Citizens favourites to march on


De Bruyne has returned from injury recently and will be the man to watch at the Etihad. — AFP

THE Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow is being touted as the game of the weekend and it has true potential to deliver an explosive encounter to match its billing.

It is also a coming together that could see Man City extend their lead at the top of the table to 17 points with no more than 10 games to play.

On paper, City will start as clear favourites to pile more pressure on Man United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who has seen his team win one and draw three of their last four Premier League outings.

In reality, that is scant return for a billion-dollar team that led the league table in January and boldly spoke of winning the title.

As things stand, United could yet find themselves in a tough scrap for a top-four spot in the run-in to the end of the season.

In the wake of their stalemate with “supposedly” lowly Crystal Palace in midweek, Solskjaer conceded he was “worried” about his charges and must now be grimacing at the thought of going to City’s home ground for what could turn out to be a real good thrashing.

A complete demolition of United tomorrow would not come as a surprise to the neutrals of football, or those with allegiances outside of Old Trafford.

Much of this has to do with Man United all too often getting on their high horses after a couple of wins or so, or briefly reaching the summit of the standings because other clubs have not played as many games and making all sorts of unrealistic claims.

Pep Guardiola’s side certainly goes into the fixture with a great deal of momentum and that understandably, will strike fear into the hearts of Man United.

Their victory over Wolves on Tuesday evening brought up their 21st consecutive victory in all competitions and 15th straight league win — a remarkable run of form that has kept them on track for an unprecedented quadruple (Premier League title, FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League).

It took their unbeaten run to 28 matches in all competitions and matched Arsenal’s record of not trailing for a minute in 19 successive league games in 1998-1999.

But as we know from the past, derbies sometimes play out a lot differently than what the form book might suggest and Man United’s fans will be hoping for one such occasion unfolding tomorrow.

That being said, the shift put in by Bruno Fernandes could be pivotal to the outcome.

The Portuguese international midfielder has been central to the positive performances of Man United over the last year and a bit.

But he has been somewhat jaded recently and that has, to some degree, coincided with United’s dip in form.

A telling contribution from Fernandes and a bit of support from those around him, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greendwood and Edinson Cavani, could see United give City a run for their money.

Guardiola, however, will not fret too much, even if he makes changes to the starting XI that was stretched by Wolves, before they coasted home with a three-goal salvo in the last 10 minutes.

The Spaniard made six changes to the line-up that saw off West Ham last weekend and will surely make a few more tomorrow.

Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez and Bernando Silva, along with Edersen, are perhaps the only players likely to keep their places in the side.

But regardless of who Guardiola starts with, Man United can expect to be put to the task in this derby. And if they draw, or somehow win, the visitors could count themselves fortunate, or maybe even lucky, some would say.

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Footnotes

   

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