Manchester United welcome their crosstown rivals to Old Trafford on Wednesday for one of the oddest derbies in recent memory. With the Reds still in sixth place, just three points off the top four, a win over Manchester City could make all the difference.
But it’s not that simple. Any points taken from Pep Guardiola’s side will all but ensure that Liverpool win the Premier League title. Many have described this battle between Liverpool and City at the top of the league as Manchester United’s nightmare scenario, but most Reds seem to agree that another City title is far preferable to LFC snapping their league drought.
It’s an immensely unsatisfying situation all around.
A sizable contingent of United fans are probably perfectly okay with a loss on Wednesday. Anything to keep Liverpool out of the top spot. I can respect that kind of spitefulness. It’s what makes sports so great.
Based on recent form, though, all of this hand-wringing might be for naught. Manchester United enter this derby in their worst form of the season. And that’s saying something.
A humiliating 4-0 loss at Goodison Park on Easter Sunday left United reeling and lucky to still be in the top four race. If Arsenal and Spurs hadn’t also lost — plus Chelsea dropping points against Burnley — the table would look pretty ugly today. Unfortunately, none of them face an upcoming week quite like Manchester United’s.
After the Everton loss, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was at a loss for words. No one acquitted themselves well on Sunday. The worst of the lot were probably Nemanja Matić, Anthony Martial, and Paul Pogba — but, really, he’d be well within his rights to drop everyone.
“There is no place to hide on the pitch,” Solskjaer warned. “It was 85 minutes before we had a shot on target. It’s not good enough. We know that.”
Luke Shaw returns from his two-match suspension, which should mercifully end the Lindelöf-at-fullback experiment. Scott McTominay and Jesse Lingard will also likely return to the starting eleven on Wednesday night. United need all the pressing and tactical discipline they can get against the impressive City attack.
If Manchester United’s elimination from the Champions League was like a slow march to execution, City’s was a true shock to the system. That 4-3 “win” over Spurs will surely go down as one of the more entertaining European knockouts of all time. A breathless opening, plenty of VAR controversy, and a heavy favorite going down. That match had it all.
Now, Pep must guard against a Champions League hangover with the Premier League still hanging in the balance. The Quadruple is gone, but a never-been-done domestic treble remains on the table. To stay ahead of Liverpool, though, City cannot afford to drop any more points.
Their league run-in got off to a decent start on Saturday with a narrow 1-0 win over Spurs at the Etihad. In that match, Kevin De Bruyne suffered a hamstring injury and will likely miss the derby. “I don't know how big the impact is,” Guardiola admitted afterwards. “We will see tomorrow, but I think for the next game, he will be out.”
KDB is a big loss for City. There's no easy way to replace his vision and creativity on the pitch.
Although it hasn’t always been pretty, Manchester City have won ten consecutive Premier League games (and sixteen out of eighteen in all competitions). It’s less pure football perfection and more machine-like efficiency, but the job’s still getting done.
For Manchester United, this derby is mostly about pride. The Reds have lost three straight Premier League road matches for the first time in over two decades and need a strong response after the Everton drubbing.
Jurgen Klopp, for his part, dished out some bulletin board material in a rather transparent attempt to get United fired up. “What was the score today?” the LFC boss asked incredulously. “3-0? 4-0? We know City will be ready. We just hope United will be ready.”
So do we.