With the pressurereaching increasingly uncomfortable levels, the focus will be on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s desperation for a Manchester derby win.
Calls are increasing for the Norwegian to be jettisoned and the clamour for him to go will only increase should he suffer defeat to the “noisy neighbours”.
Across the city, life is far more serene. Manchester City reached the European knockout stages for an eighth successive season, registering a fifth consecutive clean sheet in a 3-0 win over Marseille.
But there will be just as much desire and urgency from Pep Guardiola to pick up a derby victory to end a dismal run of results against major Premier Leaguerivals.
Of course, there is no threat to Guardiola’s future at the club with the City manager signing a two-year contract extension last month and an unquestionable belief that he is the perfect man to turn around last season’s disappointments.
But a victory at Old Trafford would give some much needed self belief to City’s Premier League title challenge after recent struggles on the road against traditional ‘Big Six’rivals.
City have lost five of their last six Premier League matches away to the Big Six,their only victory in the last 18 months coming at crisis-hit Arsenal when caretaker boss Freddie Ljungberg was in charge.
After defeat at Liverpool in November 2019, which dealt a significant blow to their hopes of a third successive title, they went onto lose away to Tottenham and then at United and Chelsea either side of the Covid-19 shutdown.
This season has started in the same vain with a 2-0 defeat at Spurs marking the first occasion that Jose Mourinho won back-to-back matches against his old adversary.
Guardiola will not change his tactical philosophy and will go to Old Trafford with the game plan that he believes in. He will again look to dominate possession and play high up the pitch, mostly in the opposition’s half but his strategy works best when his players have confidence in the system.
During City’s back-to-back title campaigns, Guardiola’s side strode the five miles across Manchester with utter conviction in their superiority and left both times with a deserved three points.
Last season that assuredness left them in a disappointing campaign and they were well beaten, 2-0. It wastheir first Premier League defeat at Old Trafford in five years.
Guardiola plays down the significance of Saturday’s fixture. “Of course it’s important, but next Tuesday against West Brom is important too,” he said.
But it takes courage to walk in to the home of your rivals and know that your style of football will prove successful and in the past season-and-a-half, City have lost some of their certainty.
Stastically they were the better side in November’s defeat at Spurs, with two thirds of possession, 22 shots to Tottenham’s four and a better expected goals total xG of 1.66 to 0.76.
But Tottenham scored from their only two shots on target – clearcut chances for Son Heung-Min and Giovani Lo Celso – and Mourinho was lauded for a masterclass in how to better Guardiola’s plan.
At Stamford Bridge in June, City were much the better side until Benjamin Mendy’s defensive error led to Christian Pulisic’s opener on the break and from then on Chelsea went onto claim a deserved 2-1 victory.
In their previous away game three months earlier, a makeshift defence consisting of an out-of-form Nicolas Otamendi and midfielder Fernandinho couldn’t hold a resurgent United, who had developed a counter-attacking plan to beat City after winning twice at the Etihad Stadium in the previous three months.
Guardiola has now addressed the defensive problem with Ruben Dias, Aymeric Laporte and John Stones fighting for a place in the backline , which should give City a platform to return to their old philosophy.
But against Spurs in November, Dias and Laporte were caught out by the movement from Harry Kane for the opening goal and City struggled to get back into the game.
Guardiola has called on his players to increase their concentration and cut out the individual errors that are so often punished by the better sides in the league.
City go into the game on the back of five clean sheets and seven wins in their last 10 games and another victory would be a major boost with trips to Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal coming up in the next 10 weeks.
“The mood and the environment with the backroom staff and the players is exceptional this season,” the City boss said.
“It always was but with situation with Covid, no preparations this season, the players have responded incredibly well, so no complaints.”
As well as the obvious benefit of beating their rivals and leapfrogging United in the table, a win would give his side some confidence after some of it drained away last season.
Shock defeats to Arsenal and Lyon in cup competitions when football restarted were further blows. But a big result could change everything.
Source : goal.com