Behold the 10th of September, 2016. Football fanatics from all around the world will be glued to their TV screens. After all , it will be DERBY DAY in Manchester. Two of the most popular teams from around the globe will be squaring up against each other. Manchester United will be taking on Manchester City in Old Trafford (more popularly referred to as ‘The Theatre of Dreams’).
The 2016-17 season marked the beginning of a new era for both the teams. Both the teams appointed new managers at the helm in a bid to overturn their fortunes. The self-proclaimed ‘Special One’, Jose Mourinho was given the reins at Manchester United, and his old nemesis, Pep Guardiola was appointed manager at Manchester City. Both the managers brought with themselves an excellent and proven track record throughout Europe.
In addition to the change of managers, new players were brought in at both the clubs in a bid to rebuild the squad. Manchester United roped in the services of talismanic Swedish striker, Zlatan Ibrahamovic. In addition to the Swede, they also roped in the services of French midfielder, Paul Pogba, Armenian winger and former Borussia Dortmund man, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and former Villareal defender, Eric Bailly.
Manchester City also brought in quite a few players in the transfer season. Their high profile signings include former Everton defender John Stones, promising youngster Leroy Sane, German midfielder and former Dortmund man Ilkaay Gundogan , Spanish winger and former Celta Vigo player Nolito and former Barcelona shotstopper Claudio Bravo.
It has only been three matches into the season and it might be way too early to tell. But, the change of setup seems to be working. Both the teams have started their season on an extremely promising note, and are looking like potential title contenders. Both the teams will be heading into the game with a cent percent record.
With both sides enjoying rejuvenation under new management, there will be renewed interest in this fixture as old foes Mourinho and Guardiola square up against each other. The buzz and excitement surrounding the derby, which had been missing for the past few seasons, finally seems to be back. It appears like there’s more than just pride on the line for the first time in the Manchester Derby since quite a while on Saturday.
The fact that there will be 34 more matches left to play after the game means there will be plenty of time left for both sides to either extend a lead in the table or make up for any lost ground. Yet, with many tipping a Manchester top two in the Premier League this season, the six points that will be contested at Old Trafford and the Etihad could be crucial in deciding which stadium the trophy eventually ends up at. That’s if it doesn’t go to Stamford Bridge of course!
Now let us take a look at how both the teams have been shaping up for this much awaited fixture.
Manchester United do not have any injury or suspension problems as of now, and will take the field with a full strength squad. However, there seems to be shadow of doubt regarding the availability of Marouane Fellaini at the centre of the park. The Belgian has been a vital part of Mourinho’s plans at United and he would desperately want him to be fit for this all important clash. In case Fellaini is not available, the Red Devils do have able replacement in Ander Herrera.
They will be relying on Ibrahamovic to provide them with the goals, who will be ably supported by Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial and Juan Mata/ Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Fellaini or Hererra will be partnered in midfield by the exceptionally talented Frenchman, Paul Pogba. The back four would comprise of Eric Bailly and Daley Blind at the centre-backs position. Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw would make up the rest of the defense at the right and left-back positon respectively. Their goal would be guarded by the ever reliant Spaniard, David de Gea.
Manchester City will be missing the services of their talisman Sergio Aguero in front of goal due to a three match suspension handed by the FA. Their right back, Bacary Sagna is also out injured. But that does not make City any less stronger. They have excellent depth in their squad and manager Pep Guardiola will have more than one alternatives at his disposal. He could play Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling or Nolito in the false 9 position or he could hand over a start to promising Nigerian young striker, Kelechi Iheanacho.
Along with the above mentioned players, the creativity and guile in midfield will be provided by the Spaniard David Silva. Brazilian Fernandinho is expected to play in the holding midfield postion. City have excellent depth in their squad in defensive positions too. Despite the injury to Sagna, they have an able replacement in Pablo Zabaleta who could fill in the right back position. Kolarov or Gael Clichy will start at the left back position. Otamendi and John Stones are expected to start at the centre of defense. It will be interesting to see whether Guardiola hands a start to new recruit, Claudio Bravo for this high-profile clash or he sticks with Caballero under the goal.
Both the teams are evenly-matched and there is no clear favourites as of such. It promises to be a high voltage and keenly contested affair. The rivalry in Manchester is back. With both Guardiola and Mourinho at the helm, and both teams exhibiting excellent performances up until now, it feels as if the current campagn could be very similar to the 2011-12 campaign, where Manchester United lost the title in injury time in the final game of the campaign. Both the teams were tied on points at the end of the season and City eked out United only on goal-difference. United’s 89 points that year is a record for the highest total not to have won the Premier League.
It could be that the Premier League is about to see another incarnation of the Roberto Mancini vs Sir Alex Ferguson spats that existed a few years ago. The Manchester Derby, it seems, is on its way again to represent the pinnacle of what the Barclays Premier League has to offer. And it can’t come too soon!