As the two sides lock horns for the first time this season we look at the contests that could define the outcome…
Manchester United will face Manchester City for the 172nd time at Old Trafford and if the bitterness between the two rival clubs and fans was not enough, throw in arguably the two best managers in the world as well as a generous helping of world class talent and come Saturday the standard and stakes will be at an all-time high.
In the lead up to the big game we look at some key battles that could go a long way in deciding whether Manchester is Red or Sky Blue.
Jose Mourinho Vs Pep Guardiola
It is only fair that the two biggest egos in world football meet in England. After all it was a man who epitomised English football in Sir Bobby Charlton who gave both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola their launch pads in their respective careers. Back in the 90’s, some would go so far as to call them friends, with the Portuguese playing a huge part in the Man City manager’s playing career.
Fast forward to 2016 and for the first time in the history of this derby, the focus will be equally shared between the dugout and the pitch. The similarities are in abundance, the approach though, differs.
Mourinho bought into readymade, world-class quality, picking out the best players from the German, Italian and French leagues. Meanwhile, Guardiola’s transfer activity would suggest he plans to rent that posh apartment in the Manchester city square longer than many would imagine.
After the first three games, both seemed to have embossed their brand of football on their squads and their 100% record reflects the same.
Although Pep and Jose have feuded in Spain with the El-Clasico serving as the stage, the clash on Saturday will be unlike any other. With stellar clubs like Arsenal and Chelsea looking on with interest, the winner of this battle might not end up winning the war and both tacticians are aware of the same.
Little would John Stones have imagined playing for Barnsley in 2011 that by the time he turned 22, he would have to not only take charge of a Manchester City defence, but also keep an eye on a striker above his line of sight, physically and otherwise.
The Big Swede has begun life in the Premier League just as we imagined. 3 goals in 3 games are figures which come nowhere close to describing the “Zlatan Effect”. Just ask Premier League winning defender Wes Morgan and fellow man-mountain Virgil van Dyk at Southampton. Never have centre-backs been made to feel so inept when matching up against Ibrahimovic. Lethal in the air, good with both feet and an eye for the outrageous, this would be the former Evertonian’s baptism of fire if there ever was one.
As much as the part of an unleashed beast that Zlatan looks, it is a brilliant footballing brain that rests on confident shoulders and foremost, an insatiable appetite for success. Much like Daley Blind was Louis van Gaal’s eyes and ears on the pitch, Ibrahimovic serves as the carrier of the Mourinho way, on it and off it. After all Its not everyday that Zlatan calls someone but himself a ‘Mastermind.’
In a derby running rife with subplots, none could be better than the duel between the two fastest men on the pitch, if not in the Premier League.
The story of Antonio Valencia and Raheem Sterling is one of hardwork and belief. The former done by themselves, the latter shown by their new bosses.
The ₤50m City forward would have been in a rush to forget Euro 2016 and there could have been no better news for his career than to learn his trade from the master himself. With his hippy crack days firmly behind him, Sterling has hit the ground running (2 goals, 1 assist) and looks at home in Guardiola’s system.
His only problem will be to take on someone equally fast, and stronger than him in Antonio Valencia. The Ecuadorian has been floating through seasons with his constant side-passing epitomising Van Gaal’s jilted reign where instruction took precedence over instinct.
With Mourinho’s arrival and his implementation of a compact back four as well as zonal marking, Valencia has now turned back the clock to the 2009-10 season, when he took home the award for most assists. Already the understanding between Valencia and his target man Ibra is evident, with the conveyor belt of floated crosses from the right working like it did under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Midfield vs Midfield
As with all high-octane football clashes, the game is usually decided if not won in midfield.
Both managers over their career paths and with their personnel choices have projected clearly the brand of midfielders they prefer to run their teams.
Mourinho likes his midfield pairing to have equal parts of Beauty and Beast. While world record signing Paul Pogba will go in search of the ball higher up the pitch, it will be Marouane Fellaini who will be mopping up behind him, thwarting attacks and winning first and second balls in the air.
In complete contrast, Guardiola’s approach is one of a cohesive midfield, creating passing triangles as they move with no impetus on one particular player to take the attack forward.
The Spaniard, true to his La Masia roots strongly believes that a sharp footballing mind and fluidity with both feet is all it takes to perform in the middle. So, new recruit Ilkay Gundogan could be an option Guardiola could explore.
All in all with the Premier League’s two most expensive lineups taking to the feild it is a mouth-watering prospect for fans. The game is an opportunity for both sides to lay down an early marker against the other. But, whichever way it goes, one thing is for sure, much like it does for El Clasico, for 90 minutes tomorrow the world will stop for Manchester.
(Lead Picture Courtesy – Aditya_Reds )
Editorial by Khel Now-Feature Columnist Chaitanya Lekhwani, He is a content creator and a writer. A devout Manchester United supporter and loves the good, bad and the ugly side of the beautiful game.
Favourite player: Ronaldo ‘Fenomeno’ Nazario de Lima
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