Ralf Rangnick has no doubt spent his rare midweek free time at Carrington methodically planning a game plan for Manchester United’s trip to the Etihad this weekend. We’re not so sure about United’s ability to execute it efficiently or stick to it for 90 minutes.
Rangnick has already mentioned how his players might stray from the plan when things go wrong, and it’s unlikely that everything will go their way against Manchester City on Sunday, no matter how good the plan is.
United has won its last three games at the Etihad Stadium, although they have tended to rely on quick counter-attacks. In some ways, United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was well-suited to this match, but Rangnick may not have the same edge.
United has recently become more cohesive under the German, but they have struggled to maintain their performance standards. Last Saturday was a classic example, when they were excellent in the first half against Watford but ran out of ideas as they failed to break the Hornets down, and the fluidity that had been present in the first half vanished as the game progressed.
If United has struggled to put in complete performances against the caliber of opposition they’ve faced recently, doing so for 90 minutes at the Etihad will be even more tough.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. While there have been teams that have beaten City this year as a result of a well-executed plan, they have also been vulnerable to world-class players stepping up to the plate, as almost any side is. Pep Guardiola’s team may be the finest in Europe, therefore the stage is set for a spectacular performance.
Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Son-Heung Min achieved just that in a recent triumph at the Etihad Stadium. Liverpool were second best at Anfield earlier this season, but drew thanks to Mohamed Salah’s brilliance.
The best example is Paris Saint-group-stage Germain’s victory in the Champions League in September. City dominated the game on that day, but they wasted chances, while PSG capitalised on their chances, most notably with Lionel Messi’s brilliant second goal, which gave them breathing room.
So this could be United’s best bet for a win on Derby Day. This is a team with a lot of world-class players, but they’ve been far less than the sum of their parts so far this season.
David de Gea and Raphael Varane will almost certainly be need to perform admirably in goal, while Bruno Fernandes and, if he starts, Paul Pogba will be required to dominate in midfield. But perhaps most importantly, they’ll need Cristiano Ronaldo to step up — and what better opportunity for the 37-year-old to do so than in a derby?
Those parallels to Messi might be beneficial. If Ronaldo’s great nemesis can help City beat City via his own individual brilliance, the Portuguese will want to do the same, especially after playing such a minor role in the bruising 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford in the reverse meeting.
In 2022, Ronaldo has only scored one goal in ten appearances, and mediocre competition has kept him quiet this calendar year. But dismissing him is always risky, and he’ll be anxious to prove a point at the Etihad on Sunday, having been courted by City before to his fairytale return to Old Trafford.
It’s tough to envision United getting a result — let alone winning — without Ronaldo going above and beyond. At the Etihad, he’s only ever scored one, a match-winning goal in May 2007. It’s a good idea to start adding to that total right now.