By Ian Parker, PA
Manchester United host Manchester City in the 188th competitive Manchester derby on Saturday in what should be a test of the recent strong form which has powered United up the Premier League table.
The humbling of Erik ten Hag’s side in a 6-3 defeat at the Etihad Stadium three months back feels a long time ago, such has been the turn around in fortunes for the red half of the city.
Here the PA news agency looks at the key talking points going into the match.
City blew United away in October and the final score at the Etihad arguably flattered Ten Hag’s side, who had trailed 4-0 at the break. But United have responded superbly to that setback, losing only one of 18 matches since, winning their last eight in all competitions – even if former United skipper Roy Keane recently claimed that was aided by some “cushy” fixtures against struggling sides. One big change has been the influence of Casemiro, who only appeared as a second-half substitute at the Etihad, still settling in after his arrival from Real Madrid, but who has established himself as the key cog in the United engine room since. “He is the cement between the stones,” Ten Hag said of the Brazilian.
‘Something missing’ for City
City must show a response to their dismal 2-0 Carabao Cup quarter-final loss to Southampton on Wednesday night, a match in which they did not even manage a shot on target. During the immediate post-mortem, captain Ilkay Gundogan told reporters “something’s off” at City, a feeling he has had since the turn of the year. “At the moment, it feels like there’s a special ingredient missing – the performances, the desire, the hunger is maybe not as it was in recent years.” Gundogan said the Southampton match must be a wake-up call, and the derby would be the ideal time for City to show they heard it.
Fortress Old Trafford
In recent years the Manchester derby became a fixture that often favoured the away team – since 2016 11 of the 18 meetings have been won by the visitors. But United will start Saturday’s meeting confident they have brought the fear factor back to Old Trafford, where they have won their last nine matches and conceded only four league goals all season – two of them in the opening day defeat to Brighton. Since then they have beaten Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham on home turf, and they will be keen to record a first home derby win since March 2020 this weekend.
City’s strongest eleven?
The Southampton defeat showed who was not ready to play against United, but, while dropping a string of players will be an easy decision for Pep Guardiola, who replaces them might be more of a puzzler. Last week, the manager said he had “ridiculous ideas” for this fixture, but while he has been known to overthink tactics before, Wednesday’s showing suggested a return to basics is needed. But what does that look like? Phil Foden scored a hat-trick in the last derby but was not a regular in the side before Christmas and it would not be a surprise if Jack Grealish was again preferred on the left side. John Stones is out through injury.
Waiting for Weghorst
United are close to a deal to sign Burnley forward Wout Weghorst on loan until the end of the season after he cancelled a season-long switch to Besiktas in order to return to England. But the deal has not been done in time for him to face City, and that potentially leaves Ten Hag short of options in attack as Anthony Martial battles with a leg injury which has kept him out of training during the week.