The much-awaited Manchester Derby has been perfectly scheduled to ward off midweek blues. Pep Guardiola’s army marches on to Old Trafford to take on a quivering Manchester United side that was recently humiliated by Everton at Goodison Park.
This derby is bound to have a major influence on the league table as a draw or defeat against United would mean that Manchester City will have to depend on results from elsewhere in order to defend their crown.
City will be in good spirits despite being ousted from Europe by Tottenham after beating the same opponents on Saturday in domestic action, whereas United are yet to recover from the blow provided by Wolves and amplified by Barcelona then Everton.
However, form is secondary in a derby as emotions take centre-stage. Counting United out could be premature, given they do have players capable of hurting City.
The Premier League is in the end-game now and Guardiola will do whatever it takes to defend the title. City, surely start as favourites.
We take a look at the key-players in this crucial tie.
Raheem Sterling – Manchester City
Raheem Sterling has made the headlines for all the right reasons recently.
The winger has been one of the most consistent players under Guardiola and has rightly earned himself a nomination for Player of the Year.
The Englishman has been involved in 26 goals this season, scoring 17 times and providing nine more. Team-mate Sergio Aguero (27) and Real Madrid-bound Eden Hazard (29) are the only two players with better numbers in the Premier League.
Although, statistics don’t entirely justify the influence Sterling has on a particular game. He is clearly one of the most complete players in the team – and by extension – the league. Sterling averages a very impressive two key-passes a game and completes 2.4 dribbles.
Tactically flexible, the England international can drop deep to provide, hug the touchline to stretch the field or even cut inside and have a go at goal himself. Sterling has the traits and the momentum to create a huge impact on this game.
David de Gea – Manchester United
When you’re facing the team which fires at goal voluminously – their 18 shots in the league is the highest, Chelsea in second sit at around two less – you’ll need your goalkeeper to be on top of his game.
Unless it’s Danilo or Kyle Walker rocketing from distance, the shots produced by City are of high quality. They have recorded an xG (expected goals) of 87.53 and have scored 87 goals this season. Liverpool – who have registered an xG of 72.69 – are second on the list, but the difference is immense.
De Gea has been poor by his standards this season and erroneous recently. His last cleansheet in the league was exactly two months ago when an injury-ravaged United and injury-struck Liverpool played out a lifeless 0-0 draw at Old Trafford.
Yet there is the mitigating factor of there being practically no defence in front of him, as evidenced by the dire closing down for Gylfi Sigurdsson’s strike on Sunday. The confidence and morale is visibly low, but nothing can turn it around like a masterclass in a derby.
Sergio Aguero – Manchester City
PFA announce six-man shortlist for Player of the Year 👏 Who is your winner?#pfa #pfaplayeroftheyear #poty #professionalfootballersassociation #premierleague #mancity #chelsea #liverpool #aguero #sterling #bernardosilva #hazard #mane #vandijk pic.twitter.com/IVrwPfW7RQ— Onefootball (@OnefootballEN) April 20, 2019
When City face an opponent from the top six, it’s mandatory to include Aguero on the list of key players. The Argentine has always delivered for City against elite teams domestically.
The striker has scored eight goals against the top-six this season and this accounts for 42 percent of the total goals he has scored in the league. With an assist against Spurs last week, Aguero now has at least one goal-involvement against each of the top-six teams in the league in 2018/19.
The 30-year-old has already netted hat-tricks against Chelsea and Arsenal in the second half of the season plus a crucial goal to hand Liverpool their only defeat of the season back in January.
Aguero will be licking lips at the prospect of extending this record by asserting himself on an underwhelming United defence.
United have a Champions League spot to fight for but City need this win to reclaim top spot. It would be logical to expect both the teams to adopt an attacking approach. In such a case – or otherwise – Aguero could prove to be decisive.
Alexis Sanchez – Manchester United
Alexis Sanchez is back from injury and could get the nod for his first start since March. During his cameo against Barcelona at the Camp Nou, the Chilean created more threat in 15 minutes than United’s attack managed over two legs.
Sanchez has been in a rough patch himself ever since he jumped ship from Arsenal. But given how poorly Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial have performed ever since their comeback against Paris Saint-Germain, United might have to turn to the man behind the piano to strike the right notes.
While at Arsenal, Sanchez had a reputation of performing on the big stage and he needs to bring out that version of his past to help United pull off an unexpected victory.
Whether he plays as a winger, a No10 or as a striker, the Chilean has to take it onto himself to provide the spark that has been missing in United’s attack.
