Manchester has always lacked prestige when compared to the likes of London, Birmingham, Liverpool, and even smaller cities across much of England’s history until its massive boom during the 19th century that saw the city become the world’s first industrialized city. But when it comes to football, Manchester has been at the very heart of the beautiful game while defining the vast majority of the Premier League era.
For Manchester United and Manchester City supporters, the debate continues to swirl regarding which club the city owns its footballing identity to. Though United can trace its roots back to 1878 when Newton Heath LYR was first established, the club that we know as Manchester United did not officially come into being until 1902. Manchester City, however, was established in 1894, fourteen years after founding club St. Mark’s included itself on the landscape in 1880.
But what is undeniable is the city’s dominance in the current era. Since the inaugural 1992-93 season, Manchester has seen both clubs crowned a combined 19 times across 30 seasons (United 13, City 6) while being the epicenter of managerial genius in the vein of both Sir Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola, as well as boasting some of the best players in the history of the league.
These two massive clubs are now set to clash in the 189th Manchester Derby during a period of heavy City dominance under Guardiola, while both boast ambitions of running-down table-topping Arsenal under former City assistant Mikel Arteta.
A United win in front of home support at Old Trafford would see Erik ten Hag’s influence on the touchline continue to rise to the surface and bring the Red Devils within a single point of the holding Premier League champions, while a reverse result would pile pressure on Arsenal who have their own massive derby this weekend when they come to grips with Tottenham in the North London Derby.
With the fortunes of both clubs intertwined in what should prove to be an action-packed 90-minutes at the Theatre of Dreams, 101 Great Goals takes a look at three key tactical matchups that could define what will transpire during Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off.
Marcus Rashford vs Kyle Walker/Rico Lewis
When it comes to goalscoring prowess in the current landscape, England international star Marcus Rashford is right up there with the best the Premier League has to offer after the United forward has scored seven in his last six United appearances across all competitions while stepping up on the goal front after the abject failure that was Cristiano Ronaldo’s second stint at Old Trafford.
Still being deployed on the left of Ten Hag’s front four, Rashford’s goal form will be one of the key plus points United hopes to bring to the table at home tomorrow afternoon, with the 25-year-old academy product locking horns with one of veteran England colleague Kyle Walker or City starlet Rico Lewis. Though Lewis has come on strong recently and could certainly nudge his way into the XI for Guardiola, Pep may turn to experience and pace to try to shackle Rashford on the day, whose capability of dragging defenders out of shape or cutting in to get a sniff at goal will require full concentration and spatial awareness for 90-min. Regardless of who Rashford comes up against, recent history tells us that he will have a serious role to play tomorrow.
Erling Haaland vs Luke Shaw
Perhaps the biggest question surrounding the Manchester Derby will come down to whether or not Ten Hag’s Red Devils can shut down Norwegian goal machine Erling Haaland, with the 22-year-old having already put United to the sword in ruthless fashion in their early 6-3 win at the Etihad in the reverse fixture which saw Haaland bag a hat trick and add two assists along the way.
But the current United side under Ten Hag that welcomes City to the Theatre of Dreams tomorrow is vastly improved over the earlier result, with only Arsenal boasting a better recent run of results than the Dutchman’s troops, and England international Luke Shaw putting in credible performances at left center-back while in partnership with French international Raphaël Varane. Shaw can certainly try to keep pace with Haaland on the deck, which could be a solid counter to the Norwegian’s ability to beat his marker off the mark when he expects service, but a potential mismatch during aerial battles may leave Shaw exposed on set pieces or during the run of play when City provide service through a number of creative outlets. But if Haaland is kept quiet, United’s chances of finding a result are immeasurably enhanced. Should the Norwegian remain unshackled, it could be another humbling result.
Bruno Fernandes vs Rodri
For all the talk of goalscorers in the vein of Erling Haaland and Marcus Rashford, the mercurial presence of Portuguese star Bruno Fernandes is undoubtedly Manchester United’s ace in the hole when the Red Devils welcome City to their neck of the woods across town, once again pitting the former Sporting CP creator-in-chief against his opposite number in Belgian wizard Kevin De Bruyne. But maybe this time around, more than any other, Fernandes is the one that is in the spotlight more than KDB, and for good reason.
There is no denying that, when Fernandes gets on the ball and is allowed to operate effectively, United begins to purr in transition and in attacking passages of play, with the Portuguese midfielder boasting excellent numbers both in his passing and possession metrics as shown above via FBRef. But what certainly flies under the radar is how important Fernandes is in the pressing phase and on the defensive side of the ball, currently averaging 3.00 tackles + interceptions/90min, over 2 attempted tackles/90min, and over 1 successful tackle/90min, putting him in at least the 83rd percentile of all midfielders across Europe’s top five leagues. Yes, United need Fernandes if they have any chance of scoring goals, but when it comes to trying to beat their city rivals, perhaps they need him even more in an unheralded manner.