It might not have the same aura of an El Classico but recent power shifts, and the presence of two managers who made Real Madrid v Barcelona matches a mouth-watering affair in the last decade, will make for an exciting Manchester Derby on Saturday.
This is the match that fans have been eagerly waiting for since Manchester United announced that Jose Mourinho was taking over the managerial position left vacant by Louis van Gaal. Portugese mastermind Jose Mourinho against former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola — an extra element to the ever-feisty Manchester derbies!
The managers endured a difficult relationship when in charge of Real Madrid and Barcelona, and the duo will renew rivalries when Mourinho’s Manchester United hosts Guardiola’s City at Old Trafford in the Premier League on Saturday.
Mourinho’s pragmatic approach is often in stark contrast to the ‘tiki-taka’ possession-based game played by Guardiola’s teams. But regardless of their approach, both have been successful at the highest levels of the game.
While derbies often tend to cagey affairs, the ones in Manchester have a history of producing goals. An average of 2.82 goals are scored when the two teams meet in the Premier League, with a knack of producing some really special ones such as the Wayne Rooney bicyle-kick when United hosted City in 2011.
The highest-capped English footballer, who is also the highest scorer in Manchester derbies with 11 goals, is no longer the fulcrum of United attacks though. The red side of Manchester has a new hero in Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who also openly shares a disliking towards his former coach Guardiola. The six feet five inches tall striker has taken to Premier League life with ease and has already scored three goals.
With eight goals, Argentina forward Sergio Aguero is fifth in the all-time list of Manchester derby goals scorers. But the diminutive forward, who has started the season in top form, will not be a part of the City squad travelling to Old Trafford, owing to a three match retrospective suspension he received for elbowing West Ham United’s Winston Reid.
Young Nigerian striker Kelechi Iheanacho has performed admirably for The Citizens in Aguero’s absence and Guardiola will be hoping the academy graduate can spark up some derby magic similar to what Red Devils’ youngster Marcus Rashford did to them last season, in the process becoming the youngest scorer in Manchester derby (18 years 141 days).
Rashford, meanwhile, will be hoping his hat-trick for England Under-21s will be good enough to please coach Mourinho, who has stayed away from using the striker unlike predecessor van Gaal.
Mourinho and Guardiola might vary in their styles of play, but both like to have a well-drilled team that can execute their plans to perfection on the football pitch. The ‘Mourinho v Guardiola’ El Classicos were never about surprising formations, with most matches decided on individual brilliance.
Guardiola had a summer clearance with former Manchester City pillars Joe Hart, Samir Nasri and big signings Wilfred Bony and Eliaquim Mangala making their way out of the club. Yaya Toure is now a frozen figure in the squad. Mourinho went out and bought players who are tailor-made for his style of play and the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Chris Smalling are now struggling to make the playing eleven.
Manchester City has employed an attacking 4-1-4-1 formation so far this season with Fernandinho playing the role of a single pivot with David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Nolito and Raheem Sterling forming the rest of the midfield behind Sergio Aguero. But with Ilkay Gundogan termed fit to play, Guardiola might opt for a double pivot against a United midfield that has the likes of Paul Pogba and Wayne Rooney. The City coach also has decision to make about his goalkeeper. With Hart gone, Claudio Bravo should be first choice but to make a debut on a derby would be no easy task for the ex-Barcelona caoch.
Mourinho certainly has more clarity with his team selection, with the position of Paul Pogba the only major doubt. The French midfielder has so far played in a pivot role along with Marouane Fellaini but the ex-Chelsea manager might opt to bulk up the midfield by adding the experienced Michael Carrick in the line-up and relieving Pogba of his defensive duties.
Jose Mourinho has won just three of his 16 matches against Pep Guardiola (W3, D6, L7) but the latter has never won the opening four league matches with any team he has managed so far.
Manchester United leads the head-to-head count in the Premier League having won 20 of the 38 ties. What is more interesting is how eight of the last 10 Premier League Manchester derbies at Old Trafford have seen three or more goals scored.
Seven of the last EPL titles were won by the Manchester Clubs (United 5, City 2). The other teams to have won are Chelsea (2) and current champion Leicester City.
All these facts point to a high-voltage Manchester derby on Saturday.
(With inputs from Opta)