The Big Match

Football: Manchester City could face tall order against Manchester United in derby clash

Jose Mourinho, pictured at the Etihad Stadium in August, will be looking to win against Manchester City tomorrow and reduce their eight-point lead at the top of the English Premier League ladder.
Jose Mourinho, pictured at the Etihad Stadium in August, will be looking to win against Manchester City tomorrow and reduce their eight-point lead at the top of the English Premier League ladder.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Height a key factor for Mourinho, but Pogba's absence means midfield could be vulnerable

Welcome to Manchester, as the billboard Manchester City erected to gloat about Carlos Tevez's signing from Manchester United once proclaimed.

It is a city with two teams who, in different ways, have been unstoppable of late. United have won all 11 games at Old Trafford this season, City their last 13 in the league.

City have lost only once since April, with a weakened team against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on Wednesday.

United have lost only once at home in Jose Mourinho's reign: 1-2 to City in September last year.

The Portuguese manager is unlikely to repeat the errors of that day, when he picked an attacking team, left them undermanned in midfield and saw City out-pass them.

His side were more streetwise in April's rematch. It did not escape City's attention that United celebrated a 0-0 draw.

It may have been a sign that the balance of power has shifted. That will seem further cemented if City win to extend their lead over second-placed United to 11 points.

Mourinho does not always attract neutrals' support, but the Premier League may require a United victory to prolong the title race.

But then, when Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal have failed to stop City, the thought occurred that it might take Mourinho to find an answer to Pep Guardiola.

Each has served as the other's nemesis at times, even though the Catalan has the better record in their meetings (8-4).

The chances are that, because he is currently short of central midfielders, Mourinho will instead replicate his game plan from last week at Arsenal, looking to defend deep and spring high-speed counter-attacks.

Perhaps, as in that 3-1 win, it will entail moments of high pressing. It might involve having only 25 per cent of possession again, and City are likely to have far more of the ball, though Mourinho must ensure that Guardiola's team, unlike Arsenal, do not have 33 shots.

  • 1.85 

    Average height of Manchester United players in metres, the tallest in the league. City, at 1.80m, have the shortest players on average.

The United boss could retain his 3-4-2-1 formation. Southampton and West Ham used similar shapes when they ran City close and there could be another action replay. Huddersfield and the Hammers both scored from corners.

Mourinho's famously tall team could expose City's set-piece susceptibilities. Yet the absence of one of the biggest, the banned Paul Pogba, poses a huge problem.

United are far less potent without the man who connects the two halves of their team together. It increases the chance that City will run the midfield.

That said, Guardiola's side have stopped eviscerating opponents. Recently they have instead worn them down, their persistence bringing late winners in the manner of Alex Ferguson's United.

But those were against inferior sides. These are the two top scorers, with the two best defences.

City have won 20 of their last 21 games anywhere and United have not even drawn at home in seven months. They have produced a blur of statistics. They could produce a magnificent match.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2017, with the headline 'City could confront a tall order'. Print Edition | Subscribe