Manchester United return to Premier League football ahead of the last international break of 2021, welcoming Manchester City to Old Trafford in a 12:30 kick off on Saturday afternoon. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side got back to winning ways in the league last weekend as they beat a terrible Tottenham Hotspur side 3-0 last Saturday evening. On Tuesday, United drew 2-2 with Atalanta in the UEFA Champions League, coming from behind twice in the match with Cristiano Ronaldo saving United blushes with two goals in added time at the end of each half. Ronaldo has scored nine goals in the 11 appearances he has made since returning to United.
Solskjaer needs to be stronger in his team selection. He seems to stick with favourites despite many of them not performing during the past month which has seen United on a poor run of form, despite being lucky at times in Champions League matches. Losing Raphael Varane ahead of the derby is a big loss with United’s defence looking shaky this season without him but Eric Bailly’s performance against Atalanta will give United some steel at the back, which is much needed at this time. Harry Maguire will need to find form sooner or later or he, himself, could face some time on the bench.
Previous meetings with Manchester City and their connections with Manchester United.
United and City have met a total of 48 times in the history of the Premier League – with City being the only of the two teams to have been relegated from the English top flight in this time. United have won 24 times, drawn nine times with City winning the remaining 15 times. United have scored 70 goals, winning five penalties and scoring four of them. City have scored 61 goals, winning one penalty and failing to score it. United have kept a total of 18 clean sheets, with City keeping 10. United players have been shown 84 yellow cards and seven red cards with City players being shown 106 yellow cards and one red card.
There have been many players who have played for both United and City in the history of both clubs. The more well known are Billy Meredith, Denis Law, Brian Kidd, Terry Cooke, Peter Schmeichel, Andrew Cole, Carlos Tevez, Owen Hargreaves, Abbie McManus, Jane Ross, Aoife Mannion, Charlie McNeill (who has only played academy football with both teams so far and current United first team player Jadon Sancho. In recent history, Tevez was a player who left West Ham United for United on a two-year loan. At United, in a total of 99 appearances, scoring 34 goals and 14 assists. Hargreaves starred for United and was crocked at City.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Manchester City in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea has done more for United this season that he had last season. His form has improved, he seems to be full of confidence – even at a time when United’s defence is more of a liability than a line of steel. He made a mistake against Atalanta earlier on the week and he will be more determined to get a good result against City this season – with United unbeaten by their bitter rivals since the 24 April 2019. This shows that United can beat anyone as long as they do what is needed on the pitch. With the attacking positions being top heavy this season, there are chances that United will outscore City, as long as they play well.
Solskjaer should stick by his first-choice goalkeeper this season as he has the experience and desire to deliver for United. As Sir Alex Ferguson once said, attack wins you matches but defence wins you titles. When United get the defence right, they will have an outstanding team to push for the honours. Of course, the social media fans, who seem to moan incessantly about anything, often contradicting themselves to get the likes and the retweets, will not see this as there is no interest in it. They just want United to hire and fire manager after manager so they can keep putting their agendas out there for more muppetry to continue. Weird fans.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Eric Bailly, Harry Maguire, Alex Telles
United’s defence needs some work right now. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is the best right-back at the club with Diogo Dalot no really looking good in the position when he played against West Ham United in the Carabao Cup, so for that reason, the English defender should keep his place. Luke Shaw has not managed to pick up his form recently and should be benched giving Alex Telles the chance to show what he can bring to the table. It could be the right thing for Shaw to work on his form, knowing that the manager could bench him when he does not bring what is needed to the table. Solskjaer needs to be ruthless. He’s the manager, not a friend of them all.
In the centre of the defence, Harry Maguire has been poor of late, making a series of mistakes but as the club captain, he seems to be undroppable no matter how badly he plays. It is time for him to stand up ad be counted, or at some point in the not too distant future, everything could change and he could be fighting for his place in the team under a new manager, if that was what United chose to do. Eric Bailly played well against Atalanta, so should keep his place in the team. He has only been used twice this season, so should be fit enough to play in back to back matches. Victor Lindelof could freshen up later in the game, if fit.
Midfield Three: Donny van de Beek, Nemanja Matic, Bruno Fernandes
United’s midfield needs a bit of tweaking. There is one player at the club who can make the midfield look the part at the club but he has been overlooked to the point where the rumours have gained pace about a January move. Donny van de Beek should be playing ahead of Paul Pogba, who clearly does not care about United. The red card against Liverpool and a poor performance against Atalanta shows that he should be a player that is banished from the first team for the remainder of the season, allowed to leave the club and forgotten about. Van de Beek showed more interest in about eight minutes than Pogba did in 69 minutes.
Nemanja Matic should start against City, shielding the defence. As he tires, he could be replaced by either Fred or McTominay – who could continue his role as long as it is needed in the match. Granted, his pace is slow and he’s getting older, but he would play for other teams in Europe regularly, so why not now. Let him show what he can do. He is one of the players that actually cares about the direction of the club right now. Bruno Fernandes should also play in the midfield, playing a more advanced role, which he could swap with Van de Beek, to catch City out. If this formation is never tried, it will never be tried. The 4-2-3-1 formation does not work for United.
Forwards: Mason Greenwood, Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford
A three-man attacking with two players in the wide positions and one through the centre, plus the midfield three, which will largely see two extra players attacking, could be the right formation for United moving forward. But is Solskjaer ever going to try it. United have played in the 4-3-3 formation under him and did well, so it should really be something that is tried more often. Cristiano Ronaldo will continue to lead the line, scoring nine goals in 11 appearances so far this season, so he is guaranteed matches. He could be replaced by Edinson Cavani, or the system could be tweaked so the two could play off each other, as they did against Spurs.
Marcus Rashford should play on the left-wing, as he can find goals and assists from the wide areas, even cutting in to strike on goal. He has played well against City in the past and as a Manchester lad, he will be seeking to do well for United. On the right-wing, Mason Greenwood, who is in a positive period of form, should start. His assist got United an equaliser against Atalanta on Tuesday with Ronaldo scoring a brace in the game. Having him on the pitch will cause City some problems, providing everything goes well. Late in the game he could be replaced by Jadon Sancho, who could make his first appearance against his former club.
Substitutes: Dean Henderson; Victor Lindelof, Diogo Dalot, Luke Shaw; Jesse Lingard, Fred, Scott McTominay; Edinson Cavani, Jadon Sancho
Solskjaer will be able to name nine substitutes on the bench for this last Premier League match before the final international break of 2021. He will be able to use three substitutes in the match – which will need to be the right changes to get a good result against City. Dean Henderson will remain on the bench for the foreseeable future, which will not be great for him and could see him loaned out against come the January transfer window. In defence, Victor Lindelof, Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw could strengthen the defence, should that be needed – which is probably likely considering the might of City.
In the midfield, Jesse Lingard, Fred and Scott McTominay could all be called upon, if needed. Lingard has a role to play this season, at least until January when he might be sold before the expiry of his current contract in the summer. Fred and McTominay are players who tend to get the most abuse, despite them performing well for the majority of the time, despite Fred showing himself as a terrible footballer some of the time. In attack, which is where United have a wealth of talent, both Edinson Cavani, who scored his first goal of the season against Spurs last weekend and Jadon Sancho, who is still waiting for his first goal or assist this season.
Written by John Walker