Saturday 7 April 2018

City v United derby day preview

In-form United make the shortest away trip of the season to face a City side smarting in the wake of a stunning Champions League demolition against Liverpool in midweek. For Pep Guardiola's men, that proved a rare setback in what has been a magnificent campaign, with a formidable and free-scoring City on the verge of a league title that have run away with - so much so that it's now a case of when, rather than if, the get their hands on the prize. As they've been so keen to keep telling us, they could win the league on derby day - not a scenario that any United fan ever wants to witness. Anything other than a City win would put their inevitable celebrations on hold for another week. The Reds have responded impressively since the Sevill debacle, with successive 2-0 wins over Brighton and Swansea either side of the international break.

As painful as it is, even the most ardent United fan has to doff their cap to a team who have swept all before them domestically this season on their way to the title. Inspired by string-pulling in chief Player of the Year contender Kevin De Bruyne, Guardiola's City team of swashbuckling superstars have won 27 of their 31 ties in the Premier League, are unbeaten at home all season and have only failed to score once in the league. They also look set to break many records before the season is out - with United in the rare position of rank outsiders and underdogs ahead of the 176th Manchester derby. There could be a glimmer of hope for the Reds, however, with Pep Guardiola hinting at the proposition of fielding a 'weakened' team with the second leg of that European quarter - final on Tuesday at the forefront of his mind. United manager Jose Mourinho has a fully fit squad to pick from, with the exception of injured Argentinian Sergio Romero. Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Ander Herrera have all returned to fitness, whilst Daley Blind trained in midweek and could be in contention. For City, top scorer Sergio Aguero is a doubt, but John Stones and Fabian Delph - unused substitutes at Anfield - are set to feature but full-back Benjamin Mendy is expected to remain sidelined.

The Blues can seal the title with victory in the 176th derby but Jose is more concerned with the congested battle for second spot, and said: "My motivation is to finish second, there is still the motivation to finish in the top four because mathematically it is not done - it is a good distance but not mathematically done. That is the first objective but I don't hide in practical terms and next season to finish second, third, fourth is exactly the same - because you don't win the title and you go to the Champions League. However, I prefer to finish third not fourth and I prefer to finish second not third and, because we are in the second position for many, many, many, many months.
"Obviously, it's our objective to fight for that and for that we need points, so my objective for tomorrow is to try to have the points that can help us to finish second."

The Premier League have confirmed that there will be a minute's silence at grounds up and down the country in memory of former United man Ray Wilkins, who tragically died on Wednesday at the age of 61. RIP Ray.

Form guide: City W W L W W L United W W W L W W
Match odds: City 8/11 Draw 14/5 United 7/2
Referee: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire)

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