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Manchester Derby Red Blue

There are no delicate or diplomatic ways of saying this. In recent seasons, Manchester City has gotten back into schooling their arch neighbours.

Their last two encounters, including a one-sided, if close-in-scoreline FA Cup final, saw the Blues remain in third gear throughout, keeping plenty back for tougher tests ahead.

The last two times, they have hosted United at the Etihad. Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola’s men have bared their teeth, putting four past them in 2022 and racking up six most recently. Erling Haaland and Phil Foden bagged hat-tricks apiece that day.

That both players also scored in City’s routine 3-0 win at Old Trafford earlier this term is worthy of note, but if we’re looking for patterns from previous meetings, there is one that shouldn’t be ignored.

In the last six derbies, City has scored first, in five of those six doing so within half an hour.

With the reigning league champions notching inside 31 minutes in 10 of their 13 home games this season, an early advantage feels all too plausible.

Back City to be ahead at the break and City over 2.5 goals total @ 11/8

If City’s single goal return from each of their last three outings places some doubt on the bet above, it shouldn’t, not with other factors holding sway.

For all that the narrative in 2024 has been about United recovering from the first half of the campaign that had them entrenched in crisis, the data suggests there was a lot of papering over cracks, cracks that became all too apparent against Fulham last weekend.

Once again, we witnessed United, out of possession, deploy a low defensive block and a half-functioning high press, a contradictory approach that leaves their midfield stretched and too often out of commission. Several times over, Fulham players couldn’t believe their luck, breaking into huge swathes of space, and a more ruthless opponent would have helped themselves to a cricket score.

Not that we’ll see such separation in evidence this Sunday, with Erik Ten Hag no doubt demanding compactness as the visitors look to hit on counters, but here we turn to the personnel involved.

Raphael Varane is out of form to such an extent he is being targeted. As for Marcus Rashford, he will be played central due to Rasmus Hojlund’s pivotal absence, a switch that instantly lessens his impact. Crucially, United have no recognised left-back, meaning Victor Lindelof will have to fill in, as he did in the corresponding game back in October.

That afternoon, Phil Foden had the Swede on toast when isolated and fearful of a repeat performance; it’s not beyond the impossibility that Ten Hag goes with three at the back instead for the first time this season.

It would be a reset that logically could work but equally could prove disastrous.

The plus points are slight if truth be told. Scott McTominay will likely come in for Casemiro, and the Scot always performs well in this fixture. Meanwhile, Kobbie Mainoo,, is a genuine star and competes in his first derby.

Both players, however, will be too busy protecting a vulnerable back-line to have any meaningful impact at the other end.

Despite losing only once in 2024, United has conceded an expected goal (xG) total of 10.3. That’s worse than Wolves, Forest, Palace and Bournemouth.

Only four players have picked up more bookings than Bruno Fernandes in 2023/24. United’s captain also saw yellow in two of the last four derbies. He is 2/1 to be carded.

Speaking of the Cherries, they greatly troubled City last week, while Brentford were similarly a tough nut to crack four days earlier. Before that C, Chelsea held the Blues, putting in the kind of cohesive, spirited performance that feels beyond United.

Yet if one goal per 90 across these games feels very un-City, it also smacks of a temporary malaise from a side that has averaged 17.9 shots per 90 in 2023/24, interestingly with many of them taken on from a distance.

No other team in the top flight have scored more (9) from outside the box this season, bringing us back to Phil Foden. The 23-year-old has taken on three shots from range per 90 in his last six fixtures, finding the target 50% of the time.

From close range or distance, Foden is 8/5 to post over 1.5 shots on target this weekend.

Elsewhere, Bernardo Silva is a decent shout to score or assist, the Portuguese schemer doing so four times in his last six encounters with United, but if a long-shot is preferred, how about Nathan Ake converting anytime?

United have been consistently poor at defending corners this term, conceding five goals from them. Ake has found the net on three occasions, two of them headers.

Staying with potential goal-scorers, how can we possibly overlook Haaland? The Striking Viking’s league record against United amounts to a goal involvement every 33 minutes since joining from Dortmund. Slender odds in the goalscoring market lead us to two goals or more being scored where, admittedly, there is still value to be found at 33/20.

Haaland has fired two-plus on seven occasions this season and 13 last season.

Simply put, what has sustained United in recent weeks have been the goals of Rasmus Hojlund and the saves of Andre Onana. With the Dane out, that leaves a masterclass needed from their keeper, and that is no basis on which to back a surprise result.

More likely, it will be a class in session, with City again schooling their nearest and not-so-dearest. And they will show little mercy.

Back Ake to score anytime at 7/1

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