When Manchester United visits the Etihad Stadium this afternoon, they want to defy the odds and put a stop to Manchester City’s Premier League title bid (Sunday, 4.30pm kick off UK time).
United are huge underdogs in the 187th competitive encounter between the two teams, now 19 points behind Pep Guardiola’s side in the table. So, while City is aiming to maintain their Premier League title, United, despite spending over £120 million on world-class talent last summer, is fighting for a place in the top four.
United will be looking to bounce back after a dismal goalless draw with Watford last weekend, while City will be looking for their third win in a row after victories over Everton and Peterborough in recent weeks. With that in mind, United aren’t expected to create a sensation by claiming all three points.
However, while you may believe United has little chance on Sunday afternoon, form often goes out the window on derby day. Furthermore, unexpected drama is usually always present in some form.
With that in mind, here are eight reasons why United fans should be upbeat heading into the game:
1. Manchester United’s Etihad Stadium record
Although City has dominated the Manchester football landscape in recent years, they have not always had things their way when United has visited the Etihad. The Reds have won their last three league and cup visits, as well as four of their last five on City’s turf.
That’s got to count for something, right? United has entered each of those games as the underdog and has risen to the occasion, whether by eking out a 1-0 victory or making a stunning comeback from a 2-0 deficit.
Furthermore, United will be backed by a sold-out away end, as they have been at both Elland Road and the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in recent weeks, and they will make their views heard. The role of the 12th guy will be crucial.
2. The history of the derby
Isn’t it true that anything can happen? Yes, City are soaring high right now and are in a position that United can only dream of, but on derby day, anything can happen.
When these two meet, as previously stated, nothing can be taken for granted, and the form book is sometimes torn up and thrown into the nearest bin.
Who would have guessed City would go to Old Trafford in October 2011 and defeat an unbeaten United team in the Premier League thus far that season, winning 6-1? Nobody.
3. Tottenham have proven that anything is possible.
Tottenham Hotspur, with all due respect, haven’t exactly lit the globe on fire this season. In pursuit of the final Champions League spot, their supporters, like United’s, arrived to the Etihad a week ago, no doubt expecting another defeat against one of the big six.
However, in classic Premier League style, they put up an outstanding away performance to win 3-2. Despite winning in dramatic fashion and having only 29% possession, they implemented Antonio Conte’s method to perfection.
United is capable of putting on a similar show.
4. United can use the same strategies as in the past.
Although United’s strategy to catch City off guard at Old Trafford back in November failed terribly, things will be different this time. United is on the road, and facing City at the Etihad is a recipe for catastrophe, especially if Guardiola’s side is firing on all cylinders.
United must look to target City on the counter-attack with Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Anthony Elanga all capable of carrying the ball at their feet with speed. It may turn out to be a waiting game, but as they demonstrated in their victories in 2021 and 2019, possessing more of the ball matters nothing.
Cristiano Ronaldo (#5)
On current form, suggesting that Ronaldo can play a key role in United’s quest to knock City to their knees may seem ridiculous. A player of his stature and caliber, on the other hand, does not become a bad player overnight.
Ronaldo, who has played in important games both at home and abroad, will be determined to leave his mark, especially after failing to score in his last three games across all competitions. United, on the other hand, will have to rely on their wide players to ensure he can work his magic.
For him, crossings into the box will be crucial.
Young. Fearless. Energetic. Elanga will almost certainly be looking forward to his first experience of a Manchester derby.
Elanga is expected to be the player on whom United supporters will feast their eyes in the expectation of inspiration, similar to when Rashford first experienced this fixture in March 2016. After scoring against Atletico Madrid and Leeds, the winger will be full of confidence.
He’ll be crucial in United’s attempt to harm City on the counter-attack. Furthermore, it’s almost as if his first derby day experience will include a magical scene.
7. The absence of Ruben Dias
It’s difficult to find a flaw with City’s lineup at any point. The Blues, on the other hand, will undoubtedly miss Dias ahead of the derby.
United’s chances of winning will very certainly improve as a result of this. Dias, who is frequently the ‘glue’ that keeps City’s defense together, will be dearly missed. City will remain strong, even if they aren’t as strong as they would like to be, with John Stones expected to go in and line up beside Aymeric Laporte.
8. Nerves over the title race
With Liverpool breathing down City’s neck at the top of the standings, it’s understandable if Guardiola’s squad feels nervous. In terms of the Blues, there is no room for error, and the loss to Spurs demonstrated that they may suffer setbacks.