Premier League title favourites Manchester United and Manchester City go head-to-head at Old Trafford next weekend.
Usually, I would not be talking about this game so early, but the news confirmed yesterday that City’s star striker Sergio Aguero will serve a three-match ban is massively significant.
The clash will be billed as Jose Mourinho v Pep Guardiola and would have also been billed as Zlatan Ibrahimovic v Sergio Aguero, but City will now be without their talisman.
It could be a vital factor in the first big clash of the campaign.
A major loss to City
The three-game ban relates to Aguero elbowing West Ham centre-back Winston Reid last weekend. The referee missed the incident, but it was always going to be reviewed and the incident seems out of character for the 28-year-old, who has never been dismissed for City.
Aguero is no doubt one of the best out and out strikers in the world game and has started the season on fire scoring six goals in his five competitive outings this season.
The diminutive star also has a good scoring record against United, having scored seven times in as many appearances against the Red Devils in derby matches.
He will be impossible to replace and the Citizens have very little striking backup after allowing Ivorian striker Wilfried Bony to join Stoke on a season-long loan deal on deadline day.
The only remaining out-and-out striker option Guardiola is left with is Nigerian youngster Kelechi Iheanacho. However, wingers Raheem Sterling and Nolito have also played as central strikers in the past.
Guardiola has a problem, as all his options have quality, but obviously, none of Aguero’s teammates possesses the same potent attacking threat.
A psychological boost for Manchester United
The first Manchester derby of the season was always going to be an important game, as it will give the winner an early psychological boost in the quest for the title. The game promised to be a fascinating battle of minds between Mourinho and Guardiola.
However, Aguero’s absence will have been celebrated in the United’s camp, even if they will not like to admit it. It would not have surprised me if Mourinho had been on the phone to the FA attempting to persuade them to ban Aguero.
Seriously they will have needed very little persuasion, as the general consensus is that the striker would have been sent-off if Andre Mariner would have actually seen the incident. It looked like violent conduct, which seems out of character for the diminutive star.
With United and City both looking to win the title, any little advantage can mean the difference between winning and losing come what May. Aguero absence is not just a tiny advantage it could change the way that Guardiola sets up his team and his game plan.
Red Devils the favourites for the win
Home advantage may have already been the key in this latest Manchester derby instalment. There is not much between the two teams. Aguero’s absence increases the difference. United are currently favourited at odds of 23/20 to record a victory over the Citizens and the Argentinian’s absence has no doubt affected those odds.
This game is an important one, but with it being so early in the campaign it is unlikely to have a massive effect on the direction of the title race. What it will do is have an effect on the two team’s momentum.
Both teams have started the campaign with three wins out of three under their new illustrious bosses in the top-flight and one way or another that record will go next Saturday. Momentum is tremendously important in football and this game is likely to have a big effect on both team’s momentum.
Sergio Aguero’s absence definitely gives Manchester United a better chance of claiming first blood in the fight for the Premier League title, but who knows Guardiola may just have something up his sleeve to negate the Argentinian’s absence.
How big an effect will Sergio Aguero’s absence have on the Manchester derby?