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Predicted XI: [4-3-1-2] Cavani and Rashford up top, Fernandes in behind; Diallo and James to come on in the second half and use their pace to frustrate City?

Manchester United face the biggest match of the Premier League season when they travel to the Etihad Stadium to face Manchester City. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have drawn the last three matches in a row with the same 0-0 scoreline, which at this stage is a problem as United did not seem to be able to score any goals. Pep Guardiola’s City sit at the top of the Premier League, having a 14 point lead over United, which was not the case in January. Solskjaer’s side will need to find a way to break down the league leaders, which will be problematic as they are in great form, winning all of their last six matches, which will see them push to win the league at some point next month. United need to get a win on the board to save their season.

Last season, Solskjaer did the double over City, winning both at home and away, also beating them in one of the semi-final legs of the Carabao Cup, losing the other and seeing themselves knocked out of the competition, which was the same this season, although it was just a one-legged tie. United are unbeaten in their last ten matches in all competitions, their last seven in the Premier League. However, in the league, the majority of the last seven matches (six) were all draws which is not great form heading into the biggest match of the season for Solskjaer and his United squad. David De Gea looks to be out of action for the foreseeable future, after becoming a father so this will be an even bigger match for Dean Henderson.

How United have faired against Manchester City in the Premier League.

United and City have met 47 times in the history of the Premier League with this weekend’s Manchester derby the 48th in the English top flight. United have won 23 times, drawing nine times with City winning 15 times. United have scored 68 goals against City, conceding 61. United have been awarded a total of four penalties, scoring three of them with City being awarded one penalty and failing to score it. United have kept 17 clean sheets against City with the Blue side of Manchester keeping 10 clean sheets. United’s players have been shown 81 yellow cards and seven red cards with City’s players shown 106 yellow cards and one red card. City are currently 14 points clear of United and to avoid falling further behind, United need to win this match.

Earlier this season, it was a 0-0 draw between United and City in the first Manchester derby of the Premier League. United met City in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup, losing that match 2-0 at the start of January. Almost a year ago on the 8 March 2020, United and City met at Old Trafford in the Premier League last season. It was the last match that United played in front of supporters at home and they beat City 2-0 with Anthony Martial and Scott McTominay scoring the goals. Last season at the Etihad, played on the 7 December 2019, United were the victors with a 2-1 victory with Marcus Rashford opening the score from the penalty spot in the 23rd minute and Martial doubling the lead six minutes later. Nicolas Otamendi scored a consolation.

Here is my predicted starting XI to face Manchester City in the Premier League at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon…

Goalkeeper: Dean Henderson

Dean Henderson has kept nine clean sheets in 14 appearances for United this season, which is a good record for the 23-year-old who is enduring his first season as a United goalkeeper. He is the future of the club and with David De Gea taking some time out after becoming a father this week, Henderson will have ample time to show Solskjaer what he is capable of. Last season at Sheffield United, Henderson faced City twice, since ding three goals in the 2-0 and 1-0 defeats home and away. At United, he will be seeking to have a good appearances against the Premier League leaders with United needing a win to claw back some of City’s 14 point lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Eric Bailly, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw

United’s defence will need to continue their current form against City, keeping three clean sheets in their last three matches is a positive, in fact it is the only positive. United got a draw against City earlier in the season and could use that tops for a good result at the Etihad for the second time in two seasons. Last season, United beat City home and away and with a point already gained against City this season, there is some positivity to look towards. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw should keep their places at fullback with Eric Bailly and Harry Maguire in the centre of defence. Shaw was recently named as United’s player of the month for February and he will be seeking to continue his fine form this season.

Midfield: Fred, Nemanja Matic, Scott McTominay

A midfield three might be better for United against City as they will need to defend well, which is something Nemanja Matic can do well, despite his lack of pace, run the midfield and get balls to the attacking players. Fred has bee criticised over the past week or so for not doing much other than running. His shots on goal are poor and perhaps he needs to go back to the basics and man-mark, which is something he has done well at stages this season. Scott McTominay is having a good season, with five goals scored so far this season and he will be well up for getting a good result against City this weekend, guiding his tea, to a positive result against the Premier League leaders. United need to step up and this match would be the perfect match to do just that.

Attacking Midfield: Bruno Fernandes

Bruno Fernandes has scored 22 goals and 13 assists so far this season and in the last three matches, he has not been able to inspire United to victory, like he has done so many times since he arrived at the club in January 2020. Players are able to have a few off matches, that is all part of football but he will need to find the root cause of his problems and get to the bottom of them. Each and every player on the pitch will need to do the same. United need to get back to winning ways and doing that at the expense if City will be good for the club and inspire them to keep fighting this season. United have a lot of negative supporters right now, who seem to know more than everyone else. Shutting them up this weekend would be great to see. Especially the shouty man.

Forwards: Edinson Cavani, Marcus Rashford

Edinson Cavani is United’s best forward this season, despite the fact he has not yet scored more than seven goals and two assists, which is still a good return as the goals have been coming elsewhere on the pitch. Seeing the Uruguayan run riot at the Etihad, just like Robin van Persie, would be great to see this weekend – fingers crossed. Solskjaer should change the shape United for this match, choosing two forward playing together, which might create more chances for United. Cavani will get more space on the pitch, which could in turn create goalscoring opportunities for other players and even himself. Marcus Rashford should partner him up top, which could see some pace and ability with Fernandes pulling the strings in terms of creation.

Substitutes: Lee Grant; Victor Lindelof, Alex Telles, Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe; Amad Diallo, Donny van de Beek, Shola Shoretire; Mason Greenwood

United can name nine substitutes on the bench in the Premier League, using three of them during the course of the match. Solskjaer will need to get things right, which may be problematic with the likes of Paul Pogba and Juan Mata on the sidelines through injury. David De Gea is also missing, which means Lee Grant will be the substitute goalkeeper for this match. Nathan Bishop might even get a chance on the bench, if Grant is coaching, which is what he has been doing recently. In defence, Victor Lindelof, Alex Telles Brandon Williams and Axel Tuanzebe could be available. In midfield, Amad Diallo, Donny van de Beek and Shola Shoretire could be options with Mason Greenwood the only attacking player on the bench, if Anthony Martial is not fit.

Written by John Walker

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