Manchester derby: Rashford’s role; Nolito or Iheanacho?

Ian Watson
Jose Mourinho & Pep Guardiola: Renew rivalries on Saturday

TEAMtalk previews the Manchester derby, pondering the tactical and personnel decisions faced by Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. 

United’s attack v City’s defence

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Scored twice on his home debut

Jose Mourinho has been able to pick a settled forward line during his first three Premier League games, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic providing a pivot around which Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata can probe. In contrast, Pep Guardiola has had to tinker with his back four ahead of each game, with John Stones being the only ever-present.

Vincent Kompany is close to fitness but the club captain is unlikely to be rushed back for the derby, given the long-term concerns over his fitness. Bacary Sagna, though, is set to be available so Guardiola has a straight choice between the Frenchman and Pablo Zabaleta. The threat of Martial’s pace means Sagna will probably get the nod, with Nicolas Otamendi partnering Stones.

Guardiola’s approach will be fascinating. His first derby and first real test as City boss will give us the best insight so far of how City will approach their key clashes against their main Champions League and title rivals.

In all City’s games so far this season, Guardiola’s full-backs have spent most of their time driving forward, more often than not inside their wingers, allowing Raheem Sterling, Nolito or Jesus Navas to drag their opponents out to the touchline and keep them there, creating space for Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva to wreak havoc.


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Martial has the pace and energy to track his opposite number – does Mourinho trust Mata to do the same on the opposite flank? Mata’s cause is not helped by Marcus Rashford’s game-winning cameo at Hull last time out. Not only did the teenager score at the death, but he also injected pace and verve into an attack that was being shackled by the Tigers. That preceded his debut hat-trick for England Under-21s this week. Henrikh Mkhitaryan offers another option, providing he shakes off a knock, meaning Mata will be sweating all week on his potential involvement in Manchester’s showpiece.

Guardiola’s philosophy is already starting to show, with his defenders following his instructions to retain and recycle possession. So early in the team’s development, however, in a derby atmosphere at Old Trafford with United ratting around them, the likes of Otamendi, Clichy and Sagna may feel less inclined to take risks with their passing. Guardiola is known to insist that his players stick to their principles, no matter the environment, so this will be the sternest test of their resolve and progress so far.

Guardiola will hope new goalkeeper Claudio Bravo can bring an immediate assuredness to the back-line that neither Joe Hart or Willy Cabellero can offer. Debuts don’t come much tougher than a derby away from home. Standing at only six feet, Bravo will need Otamendi and Stones to provide a solid shield around Ibrahimovic, with the former Barca goalkeeper likely to have to cope with more crosses into his box and towards the big Swede than he is accustomed to.


City’s attack v United’s defence

Nolito: Could switch to central striking role

Again, Mourinho is likely to benefit from an unchanged selection, while Guardiola is forced into a re-think.

Sergio Aguero’s suspension is an obvious blow given no other City player has scored in a derby for the last two and a half years. But the visitors’ options are plentiful.

Kelechi Iheanacho is the obvious like-for-like replacement and the Nigerian would certainly test the fledgling partnership between Eric Bailly and Daley Blind. But Guardiola may opt to shift Nolito into a more central role.

Moving the Spaniard off the left would allow Raheem Sterling to go up against Antonio Valencia and test the Ecuadorian’s defensive nous. Valencia has been widely praised for his start to the season, having been nominated for the Premier League Player of the Month award – but not United’s own August competition, strangely – though this recognition is due largely to his contribution going forward. Mourinho has got the winger-turned-right-back taking on defenders once more, in stark contrast to the dark days of Louis van Gaal, when United’s opponents were happy to leave Valencia one-on-one because he was either reluctant to, or instructed not to, attempt to beat his man.

This season, though, Valencia is yet to be sternly tested in a defensive sense. Sterling is in flying form and Guardiola’s desire for his wingers to stay high and wide will provoke a battle of wills between the pair, with Valencia desperate to go forward all the while fearing what damage his opponent could do with the back door left open.

Should Sterling switch to the left, Jesus Navas could come on in the right, as he did at Stoke. Navas offers a solid-if-unspectacular option, but with Luke Shaw in full flow again, the Spaniard will offer Sagna assistance against United’s left-sided flying machines.


Midfield battle

Marouane Fellaini: Hopes to win Mourinho's trust

The middle of the park is the one area Guardiola does not have to think about. City have been playing a 4-1-4-1, with Fernandinho screening the defence and often dropping into it, while David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are allowed to cause chaos between the lines.

In direct contrast, Mourinho has a decision to make. Paul Pogba has been starting slightly to the left of United’s midfield base, getting forward and back alongside Marouane Fellaini. The record-signing’s participation is not in doubt, though Fellaini’s could be, despite his positive start to the season.

Fellaini picked up a back injury at Hull, though the Belgian is expected to be passed fit for the derby. But given that whoever anchors the United midfield will be responsible for keeping Silva and De Bruyne on a leash, Mourinho will be asking himself whether Fellaini’s qualities are best-suited for the job.

However creditably he has opened the campaign, Fellaini is no more mobile than before and his clumsiness remains. Morgan Schneiderlin’s energy or Michael Carrick’s intelligence would seem to be in greater need this weekend against the quality of Silva and De Bruyne.

Who would you pick? Should Guardiola opt for Iheanacho or Nolito to replace Aguero? Is Fellaini up to the job of shackling Silva and De Bruyne? Have Your Say or use the story comment facility below…