Preview: Manchester City v Manchester United

The season’s first Manchester derby is set to take place at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

manchester city
Going into Sunday's game, the Blue vs Red battle is coloured by intrigue more than anything else. [Craig Brough/Reuters]

Who: Manchester City vs Manchester United
Where: Etihad Stadium
When: 2pm (13:00 GMT)

The season’s first Manchester derby is set to take place at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

However, in recent years, the Manchester derby has lost some of its sheen.

In the years following Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, Manchester United have floundered in the wilderness.

Manchester City, in that same period, has taken rapid strides towards establishing itself as the top team in the land – and perhaps the world.

Sunday’s game comes at an interesting point in the two teams’ evolution.

Erling Haaland’s arrival has transformed the City front line into a rampaging force of nature that has blown apart anyone who has dared to stand in its way.

Erik Ten Hag, meanwhile, has stoically begun course correction at United in a manner that hasn’t been spectacular as much as it has been solid.

Going into Sunday’s game, the Blue vs Red battle is coloured by intrigue more than anything else.

What does history tell us?

While the gulf in class between the two teams has been significant in the past few years, the head-to-head record tells a different story.

In the last 10 league meetings, City narrowly held the edge with five wins compared with United’s four. The last time these two sides met was in March at the Etihad where City eased to a 4-1 victory. Interestingly, it was their first win over the Reds at the Etihad since 2018.

United have won three of their last five games hosted by City.

The stakes are higher for Guardiola

A United manager will seldom enter a Manchester derby with as little pressure as Ten Hag does today.

His project is still in its teething phase but a win at the Etihad will be a strong statement of intent.

The pressure, however, is on Pep Guardiola. With players expected to be plagued by injuries and fatigue on the other side of the World Cup that takes place in November and December, he’ll know that the chances of his team retaining the title hinge heavily on the period from now until then.

A loss today could open up a four-point gap between City and pacesetters Arsenal.

A point to prove for the Englishmen

With the World Cup just over six weeks away, every game leading up to the tournament is an audition for players to book their spot on the plane to Qatar.

Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho have had impressive starts to the season so far for United, with Rashford even winning the Player of the Month Award for September.

But the two find themselves on the fringes of the England setup and didn’t make it into Gareth Southgate’s most recent squad for the Nations League.

On the other side, Jack Grealish has slipped down the pecking order for the country too. He has yet to find his feet at City following his move from Aston Villa and his spot in the England team is under threat.

All eyes on the United defence

The wholesale changes Ten Hag has made to the Manchester United backline are evidenced by the fact that none of the four who started in their last visit to the Etihad are expected to make it to the playing-XI this time.

In the five games following their 4-0 defeat to Brentford, United have conceded just two goals in all competitions.

Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez have struck up a good partnership at the back and Tyrell Malacia has settled in swiftly following his summer move from Feyenoord.

While the defence did well to stymie Arsenal, Haaland and company offer a sterner test.

In his first seven games, Haaland has scored 11 goals and registered an assist.

In Kevin de Bruyne, Haaland has found a steady supply of service; the Belgian sits atop the assists leaderboard having registered six so far.

Source: Al Jazeera