I’m The Boss: Manchester United vs. Manchester City (Premier League, 10-12-2017)

It’s finally here. With the exception of the games against our traditional enemy, Liverpool, this game now jumps off the new season’s fixture list every summer as one of the pivotal games of the year, and for 2017-18 that is certainly the case. Our “noisy neighbours” arrive at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon with the destination of this season’s Premier League title very much in their own hands after a simply majestic campaign to date which has seen Pep Guardiola’s team drop a mere TWO points to date…even the former Barcelona man couldn’t have dreamed of such a fantastic start to a domestic league campaign.

For their part, United have made a very good fist of giving chase to City, with an impressive record of 11 victories and two draws in our opening 15 fixtures…it would be considered title-winning form in any other season. However, with the gap between the sides standing at 8 points ahead of kick-off on Sunday afternoon, this has become very much a “must not lose” game for the Red Devils if we are to harbour any serious hopes of adding to our illustrious record of 20 league title wins come May 2018.

With that in mind, here is my team selection for this game: (3-4-1-2)

GK: David de Gea – there are no more superlatives left to throw at David; his simply unbelievable performance last Saturday evening at Arsenal just served to reinforce many people’s opinions that he is now the best goalkeeper on the planet. I expect him to have a few shots to save on Sunday, but there is no other man you’d want standing ‘between the sticks’.

CBs: Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling & Marcos Rojo – with Eric Bailly and Phil Jones not yet match-fit, I’d go with the three-at-the-back system that Jose has been trialling in recent weeks, though it wasn’t overly successful against Arsenal (who created far too many decent goalscoring chances for my liking), and we will certainly look to Nemanja Matic to provide additional cover in front of these three. Individually and collectively, they will come up against one of the best strikers in the world, Sergio Aguero, and will need to be mindful of the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling breaking forward to support the little Argentinean. Sure to be a busy afternoon for them.

RWB: Antonio Valencia – Tony was somewhat surprisingly selected to play on Tuesday evening against C.S.K.A. Moscow (I had expected Jose to give him a rest ahead of this big game and go with Darmian against the Russians), but I don’t think there’s any danger he won’t be picked for this game. I expect him to be facing up to Leroy Sane, and that will be an intriguing battle for sure.

LWB: Ashley Young – Ash got the ‘night off’ against the Russians, but he’ll relish an opportunity to put the shackles on Raheem Sterling and try to get forward to support United attacks on the left flank. With a quality full-back like Kyle Walker to beat, he’ll need to be on top of his game to have the impact we hope he can…

CMs: Ander Herrera & Nemanja Matic – as we all know, Paul Pogba is suspended for this fixture following his dismissal at Arsenal, so I’d bring Herrera into the line-up and detail him with a man-marking job on City’s main threat, Kevin de Bruyne. He proved he is capable of playing this role very well when he marked Eden Hazard out of the game when United met Chelsea last season, and if he can do a similar job on the Belgian midfielder, City’s threat will be greatly diminished. I’d also hope Ander can get forward to help support our attacks, so he will need to have had his “porridge” on Sunday! Matic will need to add cover in front of our defence, which he is superb at doing, as well as seeking to control the rhythm and tempo of the game. Along with Lingard, we will need these lads to win control of the midfield for us, or else we will simply face wave after wave of City attacks….

AM (C): Jesse Lingard – the young man has been in sensational form over the past few weeks, complimenting his intelligent movement with some delightful skills and cool finishing. You know what you’re going to get from Jesse, constant non-stop running with the desire to contribute to the team effort as much as he can. As one of several United ‘fans’ in the squad, he won’t need to be told just how much winning this fixture would mean to us, and I expect to see a phenomenal effort from him in this important role of linking midfield and attack.

CFs: Romelu Lukaku & Anthony Martial – Lukaku, despite having tailed-off in terms of scoring goals, has been impressive with his input into our build-up play recently, showing that he is a better football player than many pundits would give him credit for. He will be a real handful for the likes of Nicolas Otamendi to deal with, and if we can give the lad some decent service he will give young Ederson plenty to do. Martial is frightening right now; his natural ability on the ball is as good as anyone in his age-group, and as long as we keep him involved in the game, he’ll be a real worry for the City defence.

BENCH: Romero, Rashford, Mata, Fellaini, Shaw, Blind, Ibrahimović.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway!)…this is the most important game we’ve played since beating Ajax to win the Europa League competition last May. Whilst the Manchester Derby fixture may rank behind our clashes with Liverpool for most United fans in terms of being ‘the one to win at all costs’, the significance of this game in the race for the Premier League title is unequaled for this season, and that may be a repeating pattern in coming years, given City’s enormous spending power.

Whilst a draw wouldn’t be a disaster (given how potent Pep Guardiola’s men have been to date), I think the vast majority of Reds would accept that we need to win this game to have even an outside chance of overhauling our neighbours this season….and that (beating them) is something which no club side has managed to do to City yet this year (and I’m not counting City’s 2-0 defeat in the Ukraine on Wednesday evening to be anything other than a ‘dead rubber’ game played with a virtual reserve team on the park).

I think if we can keep it tight and get the opening goal, then we can build on that lead and give ourselves a good chance of a favourable result… if City score first, it could get very difficult indeed. For their part, I think Pep would take a point here & now; it would leave them with one less tricky fixture to negotiate and a healthy 8-point lead over United.

We need everyone in a red shirt to be at the very top of their game… if we win, the feeling will be like a tidal wave of joyous emotional release on Sunday evening…nervous, tense days like these are why we love this sport so much, are they not?! It’s much better than being an also-ran in mid-table with nothing to play for…! Come on United, do us proud!

About the Author

Rodney McCain
A passionate supporter of Manchester United since I was 6 years old. In life I'm a consulting civil engineer, but that's only to pay the bills. Originally from Northern Ireland, I was a regular at Old Trafford for many years, but now reside in the United States, which makes getting to games a tad difficult.... I love to write about football, which hopefully comes across to readers on these sites.