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Men’s football United have a plan for City in Manchester derby

JAMES NALTON previews this weekend’s Premier League showdown between Guardiola’s fit and firing side and Ten Hag’s improving Red Devils

HEADING into Sunday’s derby, Manchester’s two Premier League clubs have only lost one game between them in all competitions in 2024.

Unfortunately for Manchester United, as they go into what is always a key game regardless of the respective teams’ league positions, that one defeat was their last league game against Fulham.

Since then, both have progressed to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. Manchester City defeated Luton in a goal-filled game, 6-2, and United saw off Nottingham Forest 1-0.

City go into Sunday’s derby one point behind Liverpool at the top of the table, while United are 15 points behind City in sixth and eight points of fourth-place Aston Villa.

When it comes to goal difference, there is a swing of +33 in Manchester City’s favour.

United’s goal difference remains at zero having scored 36 and conceded 36 this season.

Though points on the board and position in the table are the main indication of how well a team is doing, for United this season the goal difference column tells a story in itself.

They have only scored one more goal than Luton Town, have the same number of goals as Fulham and one less than 16th-place Brentford.

The 36 goals conceded isn’t a bad defensive record compared to the teams around them in the table, but it would be a stretch to call United’s defence good.

In a number of games, they have been lucky not to concede more. Recent wins against Aston Villa and Luton saw the opposition create chances and get into attacking areas that could have easily led to a different result on another day as United were not clearly better than their opponents.

A draw with Liverpool at Anfield in December was one-sided but United still managed to emerge with a point in a game that somehow finished 0-0. It’s the kind of result they will be looking for against City.

With a slight swing of luck in another direction a team as fragile as United can easily end up on the wrong end of the result as happened most recently in their previous league game against Fulham which they lost 2-1.

As is the case for the majority of teams facing City, to get a result in this game united will need some luck, but they will also need plenty of improvement on recent games, even those they ended up winning.

United manager Erik ten Hag believes his club’s good form so far this year is something that can convince his players they can get something from this game.

“We are also on a good run,” said the Dutchman. “The spirit is very good and we are united. We have togetherness and have a good game plan that we have used before against City and also lately against Liverpool, so we will prepare well.

“The players are ready for it and looking forward to it. I can smell it. I am around here and speak with the players, so we are really enjoyable, looking forward and excited.”

City have not been as dominant in this fixture in recent years as the current gap between the sides suggests they should have been.

They have won five of the last 10 league meetings between the sides, and of the four games United have won in that period, two of those have been at Eastlands.

There was a 2-1 win for United at Old Trafford last January — the only win of their four games against City under Ten Hag, but recent form is quite daunting for United, especially given the last Manchester derby finished 3-0 at Old Trafford in October, and could have been more.

City have not lost at home in the Premier League since November 2022 and have not lost a game in any competition since a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa at Villa Park in the Premier League in December.

They have won 16 of their last 18 games in all competitions, and part of the reason for this run is that City and their manager Pep Guardiola don’t take wins against any team for granted, and it will be the same against United.

“We will prepare the game knowing their quality,” said Guardiola today. “With one action, they can create something special at set pieces, in transitions, and in open play.

“It has always been that way for United. When they play well, they win games.

“In 2024, they’ve lost just one game — last week at home. The consistency is there. So we will prepare the game tactically for what we have to do to get three points.”

The scene looks set for another lopsided Manchester derby, but there is enough optimism from the underdogs and enough wariness from the favourites, that it might not be so straightforward.

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