Manchester City v Manchester United: Champions League Play-Off!

By John Ryan

  • Three points for United and they will move into the top four
  • Paul Pogba ruled out
  • Antonio Valencia set to return to starting eleven

There was a time when Manchester United could go to near neighbours Manchester City, go two goals down then roar back into life to win three-two.

Back then City played at Maine Road, had Brian Horton as their Manager and big Niall Quinn headed both of their goals.

During Alex Ferguson’s glorious reign as United manager, Manchester City employed sixteen different men charged with making them as good or better than United.

It can be argued that nobody has managed that feat but since Ferguson’s retirement City can lay claim to more titles. Yet they still lie in United’s shadow in so many ways.

Maine Road is no longer City’s home and in the last five years United have had more Managers than City.

Football is a vastly different landscape since that day in November 1993 when one misplaced backpass from Michel Vonk handed Eric Cantona the conductor’s baton and City were left melancholic by United’s tune.

City can afford any player they want yet Paul Pogba chose Europa League bound United over their Champions League promise.

There is still something whispering silently all over their club that says they want to be United. Yet if they ever do become more successful than United could they be trusted to not look back in anger?

Winner Will Be In Pole Position For Top Four Finish

This latest Manchester Derby offers a chance to finish in the Champions League places.

United have the momentum after three Premier League wins in a row and reaching the Europa League semi-final stage.

In contrast City limped out of the FA Cup last weekend at the hands of Arsenal and their Premier League form has been inconsistent at best.

Throw in the record of Mourinho v Guardiola and it is advantage City with the Spaniard having won half of their eighteen meetings to date while the Portuguese has just three.

The meetings between these sides over the past six seasons have seen a lot of inconsistency. Despite a six one win at Old Trafford in October 2011, City were knocked out of the FA Cup by United at the Etihad in January 2012.

While United were crowned champions in 2013 City beat them home and away. This game also allows one club the opportunity to steal a march on the other in more ways than one.

United Missing Key Players

Zlatan Ibrahimovic United’s talisman this season might have played his last game for the club after his cruciate ligament injury against Anderlecht.

This should allow Marcus Rashford, who scored the winner in this fixture last season, to start up front.

Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial were both on the mark against Burnley so should be in with a shout of starting too. In midfield Paul Pogba looks very doubtful but Ander Herrera is ready for action.

Who plays alongside him will be key. Marouane Fellaini has been picked by all three Managers whom he has served under at Old Trafford yet the majority of fans think he slows down United’s play and is not a long term replacement for Michael Carrick.

If Carrick also starts alongside the Belgian then United could go into this game with a very defensive midfield, which may be an option given the injuries to Rojo, Smalling and Jones in defence.

Bailly and Blind did well against Burnley but facing Sergio Aguero is a different prospect.

Aguero could link up with his understudy Gabriel Jesus who is fit after three months out injured. David Silva is also a doubt for the 2014 champions.

No Trophy For Top Four Finish

Mourinho has said in the media that winning the Europa League matters more than this game.

It was a calculated comment as if City win then he can say he is focusing on Europe. A United win and then he is in the driving seat for top four qualification with Klopp and Guardiola reluctant passengers.

Both United and City are still finding their way with managers each in their first season.

If both Managers are in place next season it will be interesting to see how both have fared in the transfer market and with a season under their belt.

For now this game is a curious instalment of a long standing fixture that Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane once ruled with an iron fist. City became known as ‘the noisy neighbours’ under Ferguson and Jose Mourinho will be keen to prove that like Ferguson he can take on and beat City regardless of who their Manager is.

This game offers us a chance to see classic Mourinho and it would not be surprising to see United play in a manner like Mourinho’s Chelsea did at Liverpool three years ago.

If United can soak up the early pressure and score a goal on the counter attack it could be a frustrating night for City.

United fans welcome Mourinho adapting United’s style of play away from what he offered at Stamford Bridge but given the injury list, European involvement and the opposition, he will be forgiven if he indulges in creating the type of chess match he is famous for and etching out a narrow win.

Verdict: City 0-1 United

Predicted Line-Up

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