Pep Guardiola prevailed in his maiden managerial meeting with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and would dearly love another win on Saturday to remain in sight of Liverpool.
Manchester City did that with a routine 4-1 win at Burnley on Tuesday but their bitter rivals and next opponents perhaps took more from the midweek fixtures.
In overcoming Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham, Manchester United shed a poor run of results and laid down some sort of marker for what is possible for a team that was in mid-table.
But with what Solskjaer described as his side’s best display for a “long time” comes the need for another step forward at the Etihad Stadium.
CAN UNITED MAKE IT TWO STEPS FORWARD?
“We dominated the game and could have, should have finished the game there and then,” Solskjaer side of United’s first half against Tottenham.
They eventually completed the job against the Champions League finalists but what lies ahead is a tougher test and a true measure of the Norwegian’s tactical acumen.
Daniel James and Marcus Rashford joined Mason Greenwood in attack on Wednesday and should in theory have the pace to trouble City on the break, much as Wolves did in October.
Rashford scored twice against Spurs and has now been directly involved in 14 goals in his past 13 games for club and country, a sharp improvement on his lean start to the season.
City, meanwhile, were back closer to their best in the convincing victory over Burnley but have failed to keep a clean sheet in eight games in all competitions.
Can the ageing Fernandinho cope alongside either John Stones, who professes not to know which games he will start, or the error-prone Nicolas Otamendi?
The man tasked with screening the defence could help, particularly as he faces a key midfield battle.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: RODRI V SCOTT MCTOMINAY
Rodri’s thunderous strike at Turf Moor will have done wonders for the Spaniard’s confidence ahead of his first Manchester derby.
The 23-year-old close-season recruit has had a bigger part to play in his first Premier League campaign than perhaps even Guardiola would have expected, in part due to Fernandinho’s move into defence.
Rodri’s ability on the ball was obvious before his arrival in England and it is of little surprise that his passing accuracy (91.73 per cent) is superior to the man he is set to meet in the centre of the Etihad Stadium pitch, Scott McTominay.
McTominay’s average sits at 78.74 per cent but his importance to United was obvious as he helped the Red Devils end a three-game winless streak when returning from an ankle injury.
The Scotland international offers more in a box-to-box sense and has scored three goals to Rodri’s two from the same number of appearances (13), while attempting 20 shots to his counterpart’s seven.
That, though, is generally where his statistical superiority ends. Despite playing 178 more minutes, McTominay has managed just one more tackle and two more interceptions than Rodri.
The latter also boasts a better duel success rate (62.41 per cent to 55.74) and has laid on an extra seven scoring chances.
City returned to winning ways against the Clarets after drawing on the road at Newcastle United, a result that left them 11 points adrift of Liverpool.
The club’s record over their past 10 top-flight matches now reads seven victories, one draw and two defeats, those coming against Wolves and leaders Liverpool at Anfield.
United head across town fresh from a morale-boosting reunion with former manager Mourinho but have issues to rectify against fellow ‘big six’ teams.
They have won one of their past five away to such opposition and weaknesses were evident in recent trips to Bournemouth and Sheffield United, which reaped a solitary point.
Guardiola’s record in the Manchester derby makes for cheery reading for City supporters.
The champions prevailed 2-0 at Old Trafford in April, the Catalan’s seventh win from 11 meetings with the team across town.
Another victory would see him become the club’s second manager, after Manuel Pellegrini, to notch up three in a row against United in the Premier League.
The Red Devils do, however, hold the superior head-to-head record: 21 wins to City’s 15, with the points split on eight occasions.
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!