Manchester City can strengthen the impression that the gap between the two Manchester clubs is growing with victory at home to Manchester United on Sunday (16:30 GMT, live on Sky Sports).
City and United finished first and second respectively in the Premier League last season, but a full 19 points separated them, and performances and results during the first few months of the new campaign suggest that City’s margin is only likely to increase this time around.
Pep Guardiola’s side top the table following an unbeaten start to the season that has seen them rack up nine wins and two draws, score 33 goals and concede just four. They have a couple less points than they did at the same stage last season, but their underlying numbers look a tad stronger, and they are worthy favourites with the bookmakers to retain their title.
The squad is pretty much the same as it was last season, with Riyad Mahrez the only first-team addition, but certain players within it have stepped up a level. January signing Aymeric Laporte now looks a permanently assured figure in the centre of defence, Bernardo Silva is gaining influence with more playing time, while Benjamin Mendy’s return from the injury that saw him miss most of last season has provided additional thrust down the left.
Man City come into the Manchester derby in fine goalscoring form following a 6-1 win at home to Southampton last weekend and then a 6-0 thrashing of Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on Wednesday. Gabriel Jesus has taken a back seat to Sergio Aguero in the league so far this season but underlined the strength of City’s squad with a hat-trick against Shakhtar.
It is difficult to pick out many flaws in Guardiola’s side. Teams willing to take the risk of leaving space in behind have had some success in pressing them high but that is unlikely to be an approach that United coach Jose Mourinho will venture on Sunday.
After a difficult start, his side have offered signs of recovery with three straight victories in all competitions, including a last-gasp comeback to record a 2-1 win away to Juventus in the Champions League on Wednesday. They still look a long way off competing at the top end of the Premier League table.
Man Utd are currently seventh, nine points shy of leaders City and four points off the top four. While their points total of 20 is just three less than they had accumulated at the same stage last season, their goal difference paints a more realistic portrait of their campaign to date. Last season, it stood at +18; this season, it is just +1. Neither do their underlying numbers offer much reason for optimism.
Mourinho has consistently struggled to strike an adequate balance between attack and defence during his time at United. Last season, the heroics of goalkeeper David de Gea masked the extent of their defensive problems; this season, they have been laid bare. United have the sixth worst defensive record in the division, having conceded 18 times. Their attack has been the joint sixth best, but insufficiently productive to cover for the defence.
Even if they are able to upset the odds and record victory away to City this weekend, a realistic assault on the league title already looks beyond United. The priority for Mourinho and his side will be to get themselves back into the running for a top-four finish and find an approach capable of perhaps offering some success in a cup competition.
Man City have actually failed to win at home to United in each of the last three seasons. Last season, they gave up a two-goal half-time lead to lose 2-3. It is, however, difficult to see that run continuing through Sunday’s fixture. Guardiola’s side are getting stronger at the same time as Mourinho’s United seem to be getting weaker, and their attacking potency is likely to be far too much for a United team with clear defensive issues.
Our Preview’s Manchester City vs. Man Utd Betting Tips Verdict
- Bet on “Manchester City to win both halves” @ best odds of 28/13 with Unibet.