As the business end of the season begins to near the phrase ‘must-win game’ is bandied about more and more by just about everyone. Usually reserved for matches of greater magnitude than normal ones, local derbies or positional rivals, in particular, it becomes rather mundane as pundits and fans pick and choose which matches are worthy suitors to the tag. Of course, Chelsea was more than applicable, and Manchester City in the derby makes the grade.
Victory in games like this are celebrated better than any others at the best of times but at a time like this they are sweeter than ever, but there is a showdown sandwiched between the aforementioned that could shape the final month and a half more than ever anticipated.
Burnley away wasn’t the one we all looked at when the fixtures were announced, and when games started to get away from United and into hand, it was those matches we all focused on. But as City look to play in the FA Cup semi-final this weekend, Jose Mourinho has the opportunity to go a point behind his old adversary Pep Guardiola ahead of the meeting at the Emptihad four days later when his side faces Burnley Sunday afternoon.
Unexpectedly, Burnley has one of the best home records in the league and they managed to frustrate United almost to the point of violence at Old Trafford earlier in the season in the 0-0 draw between the sides. Suddenly what would have previously been seen as a routine away tie with the usual complications has taken on a much more challenging form and a game that could shape how Mourinho sets up for the final six league encounters. Defeat will leave City four points clear, level on games with a home Derby on the way. The victory puts United a point behind and the ball well and truly in their court.
Momentum feels as though it is shifting the way of the Red Devils, and the way in which Jose Mourinho-shaped his side up against Chelsea displayed everything that has made him what he is today and was a reminder that he perhaps hasn’t lost his mojo. The tactical aspect is more important than ever and how he faces up to the Lancashire side could decide whether United are capable of taking three points home.
The conundrum comes up front and who fronts the attack. Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn’t going to want to miss Chelsea and City, but the pace of Rashford and Lingard was all too devastating on Sunday and can prove just as much so next Thursday. The physical nature of Burnley and the very impressive Michael Keane screams for Ibrahimovic to start, with Rashford and Martial on the wings to provide the pace so effective in matches previous. Reverting to type is perhaps the perfect way to go to achieve what is needed.
We, as fans, shouldn’t expect anything more than a 1-0 win, nor should we be disappointed if that is indeed the outcome. If somebody offered that to me now I would snap their hand clean off and drink the juices remaining on the floor. To get back to within a point of Manchester City is the main objective pre-Derby, and if that goal is achieved I’m not going to be looking forward to Thursday next week. Tense won’t even come close.