A defeat for the home side could seriously jeopardise United’s bid to finish fourth in the Premier League. The fifth-placed Red Devils are involved in a protracted battle for a top-four finish that would secure Champions League football next season and maybe stave off the possible sacking of their Norwegian manager.
This is so, because Man United are a big club, and not competing on club football’s biggest stage is a major embarrassment and would irk their fans night and day.
A victory would certainly keep United in sight of fourth-placed Chelsea, who are just three points ahead. Indeed, a win for United and a defeat for Chelsea would lift the Manchester side into fourth place on goal difference — that is how close it is.
The fight for fourth place is extremely close. A mere two points separate United from eighth-placed Sheffield United and Tottenham in seventh spot. Wolverhampton Wanderers are sixth, with 42 points — the same as United.
In contrast, Man City are second, a whopping 15 points ahead of their cross-town rivals and seven clear of Leicester who are in third place.
Given the massive gulf between the two teams on the log and their successful defence of the League Cup in the final at Wembley Stadium last weekend, City should beat United tomorrow.
Citizens certainly have a more polished unit, even if their star defender Aymeric Laporte is out injured again.
The player whom United may want to keep an eye on is Sergio Aguero. The diminutive Argentine striker scored against Aston Villa at Wembley last Sunday and got the winner too in their FA Cup win over Sheffield Wednesday in midweek.
Aguero, who himself has been hampered by niggling injuries this season, could well make United pay for any sloppiness at the back.
For a while now, regarded as the leading striker in English football, Aguero is as deadly as they come and has shown a certain hunger to get among the goals recently — something United should not ignore.
The emergence of Rodri as one of the league’s top central midfielders in his first campaign in England is another feather in the cap for Pep Guardiola.
The Spanish manager will also almost surely look to Bernando Silva and his namesake David to drive the midfield forward with the great creativity that they have become known for.
Master midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, who missed the FA Cup win through injury, may also be sidelined for the derby. Speaking after their victory at Hillsborough, Guardiola said the Belgian had not fully recovered from a back injury and was unsure if he would take to the field at Old Trafford. Any team with De Bruyne in it is a better team and United will know that.
The home side could be weakened themselves, following news that sturdy defender and captain Harry Maguire is carrying an ankle injury. He too missed duty in their midweek win over Derby in the FA Cup.
His loss would badly impact United’s rearguard, which often finds itself at sixes and sevens.
The good news for the suffering Old Trafford fans is that Odion Ighalo is looking sharp. He scored twice against Derby and will be expected to deliver more of the same tomorrow.
United’s faithful followers will also have been heartened by the form of Bruno Fernandes and Fred. They have been instrumental in shaping some of the decent results they have put together recently.
But one gets the feeling that even their best efforts may not be good enough against a City side that looks and plays so much better.
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