For the first time in a long time, Manchester United sit above Manchester City in the table. Yet it is not necessarily a position which United fans can take comfort from seeing as how both sides have made rather poor starts to the season. This game comes on the back of an acutely harrowing 3-2 defeat to RB Leipzig where Ole was outthought by Julian Nagelsmann and it has left many questioning his long-term future at the club.
City seem to have overcome their early season blip, and come to Old Trafford on the back of a 5 match unbeaten streak albeit against cannon fodder such as Burnley and Fulham and middle of the road European opposition such as Porto and Marseille. Their managers job seems safe, with Pep Guardiola secured as Manchester City manager until the summer of 2023 - although one has to question whether he has a genuine stomach for an elite level rebuild or does he just feel within his comfort zone there. One thing is for sure, a wounded United will prove a far stiffer test than their recent opponents and will need to be handled with due care and attention.
With the signing of Alex Telles, the Red Devils finally took a step towards modernisation by signing a defender who is more reknowned for his attacking prowess rather than his defending. Whilst that can be applauded, one has to wonder when there were superior more balanced options available this summer in the form of Ben Chilwell and Serge Reguilon, why on earth were United so content with letting players of that quality go to their direct competitors? Not only do these two players have more dynamism and pace, better dribbling/ball carrying ability but defensively they are less suspect with superior tackling/intecepting/pressing metrics.
This is particularly relevant as Man City's most inform wide attacker is Riyad Mahrez, who seems fully acclimatised to life in Manchester and has become the driving force in this rather lacklustre Manchester City side. In the game against Tottenham, Reguilon made 10 ball recoveries, 3/3 tackles, 3/3 Clearances, 3 blocked crosses rendering Mahrez ineffective and the worst performing attacker of the Man City forward line. Therefore does the return of Shaw from injury tempt Ole into going safety first or does he take the gamble of Telles being caught out in return for a superior threat on the counter.
In a rather unsurprising stat, 45% of United's attacks have come down their left hand side this season. The club has simply failed to build a functional attack down the right side of the pitch since arguably the departure of Nani, with a series of botched signings combined with endless tactical buffonery.
Why is this particularly prevalent, going in to the Manchester Derby? well it is quite clear that the Citizen's are particularly weak down the left side of their defence. Benjamin Mendy with his measly 6 tackles and 1 interception all season, not to mention his dire 25% tackle success rate when being dribbled at, is trailing in the wake of the likes of Cancelo and Walker who have had to battle each other for spots in the first team (34 & 28 Tackles/Interceptons respectively).
Against RB Leipzig, United's inability to attack down the right and exploit the uber-aggressive positioning of Angelino proved to be a key reason behind their inability to mount any attacks of substance, and it seems likely that it will be the case again on Saturday unless Solksjaer either gambles on young Uruguayan Pellestri - who in his brief glimpses so far, looks very comfortable on the right side albeit with a tendency to want to join the play inside or put Rashord out on that flank and let him use his pace and unpredictability to give Mendy nightmares. Putting Mata there, or Greenwood... is more likely to play into City's hands as Mendy can usher them into central areas rather than engage them in 1 v 1 duels.
If Cancelo plays on the left, then it is a different story and it will be difficult to see any of United's options down the right getting the better of him. But does Pep neutralise Cancelo's attacking threat down the right and hinder Mahrez' ability to be the match winner by prioritising defensive stability or does he go for the jugular, acknowledging United rarely offer a threat down that flank and gamble on Mendy.
One of England's heroes from the 2018 World Cup was John Stones. At that stage of his career, his future looked extremely bright having overcome harsh media criticism about his over-indulgence in possession and his error-proneness in general. In 2018/19, he would go on to make 20 league appearances, as City went on to win the Premier League. The following season, the errors had returned and Stones found himself displaced by the likes of Fernandino and Otamendi - the ultimate insult in the absence of mainstay Laporte.
