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Starting XI: Manchester City vs. Manchester United

Can United strike the killing blow to City’s title hopes?

Manchester United Press Conference Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

On Saturday, the Reds make a short trip across town for the first Manchester derby of the season. Here’s everything that you need to know ahead of the match.

(1) Manchester United remain the most vexing of teams. The Reds look like world-beaters against the likes of Liverpool, Leicester City, and Tottenham Hotspur, but then sputter out when faced with lesser opposition like Crystal Palace, Newcastle, and Aston Villa. Who knows whether it’s just a case of playing freer football without the weight of expectations or a tactical edge against possession-based teams? But, judging from this pattern, United should do pretty well this weekend at the Etihad.

(2) After the 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was all business:

It’s Saturday, again, now. It’s Man City. Two days recovery and we go again. We’ve just got to go and get as many points on the board as possible. I said before the game that it’s a great chance for us to show what we can do.

(3) Wednesday’s win cooled off Ole’s hot-seat, but Mauricio Pochettino will be the elephant in the room for the foreseeable future. A year ago, the Argentine was reportedly Ed Woodward’s top managerial target before Solskjaer’s Reds caught fire and secured him the permanent job. Now, Poch looms over the embattled United boss, who needs as many big wins as he can get (and fast). This weekend’s derby gives him just that chance.

(4) Scott McTominay returned from injury against Spurs and turned in another fantastic performance. Even if some feel that the 22-year-old lacks a certain flair, he’s a gigantic step up from Andreas Pereira. Paul Pogba, meanwhile, has been ruled out once again.

(5) Unfortunately, as one key player returns, another gets injured. Anthony Martial left the Aston Villa draw with an apparent muscle injury and then missed the Spurs win altogether. Earlier this season, Martial was sidelined with a hamstring injury for nearly two months — so, hopefully, this one won’t prove as severe. He’s been up and down this season, but is still United’s best option to lead the line.

(6) No surprise, but the winner against Spurs came from the penalty spot. That makes it seven penalties awarded to Manchester United this season, more than double the next Premier League team. Marcus Rashford made no mistake from the spot, scoring his ninth goal since late October. It’s telling that, with Martial out, Ole started Mason Greenwood up top and put Rashford out wide. That’s clearly his best position.

(7) No three-peat for Manchester City? Pep Guardiola’s side might already be out of the Premier League title race, which would come as welcome news if it didn’t leave Liverpool the runaway favorites for domestic glory. City’s 3-1 loss at Anfield hurt, but it was last weekend’s 2-2 draw at Newcastle that’s the real backbreaker. City sit third in the league, eleven points behind the leaders.

(8) A big problem is their backline. After boasting a top-two defense for the last two seasons, City have already allowed 17 goals and failed to keep a clean sheet in eight straight matches. “That is not good enough,” Guardiola said. “We must improve.” Vincent Kompany left the club in the summer and Aymeric Laporte has battled injuries, leaving this defense well short of its best.

(9) Even so, City made the trip to Turf Moor look easy in midweek, dispatching Burnley 4-1 behind a Gabriel Jesus brace. That briefly moved them back into second place, though Leicester’s win over Watford made that a short-lived position.

(10) Jesus is making the most of his chances with Sergio Aguero, the club’s leading scorer, sidelined with a muscle injury. Leroy Sane will also be out until February with a knee injury. These knocks heap even more pressure on Jesus, Raheem Sterling, and Kevin De Bruyne to keep the City attack humming along.

(11) Road woes: It won’t be a long trip on Saturday, but Manchester United have struggled away from Old Trafford for most of the season. Other than a one-week stretch in October when the Reds notched three away wins in a row, it’s been a rather fruitless return for United on the road. In their last three away matches, United have lost twice (Bournemouth and FC Astana) and drawn once (Sheffield United).