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Starting XI: Manchester United vs. Manchester City

Just one point separates these crosstown rivals ahead of the Manchester derby

Manchester United v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Everything that you need to know ahead of Saturday’s match:

(1) Derby day brings Manchester United the chance to start picking up the pieces after Champions League heartbreak in midweek. No one associated with the club dreamt of Thursday night football in the new year, but it is what it is. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players can still salvage something from a difficult week with victory over Manchester City on Saturday — perhaps even jumping into the top four with a positive result.

(2) Unfortunately, Manchester United’s record against the rest of the “big six” makes for tough reading. The Reds got rolled by Tottenham Hotspur, dropped a squeaker to Arsenal (who currently languish down in 15th), and drew with Chelsea in a match of few chances and even less ambition. One point from three home matches against other top sides won’t get it done.

(3) Some might celebrate Manchester United’s propensity for late-game heroics — and it certainly makes for entertaining viewing — but they cannot continue to dig themselves a hole in each match, only to hope that Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, et al. bail them out with some timely moments of magic. The Reds have allowed the first goal in eight of their ten Premier League matches this season. Do that again on Saturday and United will learn — the hard way — that comebacks come much easier against mid-tablers like West Ham and Southampton than the Manchester Citys of the world.

(4) Speaking of digging holes, Paul Pogba (or rather Mino Raiola on his behalf) did just that with some ill-timed comments ahead of the RB Leipzig match. The (in)famous agent chose that moment to declare that Pogba wants out of Manchester United — in January, if possible. His feelings don’t come as much of a surprise; after all, Pogba has been a peripheral figure in Solskjaer’s squad this season. Who can afford him, though? Maybe Juventus or Paris Saint-Germain. But probably not Real Madrid or Barcelona, as the Spanish duopoly seem committed to slashing costs in our brave new Covid-19 world.

(5) Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial both missed the trip to Germany after picking up knocks at West Ham last weekend. Their injuries were described as just “minor niggles,” but no word yet on whether the pair will be available for the derby. On the plus side, Luke Shaw is back from a long spell on the sidelines and should provide a good challenge to Alex Telles for the starting left back spot.

(6) You know what you’re going to get with Manchester City. They control the ball with short, quick passes, hoping to suffocate the opposition with an overwhelming amount of possession and pressing immediately once the ball is lost. The City squad is long on midfielders and pacy fullbacks, but — especially with Sergio Aguero hampered with injury — a bit short on firepower. In their first eight Premier League matches of the season, City only scored ten goals.

(7) Manchester United defeated City twice in the Premier League last season — due, at least in part, to Pep Guardiola’s unwillingness to dial back his possession obsession against a proficient counterattacking side. And that doesn’t appear to have changed in 2020/21, either. Last month, that stubbornness cost City in their 2-0 loss at Tottenham. Everyone in the world knew how José Mourinho would set his Spurs up, but City nevertheless committed too many men forward and got stretched out of position. Hopefully, they fall into that trap once again this weekend.

(8) Unfortunately, Manchester City have roared to life in the past few weeks. Big wins over Burnley and Fulham in the league have elevated the club up to 7th in the table and dispelled a lot of the talk that this group is past its sell-by date.

(9) Not surprisingly, Guardiola kept his powder dry for the derby by naming a much-changed side against Marseille on Wednesday. Only Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan kept their place from last weekend’s win over Fulham, meaning that the likes of Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo, Benjamin Mendy, Rodri, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, and Gabriel Jesus will be well rested.

(10) Sergio Aguero made his return from injury in the second half against Marseille, capping off the occasion with a poacher’s goal. Still, the prolific 32-year-old forward won’t be ready for big minutes on Saturday.

(11) Manchester City have spent a small fortune on defenders during the Guardiola era. From John Stones in Pep’s first summer to his latest spending spree of Nathan Ake (£41 million) and Ruben Dias (£64 million), he’s spent over £400 million on backline transfers. And, while the results haven’t always been pretty, City’s defense has proven a strong point this season. Stones displaced Aymeric Laporte as the preferred partner for Dias in central defense, while Joao Cancelo on the right and Benjamin Mendy on the left excel as overlapping fullbacks. They bring a streak of five straight clean sheets to Old Trafford on Saturday.