English football had pretty much forgotten about him and Gareth Southgate no longer selected him for national duty, with no appearance since 2019. Yet there are signs of a renaissance, with him having displaced Laporte at the heart of the defence and excelling albeit against cannon fodder such as Fulham and Burnley. In midweek against Marseille, Stones came on as a injury substitute early into the game and when the French side were all hands to the pump, it was Stones who kept them at bay with one sliding block to deny Valere German denying what was an almost certain goalscoring opportunity.
The concern for Pep is, does he risk Stones new-found confidence against a wounded Manchester United? Well if Cavani remains doubtful, it is probably worth sticking Stones in as on paper, he seems a decent match up for the flailing Anthony Martial. But if the Urguayan starts up top, his rugged presence, aerial ability and aggressive pressing might mean he's the tactical kryptonite for the young Englishman.
One of the main reasons City are not as potent nor as aesthetically pleasing as yesteryear is the shift from a upwards facing triangle to a downwards facing triangle in their centre of midfield. Pep has morphed into Jose Mourinho or rather Jurgen Klopp, by prioritising work rate and defensive solidity over chance creation and territorial advantage in the attacking third.
Liverpool, realising that they needed to add new weapons to their midfield in deeper areas invested in Thiago and in his absence they have developed the supremely talented Curtis Jones. City who started the season by pairing the ageing Fernandinho with Rodri at the base of midfield eventually tried to go back to their old method of two advanced 8's against Tottenham yet were burnt badly, with Spurs picking them off on the counter.
Since then, City have gone back to utilising a double pivot which has given them more defensive stability but one cannot help but feel an upgrade is needed for Gundogan if the 4-2-3-1 formation is to truly yield the results the Sheikh's crave as well as the entertainment. Against United, a potent counter-attacking force - the double pivot in theory seems a good idea but as Nagelsmann proved, this United side can be outplayed by brave courageous teams and tend to start slow... perhaps Pep should grab the bull by the horns.
Mahrez v Telles/Shaw
If Cancelo starts ahead of Walker, then City's right flank looks devastating. It is one of the most scintilating flank pairings in the current game and United will need to keep their wits about them. 3 at the back, with Shaw and Telles operating in tandem does not seem a bad idea (assuming the rest of the team is not as negative as it was against Leipzig).
Jesus v Maguire/Lindelof/Tuanzebe
Maguire does not seem a great match up for Gabriel Jesus. He has been fortunate in that most of his games against the Citizens has involved him coming up against Aguero who does not have the same ability to unsettle and move elusively as he did in his prime. Pep needs to be bold here and give Jesus the best possible chance of succeeding, thus a front three of Sterling, Jesus and Mahrez is City's best bet of running this United defence ragged. United are advised to call up Tuanzebe, who stylistically represents a better match up against the slippery Jesus.
De Bruyne v Fernandes
Arguably the most in form CAM's in the EPL come head to head in this clash. Bruno has continued where he left off from last year, scoring 7 goals (all inside the box and even a header!) with 67% shot accuracy. Whilst he is lagging behind in assists, 4 to De Bruyne's 6 and is generally looser in possession (losing the ball 24.8 times per game and a passing accuracy of 76%) - he has created more chances during the season and is more influential in terms of crosses from open play and even defending. It must be noted however that De Bruyne has visibly started to look leaner and meaner the past few weeks and it would not be a surprise to see this comparison skew more in his favour by the end of the season.
Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Telles, McTominay, Fred,Fernandes, Rashford, Greenwood, Martial
Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Dias, Cancelo, Rodri, Gundogan, Mahrez, De Bruyne, Sterling, Jesus
Prediction: City's recent resurgence of form has been against admittedly weaker opposition. On the flanks, if Mendy is not selected - then City give themselves a good shot at victory but they must ensure Mahrez plays and not go for a over-complicated team selection which has Bernado/Foden operating as wide men as this will lead to a narrow team shape which plays into the hands of United. For Ole, this is the ideal situation for him, job on the line, world against him... he usually pulls results out of the bag in this scenario, but the lads will surely be demoralised after the midweek defeat.
Difficult to see a City defeat here, for now a high scoring draw but check out our twitter for a final prediction when the actual lineups come out! Leave your comments and predictions below!