Thursday 5 April 2018

United aim to poop Pep's party on derby day

When the fixtures were released back in July, the presence of the Manchester derby at the Etihad deep into the season's run-in looked to be pivotal and potentially decisive. The hotly-anticipated title tussle has, however, failed to materialise and United head into Saturday's tie with Pep's mob in damage limitation mode. This is a derby that feels almost insignificant given the permutations.
It's a question of when, not if, City are crowned champions but for United the assignment is simple: stop City winning on derby day, poop their party, and delay their inevitable title celebrations by at least another week - we simply can't have them popping open the bubbly having completed a first double over us since 2013-14, and with it a fifth top flight title. Their fans have been unbearable at the best of times this season, but this would be a day they would never let us live down...

This tie - the 176th Manchester derby - is sandwiched between the two legs of City's Champions League quarter final double header with Liverpool (if only we could have had that luxury). Pep Guardiola had already floated the notion of selecting a 'weakened' side with minds very much focused on European commitments, and that's even more likely now given that his side's hopes of European glory are hanging by the thinnest of threads ahead of the return at the Etihad on Tuesday. Whether there is such a concept as an understrength City team, given their vast resources and staggering strength in depth remains to be seen, but whatever XI Guardiola selects, this will prove an acid test of the Reds credentials.
Liverpool exposed City's hidden flaws in brutal fashion at Anfield, as the best team in the land - a team that have swept all before them in the league on their way to a yawning 16-point advantage - were reduced to rubble and made to look anything like the champions they are soon to be. This proved two things: that everyone else in the Premier League needs to raise their game when up against Pep's team, and also, more pertinently, that City can be beaten. Wigan knocked them out of the FA Cup, Liverpool have now beaten them twice and Basel also prevailed (albeit in the deadest of rubbers) from their trip to the Etihad. City have been simply formidable and fully deserve to be champions, make no mistake. As painful as it is to have to witness, caps must be doffed, but infallible they are not.

United may well need to copy the blueprint of our greatest adversaries to even plunder a point from this one: we'll need to be disciplined, resilient, organised, get in their faces and our tactics absolutely spot on. We're underdogs for this one and have nothing to lose, an unusual position to be in and one that we're not used to as United fans but that's the reality of the situation. We might as well go down fighting and make City work for their prize.

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