Manchester United host Manchester City live on Sky Sports on Wednesday in what could be the defining game of the Premier League season. Will they stun their rivals as they did at the Etihad Stadium last year? Or will Pep Guardiola’s side take a vital step towards the title?
It is a thrilling prospect which puts Liverpool fans in the unusual position of having to root for Manchester United. Liverpool currently sit two points clear of City but having played one game more, they need Pep Guardiola’s side to drop points – and know that Wednesday’s game represents the best chance of that happening.
Manchester United – and, indeed, Liverpool – will hope for a repeat of their 3-2 win over City just over a year ago. Guardiola’s men appeared to be on their way to a title-clinching win that day after goals from Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan, but United mounted a stunning comeback, with Paul Pogba scoring twice and Chris Smalling firing the winner.
Will United recover?
The problem for United this time, of course, is that they go into Wednesday’s game in desperately poor form. They have won just two of their last eight games under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with their flaws laid bare during Sunday’s dismal 4-0 thrashing by Everton at Goodison Park.
Solskjaer pulled no punches afterwards, questioning his squad’s commitment and threatening some of his players with the axe, and there was also strong criticism from Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville, who described himself as furious about the rancid performance.
The question now is whether they can muster a response. Manchester United have had just three days to recover from that miserable afternoon on Merseyside, and while it is clear that the squad requires surgery in the summer, it is down to Solskjaer to work with what he’s got until then – starting at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
It would not be the first time Solskjaer’s United have pulled off an unexpected result, of course. Their outstanding 3-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League is still fresh in the memory. But victory over City would require considerable improvement in one area in particular.
I want my team to be the hardest working team in the league, said Solskjaer after the Everton defeat. That is what we were under Sir Alex [Ferguson], that’s what we’ve always been. No matter how much talent you have got, you run more than anyone.
Unfortunately, United are a long way from doing that at the moment.
Premier League tracking data shows Everton ran seven kilometers further than them on Sunday and, despite the upturn in results which followed Solskjaer’s appointment in December, United are in fact covering less ground per game than they did under Jose Mourinho – putting them 18th in the division ahead of only West Ham and Cardiff.
United are at least registering more sprints – averaging 110 per game under Solskjaer compared to 97 under Mourinho – but it is easy to see why the new boss has questioned their commitment – not to mention their fitness. Against City, who run more than four kilometres further per game than them and average 116 sprints, a lack of intensity could be punished.
Onus on Pogba?
Solskjaer will need to see more effort and application across the board but he will also need his big players to step up – and that means Pogba. The Frenchman was the driving force behind United’s resurgence between December and March but his form has tailed off. He has not scored a single goal from open play or registered an assist in the last two months.
Interestingly, though, the circumstances were similar before last year’s win over City. Pogba had been out-of-sorts, unable to find the net since November, but he came to life after the break at the Etihad Stadium, scoring twice in the space of two minutes to turn the game on its head.
It was a reminder of just how good he can be – and there were plenty more of those earlier this season. Despite his recent struggles, he has contributed 13 goals and nine assists in the Premier League – giving him a higher combined total than any other midfielder. He also ranks top among United players for shots, chances created and passes – further underlining his influence.
United will need him back to his best on Wednesday night.
City smarting too
United, of course, are not the only ones smarting from their recent results. City responded to their Champions League exit against Spurs by beating Mauricio Pochettino’s side in the Premier League on Saturday, but the wounds from that traumatic evening at the Etihad are still raw.
The seven-goal thriller was a hammer blow to City and it also provided a rare glimpse of their weaknesses. Guardiola’s side have won their last 10 Premier League games, keeping seven clean sheets, but Spurs put three goals past them at the Etihad Stadium and created other chances, too.
It was a reminder that there are still vulnerabilities there, and Heung-Min Son’s three-minute double also showed that they remain prone to conceding goals in flurries. The same thing happened against Crystal Palace in December, when Jeffrey Schlupp and Andros Townsend struck in the space of two minutes, and, of course, with Pogba and United last year.
Their resolve could be tested again if United start strongly at Old Trafford.
Jamie Carragher’s verdict
Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher previewed the game on Monday Night Football, saying: I expect to see a performance [from Manchester United] – there will be one – although I’m not sure they’ll get a result. We all have bad games and we probably have one of them once a season, where attitude gets questioned.
Manchester United have had five or six of those this season. But for me, that was as bad as it’s been since Sir Alex Ferguson left.
David de Gea and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have both apologised. There will have been harsh words at the training ground. Forget the title race, those players will be fighting to show their personal pride when the world will be watching.
If United had won 4-0 at Everton, instead of what’s happened, I think Pep Guardiola would be thinking ‘I didn’t want that’ – he’ll be thinking there will be a reaction. Manchester United fans won’t want to see their team get beat 4-0 again on Wednesday.
Ways to watch
The game will be shown live and exclusively on Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Main Event. You will be able to watch the build-up from 7pm on both channels. Kick off is at 8pm.
Sky Sports subscribers can stream the game via the Sky Sports app or the Sky Go app.
Non-subscribers can watch through NOW TV. A Sky Sports day pass is available for £8.99, a week pass for £14.99 or a month pass for £33.99. NOW TV can be streamed through a computer or apps.
- Watch on Sky Sports
- Create a Sky iD to watch highlights on the Sky Sports app and skysports.com
- Watch on NOW TV for £8.99
Watch Manchester United vs Manchester City on Wednesday from 7pm on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Premier League. See The Run In on Sky Sports with two football channels for the price of one.