Pep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola

IT IS the showdown English football fans have been waiting for as United welcome cross-city rivals Manchester City to Old Trafford on Sunday for the first derby encounter of the season. One of the biggest games in any season, the eagerly awaited showpiece sees the Premier League’s top two go head to head, with the Reds knowing a win will be hugely significant to trim the gap to leaders City to five points and keep the title race firmly alive heading into the busy festive period. With three crucial points and bragging rights at stake, the eyes of the world will be watching and one could be in for an absorbing battle between the two favourites to lift the trophy next May. The Reds are enjoying a good run of form at the moment having won the last four matches in all competitions after guaranteeing a place in the UEFA Champions League knockout stages as Group A winners with Tuesday night’s 2-1 win over CSKA Moscow. Now, in the second of three successive home games, Mourinho’s men will be desperate to inflict City’s first domestic defeat of the season and record five straight league victories for the first time this term, with this one arguably being the most important triumph thus far. United midweek comeback win over CSKA in Europe meant that United equalled a historic club record of 40 home matches unbeaten in all competitions, matching the run achieved by Sir Matt Busby’s team between December 1964
and March 1966. Old Trafford has been a fortress for the last 14 months, with the incredible sequence beginning after a 2-1 defeat against City in September 2016. So, the Reds can set a new club record at the Theatre of Dreams against the same opponents this weekend. Speaking after Tuesday’s victory, the boss confirmed that Nemanja Matic is set to play this weekend after sitting out the win over CSKA Moscow following recent trouble with a muscular problem. His return will be timely as Paul Pogba starts a three-match domestic ban after his red card against Arsenal. Mourinho also said that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has “a big chance” of featuring against City and Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini have “a chance” of being involved. But Eric Bailly and Captain Michael Carrick are ruled out again. Meanwhile, reports have emerged that Spanish playmaker David Silva is doubtful for City, who could recall skipper Vincent Kompany and midfielder Fernandinho after the pair were rested for last Sunday’s 2-1 victory over West Ham as they are a yellow card away from a one-match domestic suspension. Pep Guardiola’s side have had a formidable start to the campaign and equalled the number of successive Premier League wins in a single season when coming from behind to defeat West Ham, managed by former Reds boss David Moyes, at the Etihad Stadium. The only points they have dropped in the league came in a 1-1 draw at home to Everton back in August. The Blues
had won a remarkable 20 matches in a row before their 28-game unbeaten run stretching back to April came to an end in the Champions League on Wednesday night after a 2-1 defeat by Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine, although top spot in Group F had already been secured. Unsurprisingly, City boast the best attack in the league having averaged almost three goals a game so far – netting 46 in 15 league matches, but United have the best defensive record in the league having only conceded nine goals so far, one more than City who are second in that respect. Historically, the Reds have a strong record against near neighbours heading into the 175th Manchester derby, winning 72 and drawing 52 of the previous 174 encounters, 40 of which have been played in the Premier League era. Last season, the Reds were beaten 2-1 by City at home in the league before Juan Mata scored the only goal to knock the Blues out of the League Cup and the sides played out a goalless draw at the Etihad Stadium in April. The last meeting came on US soil, with the preseason match in Houston in July, the first ever Manchester derby played outside England. On that occasion, the Reds triumphed 2-0 with Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford combining to sink the Blues. Certainly, Sunday’s clash promises to be very interesting as the two managers have won the champions league, Europa title, league crown with different countries, but except for Pep Guardiola who has not won in England

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