Manchester United and Manchester City do battle in the most eagerly anticipated fixture of the Premier League season so far (12.30pm Saturday on Sky Sports 1).
Man Utd made it three wins from three in 2016/17 when they narrowly beat Hull City 1-0 prior to the international break. The Red Devils left it late before securing maximum points thanks to Marcus Rashford’s injury-time strike, with Jose Mourinho’s men ultimately doing enough to grind out a victory despite delivering a somewhat below-par all-round performance.
United certainly seem to have their swagger back, helped in no small part by the presence in the side of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba (pictured). It still feels as if there is more to come from them this season, particularly in an attacking sense. The 20-time English champions have looked solid in each of their three encounters to date and that defensive resolve is likely to be key against Man City this weekend.
Pep Guardiola’s charges have also begun the campaign well, with nine points obtained from their opening three games against Sunderland, Stoke City and West Ham United. The Manchester derby is by far the Catalan’s biggest test since moving to England and taking charge of City, with his side facing a probable title challenger for the first time.
There have already been plenty of signs of improvement in the team’s play compared to last season’s year of underachievement under Manuel Pellegrini. Man City are bound to ask some serious questions of United when the duo go head-to-head.
Man Utd could be without left-back Luke Shaw (muscular) and midfielders Marouane Fellaini (back) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (thigh) for this clash, although the trio are all still hoping to be passed fit in time to feature. The decision of 34-year-old Ibrahimovic to retire from international football after the European Championship in France means he should be reasonably fresh for this key encounter, but Rashford is likely to remain on the substitutes’ bench despite his winning goal against Hull last time out. Juan Mata will probably keep his place in the starting XI unless Mourinho decides to bolster the midfield with the inclusion of either Morgan Schneiderlin or Michael Carrick.
Man City are waiting to see if Bacary Sagna (hamstring) and Vincent Kompany (thigh) will be available for selection, although this game will probably come too soon for summer signings Leroy Sane (hamstring) and Ilkay Gundogan (knee).
Sergio Aguero was handed a retrospective three-match ban after being found guilty of violent conduct in Guardiola’s side’s defeat of West Ham. The Argentina international struck Winston Reid with an elbow and Kelechi Iheanacho is set to deputise for the former Atletico Madrid man. The fact that he will not play any part at Old Trafford is a major blow for City, who have consistently looked more dangerous in recent years with Aguero at the top of the pitch. It will be interesting to see how Guardiola goes about attempting to cover for his absence.
Aside from the obvious Mourinho versus Guardiola angle, one of the main reasons why this match has received so much attention is the fact that there appears to be very little to choose between the two teams. Saturday’s clash is therefore an extremely difficult one for this preview to call, with a draw perhaps the most likely outcome at Old Trafford. The game could be rather cagey, especially as Mourinho will not want to give anything away, so a 1-1 scoreline might be the best betting tips’ option. Ibrahimovic has taken to life in the Premier League brilliantly and has a better chance than anyone of finding the back of the net first.