Manchester Derby: United looks to halt City juggernaut
Manchester City players pose for a photo prior the Champions League group F soccer match between Manchester City and Shakhtar Donetsk at the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
By Steve Douglas, Associated Press
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — There will be $1 billion worth of talent on the field, soccer's two most famous coaches renewing their rivalry, a bunch of records ready to be broken, and potentially the destiny of the English Premier League title — even in early December — on the line.
The Manchester derby can rarely have been grander and more globally appealing than when United and City meet at Old Trafford on Sunday.
In the blue corner, there's Pep Guardiola's City, a devastating attacking unit that is looking to build an 11-point lead and win a 14th successive league match — an achievement that would be a record in a single Premier League.
In the red corner, there's Jose Mourinho's United, leading the chasing pack and on a club record-equaling run of 40 unbeaten home matches in all competitions — stretching back to September 2016 when it lost to its cross-town rival 2-1.
City is the league top scorer with 46.
United has the best defensive record with just nine goals conceded.
City's approach revolves around intricate passing and all-out attack.
United's is all about power and defensive solidity.
It's a clash of styles that has been the hallmark of games between teams managed by Guardiola and Mourinho, initially when Barcelona and Real Madrid met in Spain and now in the same city in England.
Guardiola has had the edge since they arrived in the Premier League in the summer of 2016, earning a win and a draw in last season's derbies. United beat City 1-0 in a League Cup fourth-round match, when Guardiola fielded a largely second-string lineup.
Given the eight-point gap between them, the onus is on United to win. That might be uncomfortable for Mourinho, whose default setting in big games is to set up not to lose. So this might be one of the rare occasions in United's recent history where its team sits back in a match at Old Trafford and looks to hit a visiting side on the counterattack.
It's too dangerous to do anything else against a team as potent as City.
"Kill the game when you have one chance," said United midfielder Paul Pogba, who will be missing because of suspension, "because they are City and they have quality as well in front and they can kill the game at any time."
Pogba's absence, as a result of his red card against Arsenal last weekend, is a potential game-changer, robbing United of its best link between midfield and attack.
It remains to be seen whether City is without one of its conductors in midfield, too, with David Silva an injury doubt with an unspecified problem, according to Guardiola.
Mourinho has questioned whether Guardiola was telling the truth in making Silva an injury doubt. It's the only barb that has been thrown so far by either coach in the buildup.
United's best chance of winning might hinge on scoring from set-pieces, with City having a much smaller team. Attacking Fabian Delph, a midfielder filling in at left back because of Benjamin Mendy's long-term injury, is another route Mourinho will look to exploit.
As for City, which is coming off its only loss this season at Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on Wednesday, Guardiola will be confident of dominating the midfield battle with Pogba out and anchorman Nemanja Matic set to be playing for United despite not being fully fit.
United was embarrassed by City in the corresponding fixture last season, the 2-1 scoreline barely doing justice to the dominance of City, especially in the first half. Mourinho didn't play with a recognized defensive midfielder that day — Pogba and Marouane Fellaini were the midfield two — but has done so ever since.
Given the circumstances — United missing Pogba, City facing its toughest game of the season — both managers would probably take a draw before the game, though that would keep City as a huge title favorite with almost half the season gone.
A City win would, for many, set up a procession to the title.
"We think about the bigger picture," United midfielder Juan Mata said, "and for us we have to keep up the pace and keep winning and winning. I remember a few seasons ago when United were ahead of City and then they won by (goal difference).
"It's a crazy league and it's too early to think that it's finished."