Ahead of the Manchester derby, Ian Watson looks at five key selection choice for the United and City managers.
Kompany will surely return
Much of the talk around Manuel Pellegrini’s selection posers has centered around the return of Vincent Kompany. The skipper will surely be back at the heart of the City defence at Old Trafford.
Kompany has been missing since limping off during the Champions League defeat to Juventus on September 15, but the centre-half is fit and willing to come back in. It depends if Pellegrini is equally ready to field the Belgian.
The manager insists he has not been punishing Kompany for defying him over an instruction not to play for Belgium in their final Euro 2016 qualifier, with the Red Devils having already secured their place in the finals. Pellegrini said Kompany needed a week of training after the international break, and having sat on the bench for the wins over Bournemouth and Sevilla, the 29-year-old now has that. If there was an element of the boss seeking to assert his authority over the defender’s international participation, that point has now been made.
Pellegrini says he has been happy with Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala in Kompany’s absence, but his team have failed to keep a clean sheet in the captain’s absence. This run came after City conceded just one goal in six games at the start of the season, when the manager said Kompany and Managala were “untouchable”. Expect the skipper to resume hostilities with Wayne Rooney come kick-off.
Van Gaal has been rotating his deep-lying midfielders all season and still appears undecided which combination is best. Morgan Schneiderlin (628) has played more minutes than Bastian Schweinsteiger (515) and Michael Carrick (477) and it seems unlikely that the manager will opt to bench the Frenchman as he did for the embarrassment at Arsenal.
Schweinsteiger was led around ‘like a dog on a lead’ by Santi Cazorla at the Emirates as Van Gaal employed the German in a more advanced role to get up against the Arsenal midfielder. The tactic failed as Carrick was left badly exposed. Against City, in amidst the likes of Yaya Toure, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, expect Schneiderlin to play alongside one of his veteran team-mates.
At Everton last week, Schweinsteiger partnered Schneiderlin as United bounced back brilliantly with a dominant performance at Everton. The German also played in midweek at CSKA Moscow before being hooked at half-time. Perhaps Van Gaal has been saving Carrick for the derby.
Bony back on the bench?
“It is his moment, his chance to show what he has got.”
With Sergio Aguero sidelined again, Pellegrini has issued the challenge to Wilfried Bony and it remains to be seen whether the Ivorian has the class to shine in team such as City’s.
Bony has started twice in the last week after only five in the previous nine months. He scored twice last week against Bournemouth, and that brace makes up half of his four-goal tally in a City shirt so far. But Bony can offer more than just a finishing touch.
Bony has the pace and strength to occupy the outstanding Chris Smalling and play as the pivot around which the likes of De Bruyne, Sterling and Toure can cause havoc. There had been talk that De Bruyne could play as a No.9 and Sterling has played that role against United at Old Trafford previously too. But I’d expect Bony to remain part of Plan A. For now.
There have also been whispers that David Silva could be available after injury. But with City in such fine goalscoring form (11 goals in their last two Premier League matches from the divisions top scorers), there is no need to rush the Spanish maestro back prematurely for anything other than a bench role.
United’s defensive decisions
United began the season with a settled defence, with Smalling, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw and Matteo Darmian all in superb form. Since the opening month, however, Shaw has been lost to injury, Darmian’s form has perhaps understandably dipped dipped having been used on both sides, and the Emirates embarrassment cost Blind his spot at the heart of the defence.
Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have all featured but of that quartet, only Jones will be feeling confident of being being in the XI come derby day. Van Gaal has decisions to make over his full-backs. Darmian is likely to be a safer option rather than Valencia, while Blind may get the nod over Rojo at left-back.
Persisting with Rooney
Van Gaal has shown no willingness to consider dropping Wayne Rooney, with the Manchester United skipper not even having been substituted in the Premier League this season, despite some utterly lifeless performances. The impact of Anthony Martial, however, has heaped further pressure on the United skipper to prove that his form is not the symptom of a terminal decline.
Martial has been shunted out to the left, where his impact is undoubtedly restricted in comparison to when he used through the middle. Ander Herrera made the point that Martial as a centre-forward “has some qualities that the rest haven’t got”. Rooney’s fading pace and his inability to stretch centre-halves illustrates that point. Kompany and Mangala will likely be more comfortable handling Rooney in front of them, rather than having to consider the speed and directness of Martial.
Rooney’s ‘captain’s privileges’ mean he will lead out United a day after his 30th birthday, but the skipper needs a big performance.
- Manchester City have won six of their last eight Manchester derbies in league competition (L2) – prior to this run City had won six of their previous 42 derby games v Manchester United.
- Manchester City are looking for their 50th competitive win in the Manchester derby (W49 D50 L69).
- None of the last 12 Manchester derbies in all competitions have ended as a draw (five United wins, seven City wins).
- The last 10 Manchester derbies in all competitions have seen 41 goals scored (4.1 goals per game).
- Wayne Rooney has scored 11 goals in Manchester derbies (all competitions), more than any other player in this fixture.
- Rooney turned 30 on Friday – no player has scored as many Premier League goals as he has by the age of 30 (187).
- Manchester United have won 17 of their 23 Premier League home games under Louis van Gaal (74%), conceding just 16 goals (D3 L3).
- Manchester City have had the most shots on target (74) and have allowed their opponents the fewest (24) in the opening nine matchdays of 2015-16.
- Kevin De Bruyne has 23 assists in 41 league appearances since the start of last season, three more than any other player in the top five European Leagues.
- Manchester City will be missing Sergio Aguero for this game – he’s scored eight goals in eight Manchester derbies in all competitions, including all three for City v Utd last season.