and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who was injured playing for Armenia.
Manchester City have the biggest loss to contend with after star striker Sergio Aguero was banned for three matches for an elbow on Winston Reid against West Ham. Other than that, they are in much the same position as before the international break, although Vincent Kompany, Ilkay Gundogan and Leroy Sane are all nearing returns and could all play some part on Saturday.
Although Shaw and Valencia are both close to full fitness, it would be a risk for Mourinho to start both, so the Portuguese may wish to change his back four around for the game. Valencia is likely to start the game whereas Shaw may miss out, meaning Daley Blind would switch to left-back and Chris Smalling would come in at centre back alongside Eric Bailly. Mourinho has had calls to start Marcus Rashford, but he would be a brave man to drop Zlatan Ibrahimovic for his first derby.
For City, the suspension of Aguero has caused selection issues for Guardiola. Kelechi Iheanacho represents the closest thing to a straight swap, but the Spanish manager may opt for Nolito, Raheem Sterling or Kevin de Bruyne as a false nine. The other selection issue for Guardiola is whether he plays the attacking Aleksandr Kolarov or traditional centre back Nicolas Otamendi at centre back. For the purpose of dealing with Ibrahimovic, Otamendi might be the best choice. Claudio Bravo is expected to make his debut in goal.
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In a way it is a shame that this game has come so early in the season. Neither manager will want to concede a lot of ground to their closest rivals, and both will probably be pragmatic and set their teams up to match the other as opposed to going for the jugular. An early goal could do this game the world of good, but don’t be too surprised if this one ends in a tight, tactical, tetchy draw.
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