Manchester derby: Rising United face a red-hot City

Londoners may think otherwise, but for most of the world, the Manchester derby is now the centerpiece of the Premier League universe.

Defending champions Manchester City have been one of the most successful teams in the league in recent times and they will be taking on a team that, supporters hope, is finally around the corner.

On Sunday, Manchester United head to the Etihad Stadium after four consecutive wins, including two against Liverpool and Arsenal, who finished above them in 2021-22. Four games is a small sample, but Manchester United have looked like a team that new manager Eric ten Hag has managed to force himself into, where his signings have had a significant impact and could thrive without Cristiano Ronaldo, who is their highest-ranking player. was the scorer in 2021-22.

“We have to play a perfect game. They have the qualities up front, physicality and quality in the middle with (Christian) Eriksen, (Bruno) Fernandes, physicality with Casemiro and (Scott) McTominay,” said Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

If United have won four league games in a row, that would be seven for City. Guardiola’s team have scored three or more goals in six of their eight games this season. City have scored more goals in the first half (10) and second (13) than United in their Premier League campaign (8) which is now six games old (one less than City).

To a regular squad of Jack Grealish and Kevin de Bruyne, which has aged like fine wine, they have added Erling Braut Haaland, who is such a phenomenon that he could be the first in Premier League history to score a hat-trick in three consecutive games. Haaland goes into Sunday’s home game with 11 league goals. And by his confession, he is a work in progress. “Maybe in ten years I can reach my full potential,” he told The Athletic.

How United hold down Haaland will be key and it won’t just have to do with the possible central defensive combination of Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez. At 177cm, Martinez is 17cm shorter than Haaland, but he does have memories of keeping the striker quiet when Ajax played against Borussia Dortmund in the 2021-22 Champions League. Ten Hag has talked about it, but also pointed out that City’s style will be different from Dortmund’s.

How United’s full-backs, possibly Diogo Dalot and Tyrel Malacia, handle crosses in the penalty area will be just as crucial.

And it still won’t be enough if they’re both an asset, as for all of Haaland’s breathtaking talent, De Bruyne has netted 30 goals, including 16, in his last 30 league games. The Belgian also tops the assists charts in the league this season (6). Exactly how good City is can be measured by the fact that goalkeeper Ederson is capable of passes that sometimes end up as assists.

That is all why City have dominated the last five meetings between the teams, while United have only won once during that time. But since Martinez weakened Mohamed Salah early in the home game against Liverpool, things have looked good for United. Ten Hag’s signings have increased the team’s technical prowess, Antony scored on his league debut and in Malacia they have a player who Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal calls a ‘pit bull’.

Eriksen and Fernandes have shown they can be placed in the same 11 and Marcus Rashford shades of what he was capable of before the Euro 2022 final. Rashford was the Premier League Player of the Month; the prize for the manager goes to Ten Hag. “It is for what we have achieved as a group. We’re going in the right direction. But there is still a lot of room for improvement,” said Ten Hag.

Rashford may not be fit enough to start, if reports from England are to be believed, and as Anthony Martial may also fail the fitness test, this could mean Ronaldo is in the top 11 for the first time this season. Not an annoying problem for any manager.

Making the team run 13 km – and run with them – Ten Hag has shown who is boss. He didn’t shy away from keeping Ronaldo and Casemiro out, as he didn’t for the season either. Realizing that it would take time for United to adapt to his ‘play-out-the-back’ style, Ten Hag changed hands after the first two games. While they may have surprised Liverpool by starting up front, United will likely sit back and try to strike at halftime against a team that holds the ball better than any team in the world.

City has also changed to accommodate Haaland. The False Nine has been thrown out and they have boxed more deliveries than before. Defensively too, City is solid, having leaked the fewest goals (7) from teams that have played seven games.

In an interview with the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Ten Hag spoke about attempts to implement Guardiola’s structure at Ajax. It will take a long time to do that on a team in transition, but leading up to Sunday he said: “If we act as a team, we can beat our opponents. That’s the faith we need, and we have it.” need more on Sunday.”

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