Manchester City would seal the 2017-18 Premier League title with victory at home to local rivals and nearest challengers Manchester United on Saturday (5.30pm).
The two teams were tipped to contest this season’s league title, and while they do currently stand first and second in the table, Man City’s 2-1 victory away at Old Trafford in mid-December effectively ended United’s realistic hopes of challenging them for the trophy.
City have set a pace that has not only proved impossible for other teams to match but is also threatening to better a number of Premier League-era records. Pep Guardiola’s side have won 27 of their 31 league fixtures to date and are just 12 goals shy of a century. The current records for wins (30), points (95) and goals (103) are all still within their reach.
With seven matches remaining, City enjoy a 16-point advantage over United. Three points on Saturday would extend that to 19, with just 18 points left to play for. It is surely a matter of when rather than if in terms of City clinching the title, but there would be something special about sealing it on home soil against their local rivals.
The match will not, however, be their priority. The derby is sandwiched between the two legs of City’s Champions League quarter-final against Liverpool, and Guardiola has already intimated that tie will take precedence over Saturday’s encounter. Important players are likely to be rested, particularly so as City have a three-goal deficit to overturn in next week’s second leg after falling to a crushing 0-3 defeat away at Anfield on Wednesday.
Even a rotated City team will include enough quality to ensure they give a good account of themselves. They have the strongest squad in the Premier League, and while they clearly have certain key individuals capable of making the difference in otherwise tight situations, the angles and movements of Guardiola’s approach have now been well absorbed by all.
Man City’s achievements this season have rather put United in the shade. Despite possessing a squad on which a comparably huge amount of money has been spent, United have been left lagging both aesthetically and in terms of results. Elimination from the Champions League at the last 16 stage at the hands of Sevilla has left the FA Cup as their solitary route to silverware.
United have certainly improved in comparison to last season, when they only finished sixth. They have accumulated more points per match and almost doubled their per-match goal difference, from 0.66 to 1.2. The underlying statistics do, however, confirm the impression that they have relied heavily on the brilliance of goalkeeper David de Gea to mask a relatively leaky defence, while in attack, too, there has been a certain degree of over-performance.
Whether their improvement is sufficient given the investment on players in recent years remains open to debate. Jose Mourinho has consistently tried to twist the narrative to position his side as relative underdogs, but the truth is that they should be seriously challenging City given the money spent, and perhaps doing so with a more attractive style of play.
Mourinho has shown a bit more adventure in recent matches against other top-six sides but it will still be interesting to see how he approaches Saturday’s trip to the Etihad. It is likely that he will bring another body into midfield in a switch from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-3-3, but whether that is one with a primarily defensive or attacking tilt remains to be seen.
Man Utd have had a free week to prepare for the derby, which in combination with the fact that City are likely to rest players should give Mourinho his best opportunity yet to secure his first league victory over Guardiola since the pair rocked up in Manchester two summers ago.
City will still be very tough opponents. They have won 14 and drawn one of their 15 home matches in the league this season and are unlikely to give that unbeaten record up easily regardless of the strength of their starting XI. In the end, when looking at having a bet with one of the betting sites, it may be that a draw actually represents the most probable result.
Our Preview’s Manchester City vs. Manchester United Betting Tips Verdict
- Back the draw @ best odds of 11/4 with Unibet.