Despite a rocky start, United won 20 of their first 27 competitive matches under Erik ten Hag, who needed fewer games than any other manager in the club’s history to reach the milestone.
They recovered from defeats against Brighton & Hove Albion and Brentford At the beginning Premier League Campaign to earn 35 points in 15 matches – only Arsenal She won more in that period. This form elevated them to fourth place in the Premier League, level on points with Newcastle United They are in third place, four points behind City, who are a further five points behind Arsenal.
The Manchester Derby will be City’s first match since losing 2-0 to it Southampton In the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup without scoring a single shot on goal – for the first time this happened in 275 matches.
It is fair to say that both teams have a point to prove at Old Trafford.
For Ten Hag, United’s improvements in form, build-up and pressing will be properly tested after overcoming a host of sides who weren’t as strong as City: Charlton AthleticAnd evertonAnd BournemouthAnd Wolverhampton WanderersAnd Nottingham ForestAnd burnley.
The central regions will be the main battlefield. In the recent derby, City were rewarded for their pressure, especially in the midfield – it resulted in a crushing defeat.
This was organized by three important players, one of whom was not even a midfielder: Joao Cancelo. It started on the left but tucked in Ilkay Gundogan and Bernando Silva to overload the central regions.
It might be different this time.
Casemiro, the defensive midfielder that Man United have long needed and now cherished, did not feature in October, but neither did Rodri. Thus, this will be a completely different middle game.
Whether or not United can cope depends on how effectively they operate out of possession and, more importantly, their ‘rest defense’ – the phase of possession where some players are no longer able to contribute to attack and adjust their positioning to prepare to defend a potential turnover.
Casemiro has settled into the United team and excels as partner to Christian Eriksen in midfield, displaying the toughness that has made him a regular in the squad. Real MadridWonderful Champions LeagueThe winning sides.
He has also been useful to Manchester United in set-piece situations. His goal against Bournemouth was the perfect example of his expectation. Before that, he scored the equalizing goal against Chelseaheading into a deep cross of Luke Shaw.
Casemiro has been praised for his collection of passes and his ability to pick off runners from depth. However, he will be under pressure against City due to his central overloads, so he may be hampered when it comes to splashing passes down the field. This is where Eriksen will come in handy for Manchester United.
Casemiro’s other important contribution is his positional intelligence: covering the inside channels, protecting the space behind defenders – an area City exploited in the recent derby – and slowing down the opposition’s momentum.
It’s the security cover United will desperately need.
As for Rodri, the Spaniard was not involved in his side’s 6-3 victory – a match where, once Guardiola’s midfield got away from the gas, United were able to capitalize and score.
With Rodri in the starting line-up, City’s centre-back will have better protection out of possession and the team as a whole will look more stable when holding onto the ball.
An important factor in United’s better build-up was the chemistry between Casemiro and Eriksen – they showed they could anticipate teammates’ movement and play passes into dangerous areas.
as a result of, Raphael Varane And Lisandro Martínez has become better at playing in the middle of the field. They also know when to play a more direct pass and when to leave the midfield alone.
Eriksen will once again be back in the dual pivot with Casemiro, but when United have the ball he will sometimes play like a number 8. This allows Casemiro to have more space to work in – and his deeper team-mates have another. Option to pass to midfield.
When looking at the number of Premier League players’ attacking sequences below, it’s no surprise that Casemiro is in the top 10.
out of possession
Under Ten Hag, Manchester United had the highest counter-pressing success rate in the Premier League at just under 30 per cent.
United’s pressing structure is predominantly human-oriented. In the opposition’s final third, three of United’s forwards press the back line and force the ball one way or the other.
After the last derby, Ten Hag will look to compress the central areas of the pitch and prevent City’s progress from here by turning both wings into half spaces.
If the ball is recovered, they will attack quickly. If not, they will move to the comfort defense as soon as possible. How United move from one stage to the next will be key.
One of the issues with Ten Hag’s squad currently is that opposition full-backs tend to go unmarked, as we saw early on against Chelsea when Cesar Azpilicueta He was allowed to roam freely, unchallenged. United have yet to be penalized, but that may not be the case against City.
Guardiola’s side could look to drop De Bruyne and Gundogan deeper to create space through the middle.
It is a case of execution.
This could be a different team than the one City knocked out but, make no mistake, one team can dominate again depending on if they can control their midfield.
It’s about knowing the holes, pushing the attackers forward, and who hits most effectively.
(Best images: Alex Livesey and Matthias Hangst, both via Getty Images)