If it turns out to be one of those days for Sanchez, he could make the covers on Thursday morning.
Title favourites Manchester City face rivals Manchester United in a crucial derby on Wednesday that could have huge implications in the Premier League.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at some talking points ahead of the game at Old Trafford.
The game could be the defining fixture in the title race. The recent scheduling has meant City and Liverpool have been swapping places at the top for weeks but Pep Guardiola’s men – currently two points behind with this game in hand – have had the advantage of knowing their fate is in their own hands.
They now have to capitalise and make sure they take the three points from this extra game.
Why is it so critical?
Nothing will be finalised on Wednesday night but it would appear to be the biggest hurdle left facing either side in the run-in. Ordinarily, City would be expected to beat their final three opponents – Burnley, Leicester and Brighton – and likewise Liverpool should be confident against Huddersfield, Newcastle and Wolves.
If City can claim the derby spoils they will become clear favourites, even with just a one-point lead.
Looking at recent form, City should win
While City have been powering on, winning their last 10 league games and competing for the quadruple until just last week, United have hit a rut. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have lost six of their last eight in all competitions, including Sunday’s embarrassing 4-0 thrashing at Everton.
On the face of that, this should be an easy win for City but that does not take into account the unique pressures of a derby or history which shows this fixture can often throw up surprises.
United also need the points in their battle for a top-four place. Add to that the tension City will undoubtedly be feeling and the determination of a group of United players to recover from a blow to their professional pride, and nothing can be taken for granted.
Aren’t United fans in two minds about this game?
This is the other interesting factor in play. There is little United fans would hate more at the moment than to see their fiercest rivals, Liverpool, win the title.
They know beating City, or even just taking a point against them, would hand the Merseysiders the initiative. Helping City retain the crown would hardly be appetising either, though, and losing derby games is certainly not something they can usually stomach.
It is a dilemma for United fans with no happy outcome. It could make for an odd atmosphere, although it is debatable whether such things seep into players’ minds.
How do City replace Kevin De Bruyne?
City have suffered a big blow with the loss of their key playmaker. Admittedly De Bruyne has already missed quite a lot of the season and City have coped well but his performances in recent games have been outstanding.
His absence will put pressure on other players who have fought long campaigns. David Silva would be an obvious replacement having sat out at the weekend but he has been under par lately.
It could mean another opportunity for Phil Foden but that would be asking a lot of a youngster who has only been used sparingly so far.
The two sides will meet in a high-stakes clash at Old Trafford, with City locked in a tight Premier League title race with Liverpool and United scrapping to get into the top four.
City have previously been accused of ‘tactical fouling’ to prevent counter-attacks when they are pressing high up the pitch, and Solskjaer expects to see that on Wednesday.
“We have got to be ready for the press and the quality they have got on the ball,” he said.
“When we win it we have got to be ready for their aggression because they will snap at your ankles and heels and kick you.
“They will not allow us easy counter-attacking. There will be fouls, no doubt about it.”
United go into the match on the back of a humbling 4-0 loss at Everton on Sunday, a sixth defeat in eight which led to questions over whether Solskjaer is indeed the right man for the Old Trafford job.
The Norwegian won 14 of 19 games while in a caretaker role, but has overseen four defeats in six since taking the job permanently.
Asked if he could turn it around, Solskjaer said: “I would like to to say yes. It’s not down to me to say that but I’m confident in my team and I’m ready to take on the challenge.
“I know it’s a big challenge, that’s why I came in when I came in.”
A big summer of rebuilding awaits but Solskjaer said he could be trusted to make the right calls on United players.
“I would like to think so,” he said. “I like all these boys. I love them. They are great lads. I have to manage for the club. I help the players but I manage for the club. I am putting all my efforts into doing what is right for the club.”
Solskjaer had questioned his players’ attitudes immediately after Sunday’s game but adopted a more balanced tone on Tuesday.
“Now is not the time to be making wholesale changes in the squad,” he said. “We’ve been doing great. Only City and Liverpool have taken more points than us in the last 18 games and that’s a great effort by the boys.
“We were where we were when we came in and we’ve given it a real go. You see lots of the Manchester United standards and DNA in many of these players.
“But we will have to get some in and some will have to go out.”
Given the problems exposed at Goodison Park, Solskjaer said there was no one he would rather be facing than City on Wednesday.
“It was the best game we could ask for now,” he said. “The players are hurting. We had a meeting after the game and you can see all the players were really hurt by that performance and the City game is perfect. There is no hiding place on the pitch.”
Provided by Press Association Sports