Dan Burke·2 October 2022
Dan Burke·2 October 2022
Here are the three biggest questions ahead of the 188th Manchester derby.
It was during a 1-1 draw between the two Manchester clubs in April 2001 that former City captain Alf-Inge Haaland’s career was effectively ended by a brutal tackle to the knee.
Roy Keane was infamously the perpetrator, and to him it was an act of retribution for an injury he had sustained during a tussle with Haaland in a fixture between Leeds and Manchester United four years previously.
Keane later admitted in his autobiography that his cold-blooded, studs up tackle in the derby had been a premeditated attack. The ex-United midfielder was hit with a nine-match ban and a hefty fine, while Haaland was ultimately forced to retire at the age of 30.
It has been over two decades since that fateful day at Old Trafford and now Alf-Inge’s son Erling is preparing to pull on a City shirt for the first time in a derby. The 22-year-old striker was just a toddler when his father sustained that career-ending injury and though none of Keane’s offspring will be lining up for United this weekend, there’s a strong possibility that a cold dish of revenge could be on the menu at the Etihad.
Erling’s close relationship with ex-United player and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer meant he was linked with a move to Old Trafford many times in recent years, but since joining City from Borussia Dortmund in the summer, the phenomenal Norwegian has averaged a goal roughly every 58 minutes.
Another goal this weekend would mean a lot to his family and to Erling himself, no doubt. When asked during his summer unveiling as a City player which fixture he was most looking forward to this season, he said, with a glint in his eye: “I don’t like to say the words … but Manchester United yeah.”
United’s appointment of Erik ten Hag in the summer seemed to be a clear indication that they were ready to close the book on the counter-attacking, swashbuckling style of play that had defined the club during their gloriously successful Sir Alex Ferguson era and move towards a more modern, possession-based model.
Like City boss Pep Guardiola, former Ajax coach Ten Hag is a subscriber to the Johan Cruyff school of thought, and United’s summer signings and pre-season friendlies suggested pressing and possession were high on their list of priorities.
But after the vicious welcome to English football that was those two defeats to Brighton and Brentford at the start of the season, Ten Hag appears to have gone back to basics.
United beat Liverpool 2-1 at Old Trafford in August despite enjoying just 29% of the possession, while they had only 39% possession in their 3-1 home win over Arsenal at the beginning of September. And both games of course featured high-octane counter-attacks finished off by Marcus Rashford.
Ten Hag would be wise to stick to that blueprint when he prepares for his first Manchester derby this weekend. After all, it was a similar game-plan which saw United win twice at the Etihad under Solskjaer, and it was only when Ralf Rangnick foolishly tried to play City at their own game last season that United suffered a heavy defeat.
City usually cope well when being pressed but the way to expose a chink in their armour is typically by letting them have the ball, luring them in and hitting them on the break.
If United can do that effectively then they have a chance this weekend, but it would also be wise to assume that Guardiola has an equally devilish plan up his sleeve to counteract Ten Hag’s best laid plans, which should make for a fascinating match.
Almost a month will have elapsed since United’s last Premier League match when they take the field on Sunday and it will be interesting to see whether the break has helped or hindered them.
Ten Hag’s team selection in the Europa League victory away at Sheriff Tiraspol before the international break probably offered a big hint about how his side will line up in the derby.
If Rashford has shaken off a hamstring issue, he will likely get the nod ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo in attack, while this would be a perfect game in which to give Casemiro his first Premier League start for the club. The Brazilian loves nothing more than a bit of needle, and there should be plenty of that in this match.
Guardiola’s starting XI is slightly trickier to predict. John Stones’s injury during the international break should be offset by Kyle Walker’s return to fitness, but it will be interesting to see whether Jack Grealish keeps his place after scoring his first goal of the season last time out. Adding İlkay Gündoğan to the midfield and playing Bernardo Silva wide on the right might help City stifle United’s counter-attacking potential.
City are still unbeaten this season while United will be hoping to make it five Premier League victories on the bounce. But this match will be about local pride above all else.
Will Manchester be blue or red on Sunday evening? We can’t wait to find out.