On Sunday 7 March 2021 (Monday 8 March, 3.30am AEST/AEDT), Manchester City face Manchester United at the Ethiad Stadium. This is a derby game with an extra twist. Despite there being 10 games to play after this one, it has a distinct feeling of a title decider, certainly for the blue half of Manchester.
City are on some run. They are currently on a 21 game winning streak, a record that had stood for 129 years since Preston North End won 14 straight games between October 1891 and January 1892. They are also unbeaten in 28 games. Following a 4-1 win against Wolves in midweek, they also took over from United as the leading scorers, racking up 56 goals in just 27 games this season.
Following midweek games against Wolves and Palace respectively, City moved 14 points ahead of United, their nearest rivals for the title and victory would put them 17 points clear whilst sending United back into a battle to finish in the top four to seal a Champions League place for 2021/22.
Clearly, this game means a lot to both sides. If United can somehow grind out a victory, something they did twice in the league against City last season, they provide a slim glimmer of hope to their title aspirations. They would also bring to an end City’s incredible run which would be sure to silence the ‘noisy neighbours’, at least in the short term.
For City, they will be desperate to wrap up the title as quickly as possible following last season’s disappointment losing out to Liverpool in the title race. With one eye on the Champions League, a trophy they have never won, closing out the Premier League season with games to spare would allow manager Pep Guardiola to rotate his team and place all his focus on claiming the elusive Champions League trophy.
We have already talked about City’s form. In the midst of a 21-game winning streak, confidence has never been higher. They have a huge squad and Guardiola has used it to its full potential in the league this season, making the most changes to his starting lineup of any team in the league. The ability to rest his big-name stars in the lead up to crucial games has kept his squad hungry and all his players can feel they have played an active role in the current winning streak.
Since hitting the top of the table in early January, following a 1-0 win at Burnley, United’s form has been inconsistent, to say the least. In their last five games, they have drawn four and won only one which is one of the main reasons they have seen the gap continue to widen as City march on with victory after victory. Their previous three games, including their Europa League game against Real Sociedad, have ended 0-0 and since thrashing Southampton 9-0, they have really struggled for goals.
City had the luxury of resting many of their usual starting XI in midweek, however, their strength in depth still meant they were able to field a team full of internationals. They are likely to welcome back Ilkay Gundagon and John Stones to their starting lineup against United with Sergio Aguero also pushing for a starting spot following a season on the sidelines with injury. Talisman Kevin De Bruyne is also now back from injury and starting to hit his strides so United will have their work cut out.
United are likely to be without Paul Pogba whose absence has been noticeable in their recent poor run of form. Whilst their star man Bruno Fernandes continues to shine, he is lacking support from his fellow midfielders and forwards in the creativity department which has led to a drought in front of goal. Dean Henderson started in goals against Palace and he could retain his place even if De Gea is back in contention after missing the game due to personal reasons. United will hope their exciting front line, including Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood can find their shooting boots in time for Sunday’s big game. There still seems to be no place for summer signing Donny Van De Beek as he has struggled to break into the starting lineup in his debut season.
Record against the big six
Much is made of the ‘big six’ – a group of six teams that have traditionally competed for the Premier League title and includes City, United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, and Chelsea. In recent times, this has been disrupted by teams like Leicester, Premier League champions in 2015/16 and this season, the likes of Everton, Aston Villa and West Ham are outperforming some of those traditional big six.
United’s record against the big six this season, however, is definitely not something that will have City worrying about their winning streak. In the seven games United have played against the big six this season, they are yet to win, notching up five draws and two defeats. Compare this to City, who top the big six table with five wins, two draws, and one defeat in their eight games.
Perhaps the biggest area of concern for United against the big six is their lack of goals. Scoring only one goal in those games which came during the 6-1 humiliation against Spurs at Old Trafford. Their last four games have all finished in drab 0-0 draws including last weekend against Chelsea. Not since a 2-0 win against City at Old Trafford in March 2020 have United won against the big six and this is an area of concern for Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer heading into this weekend’s fixture.
It is likely that the derby will go a long way to deciding not whether City win the Premier League title, but how quickly. A defeat for them would be a minor stumbling block as their strength in depth and form suggests it would take more than one defeat to derail their title ambitions. With Liverpool struggling and none of the chasing pack putting a run of wins together, City will have one eye on the Champions League as they try and wrap up domestic business as quickly as possible.
This game perhaps has more on it for United. With their poor record against the big six, coupled with their lack of goals in recent weeks, they really need to come out with all guns blazing and make a statement. Whilst it is unlikely to make a difference to this years’ title race, it could certainly give them the impetus to push on and claim the runners up spot and give them the confidence that they are getting back to a place from which they can compete once again for the title.
Manchester City are strong favourites for the game with Betway offering odds of 1.57 for City to win and United at 6.00 with the draw 4.00.