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Premier League Weekly: There’s plenty at stake as United take on City in tonight’s Manchester derby

Guardiola and Mourinho face each other at the Etihad tonight (Getty Images)
Guardiola and Mourinho face each other once again at the Etihad tonight (Getty Images)

PREMIER LEAGUE WEEKLY arrives a day early this week, but with good reason.

Thursday night has become ‘the’ night for football in Manchester and they don’t come much bigger than this as City and United meet at the Etihad Stadium. A place in the top four and next season’s Champions League is at stake with just one point separating City in fourth and United in fifth.


Who is doing better out of Guardiola and Mourinho?

BEFORE a ball was kicked last August, the talk was of City and United fighting it out at the top. Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho were going to pick up where they left off from their days in charge of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Alas, City and United have come nowhere near to that sort of domination in relation to the rest of the league. Chelsea have come back to life under Antonio Conte, Tottenham have kicked on and Liverpool have been energised by Jurgen Klopp.

Mourinho’s United have only lost three Premier League games and none since October 23, but they have been hamstrung by a series of frustrating draws, especially at Old Trafford. To watch United struggle to break down packed defences has drawn parallels with the struggles under Louis van Gaal. Yet, the mood seems different. The League Cup is already in the bag and only Celta Vigo and one of either Lyon or Ajax stand in the way in the Europa League. Two trophies in one season – every football fan would take that.

Whatever happens, United will finish ahead of City in terms of trophies won this season. But if City win tonight and United blow it in Europe, the likelihood is that the Blues will be back in the Champions League and the Reds will remain on Thursday night duty in the Europa League. That was not what was expected when Mourinho rolled up at Old Trafford.

Each club spent fortunes last summer, yet there are still glaring deficiencies within the teams. United have more players than any other club, so they have been able to balance a place in the top six and a heavy schedule. The Reds can compete against anyone but they don’t have enough stand-out players to make the difference in the tighter matches. Paul Pogba has not picked up the baton that a world record transfer fee suggested and there have not been enough goals in the team, despite the efforts of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

City have played some fine football at times, but is it any better than that produced under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini? There has also been a distinct lack of ruthlessness throughout the side. City have competed well against all the top teams but have not got the results to show for it. Chances have been missed and goals given away too easily – the 2-2 draws at home to Tottenham and away to Arsenal being prime examples.

The decision to replace Joe Hart with Claudio Bravo in goal has been nothing short of catastrophic as the team has been shaken and confidence has ebbed out of the stands. Hands up who can remember a match-winning save from the Chilean? And apart from the odd occasions in which Vincent Kompany has been on the field, no one has been convinced about City’s ability to defend. Sergio Aguero has scored 30 times, but seems to have been doubted by Guardiola, yet no one else is in double figures, hinting at that inability to put teams away.

Both Guardiola and Mourinho have absolute trust from the people above them – more for what they have done in the past than on this season’s evidence. But they still have lots of work to do this summer to improve their respective teams and will have countless millions to invest. But is the modern Premier League going to prove too hard to conquer for these two proven winners?

5 classic derbies

THE Manchester derby has become the best fixture in English football in recent years. Guardiola and Mourinho will have to go some to better five of these classics.


UNITED 4 CITY 3 (20 September 2009). UNITED went ahead three times. City equalised three times. But they could do nothing about Michael Owen’s winner deep into the ‘Fergie time’ of injury time. The noisy neighbours were coming, but United remained that one step ahead.


UNITED 3 CITY 1 (25 January 2010). CITY’s first semi-final for 29 years and they headed to Old Trafford with a 2-1 advantage from the first leg. The tie looked bound for extra-time with the aggregate at 3-3 before Wayne Rooney popped up with a last minute header to send United to Wembley.


CITY 1 UNITED 0 (16 April 2011). MANCHESTER decamped to Wembley for this FA Cup semi-final where Yaya Toure’s goal settled a tense affair. This was the day when City emerged from United’s shadow to become a real force in English football. A month later, City beat Stoke in the final and the 35-year wait for silverware was over.


UNITED 1 CITY 6 (23 October 2011). AN incredible afternoon that will never be forgotten by one set of fans and is the stuff of nightmares for the other. Two goals from Mario Balotelli and one from Sergio Aguero, coupled with a red card for Jonny Evans had City on course for a great win. But it was those two late strikes from Edin Dzeko and one from David Silva that turned a special day into an unforgettable one.


CITY 2 UNITED 3 (9 December 2012). THIS turned out to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s last victory as United manager in this fixture. Having lost the title to the Blues a few months before, the Scot was not going to leave second best. His team roared into a two-goal lead, but City hit back. Step forward Robin van Persie – the man Ferguson had beaten City to sign – to score an injury time winner and take a big leap towards returning the title to the red half of the city.


Adam’s Thursday score

Manchester City 0 Manchester United 1

UNITED could prey on City’s disappointment from losing the FA Cup semi-final. There is nothing Mourinho loves more than a master plan and he could have one up his sleeve to blunt Guardiola’s men.