Manchester United will be hoping to delay arch-rivals Manchester City’s coronation as Premier League champions when the two sides meet at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday evening. Pep Guardiola’s men are just one win away from landing their fifth top-flight title, having blown away Everton in a 3-1 victory last weekend and the Reds will have to be at their very best if they are to get anything out of this match.
United put in a much-improved performance last Saturday, securing a comfortable 2-0 victory over struggling Swansea City at Old Trafford, with Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez scoring early on to put the game to bed. Those three points saw Jose Mourinho’s side all but secure a top-four finish, as well as strengthen their hold on second place and are currently two points clear of nearest rivals Liverpool, having played one game less.
Having drawn stinging criticism for their meek performances in recent weeks, Mourinho would have been pleased with Saturday’s display but will be aware that City will pose a completely different threat to Swansea. Sanchez’s goal and overall performance on Saturday would undoubtedly have pleased the manager, who dropped the Chilean for the FA Cup quarter-final win over Brighton and Hove Albion prior to the international break. The form of top scorer Lukaku will also fill the Reds with confidence – the Belgium international fired home his 26th goal of the season against the Swans, making it 11 strikes in 15 appearances in all competitions since the turn of the year.
Paul Pogba, returning to the starting XI after a spell out of the side, also put in an impressive performance at the weekend and the France international is likely to pivotal in deciding the derby’s outcome. In goal, David de Gea pulled off two stunning saves to deny Swansea’s Tammy Abraham, with the Spaniard further showcasing his importance to the United side and he will be looking to keep out a City side that has found the back of the net on 88 occasions in the league, this campaign.
On the injury front, Mourinho is unlikely to be missing any key players, although centre-back Phil Jones is a major doubt, having last featured for the Reds at the start of February due to injury. Academy graduate Scott McTominay, who was forced to withdraw from the Scotland squad after picking up a knock, came off the bench in stoppage time against Swansea and is available for selection. It will be interesting to see what starting XI Mourinho will opt for, particularly in attack. Sanchez, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata were the three chosen to line-up behind Lukaku at the weekend and all three impressed, with Lingard putting in a star performance.
However, with the likes of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford available, Mourinho could go for the pair’s pace and youthful exuberance in an attempt to break down City’s backline. When the two sides met at Old Trafford back in December, United succumbed to a 2-1 defeat, with Rashford momentarily equalizing for the hosts, before Nicolas Otamendi secured all three points for the Citizens.
Whilst Saturday’s clash is ultimately far from a title decider, it is all about pride for United, who will be desperate to delay their arch-rivals’ title celebrations.