Solskjaer has been a man under seemingly incessant pressure but yet United go into the 183rd all-Manchester meeting a point and a place ahead of the men from across the city, by hook or by crook.
But Solskaer knows how to get one over on his more illustrious counterpart. Last term, the affable and erudite Norwegian led United to a derby double over City for the first time in a decade, with a League Cup semi-final second leg win thrown in for good measure (although United missed out on a place in the final on a 2-3 aggregate). That ensured Solskjaer became only the second manager to beat Guardiola three times in a single season - Jurgen Klopp is the other man to do so. So for all his critics, it would be churlish to count out Solskjaer's United completely. After all, this team have a happy knack of rising to the big occasion. The bigger the opposition, the better we often seem to play.
To secure victory in the first ever derby to be played without fans, you feel two men will be key for United.
Midfield is often where matches are won and lost, and this one looks to be no exception. Whilst City possess probably the best pound-for-pound player on the planet in Kevin de Bruyne, the City schemer has had a disappointing season by his own metronomic standards. Perhaps he's suffering the effects of his missing link with the departed David Silva, or maybe the lack of preparation and pre-season has had an impact. It could be something else entirely. Either way, although he is too good to simply ignore, de Bruyne perhaps does not carry the same fear factor that saw him voted PFA, Premier League and City Player of the Season in 2019-20.
Individual battles can often be as gripping as the main event and the undercard is just as compelling as the heavyweight fight on this occasion. Despite his aforementioned struggles, De Bruyne is still widely considered as the best pound-for-pound playmaker in world football. You have to be a very special talent indeed to put him in the shade. Enter, Bruno Fernandes. The impact of United's talismanic, match-winning figurehead needs no embellishment but the Portuguese has had a stellar campaign so far. The midfield maestros go head-to-head at Old Trafford on Saturday at teatime, with the pair holding the key to victory for their respective sides.
We saw in the last fixture between these two what Fernandes offers: his quick-thinking impudence caught City napping as he flicked a set-piece over the wall and set up Anthony Martial to score.
Fernandes has played 53 minutes more than De Bruyne, and his crucial influence was in evidence again as he transformed the Reds from the bench against West Ham last time out. His mere presence transforms the entire dynamic of the side and his leadership stands out in a side lacking exactly that. It is both credit to Fernandes but also damning for United, how he has quickly become our most important player. Fernandes has rapidly become a key tactical cog for Solskjaer, efficiently moving the team up the pitch when he's on the ball, coupled with an instinctive knowledge of when to press and where and when to sit in when out of possession. Manchester City are likely to monopolise possession and push us back, so Fernandes may have to be patient and look to push United high up the pitch in transition. He will, once again, be pivotal.
Fernandes may be mocked as a penalty merchant, but yet four of his seven league strikes have come from open play, with only from the spot. In contrast, both of De Bruyne's goals in 2020-21 have been from 12 yards. Now who's the spot-kick specialist...
City are likely to go with Gabriel Jesus in attack and will attempt to pass us to death, so Solskjaer will look to the little Brazilian to shut down the channels and stop the supply line to his compatriot. In both a 4-2-3-1 or a 3-4-1-2, Fred's role is to both support those around him, to start attacks from deep but also to advance further forwards. He was sorely missed in Germany, and in east London to a lesser extent, but his selection here is surely a no brainer.
De Bruyne vs Fernandes, Rodri vs Fred, Aaron Wan - Bissaka renewing his personal duel with Raheem Sterling... United vs City, Red against Blue, Solskjaer vs Guardiola. Bring.It.On!
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