The first Manchester derby of the Premier League season pits together two sides with 100 per cent records and features an intriguing matchup of managerial superpowers Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.
There is no love lost between the Manchester United and Manchester City bosses, and each will be desperate to gain bragging rights in their first meeting of the 2016-17 campaign.
Mourinho and Guardiola have stared each other down on the touchline on 18 occasions, with the Portuguese only managing three wins over his Spanish counterpart. As Dominic Fifield noted for the Guardian, such statistics have previously annoyed the former Chelsea boss.
Prior to the international break, United maintained their perfect start to the campaign with a 1-0 win at Hull City thanks to substitute Marcus Rashford’s injury-time strike.
City have started in similar vein, with Raheem Sterling seemingly revitalised under Guardiola and Sergio Aguero showing why he remains the top marksman in the league.
However, the Argentina international will miss the derby as he starts a three-match ban for violent conduct after elbowing West Ham United defender Winston Reid.
City captain Vincent Kompany returned to training this week, but Guardiola says the defender will not play again “until his blood tests are perfect,” per Simon Mullock of the Sunday Mirror.
John Stones vs. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
This will be Stones’ biggest challenge of the season so far—how to contain the former Paris Saint-Germain striker who has hit the ground running following his summer switch to the Premier League.
Ibrahimovic has already hit the back of the net three times this season, but Stones’ arrival from Everton has steadied the City back line somewhat.
Coupled with an upturn in the performances of Nicolas Otamendi alongside the England international, it should give City some confidence they can keep the Swede at bay.
Stones is the archetypal Guardiola centre-back; a relaxed player on the ball, he has been given the task of starting City’s attacks from the back.
Ibrahimovic is not a frontman who can be relied upon to close players down regularly, so much will be down to the supporting cast of Juan Mata and Anthony Martial to put the high press on Stones and create the space for the striker in front of goal.
Ibrahimovic has shown he is not afraid to mix it with defenders in England, and Stones will need to be ready for the physical battle as it is an area Mourinho will look to exploit.
Fernandinho vs. Paul Pogba
Guardiola’s preference for Fernandinho to add defensive steel to his midfield has paid off for City so far, and they no longer look to have the soft centre of past seasons.
Similar to Javier Mascherano at Barcelona, Fernandinho is a big favourite with Guardiola for his positional sense and range of passing, which complements the flow of possession started by Stones playing out from defence.
According to Stefan Coerts at Goal, Guardiola has considered playing Fernandinho at centre-back, such is his confidence in the player’s versatility.
Paul Pogba, meanwhile, has shown glimpses of his individual skill, and it can only be a matter of time before he proves exactly why United paid a world-record £89 million fee for him.
The formidable drive and muscle of Pogba could prove the difference in a packed midfield on Saturday, and much will depend on whether Fernandinho can put the shackles on the Frenchman at Old Trafford.
Eric Bailly vs. Kelechi Iheanacho
Bailly’s partnership with Daley Blind in central defence continues to improve, and the pair have been integral to United’s solid start, conceding just once in three league matches.
Quick to cover the ground and comfortable on the ball, Bailly has looked a real find at £30 million since his move from Villarreal and is thriving under Mourinho.
The Ivory Coast defender is a player the United manager can utilise for his technical ability and—coupled with his strength and size—this has allowed him to adapt quickly to the rigours of the Premier League.
For City, Kelechi Iheanacho looks the most likely to come in for Aguero, and the youngster has a real opportunity to get back among the goals. He can show Guardiola he can be trusted to step in and finish off the chances carved out by Sterling, Nolito and Kevin De Bruyne.
For a rookie striker, Iheanacho shows good composure and technique in the penalty box. However, the 19-year-old will be aware that chances to spearhead the attack at City are likely to be few when Aguero is available, unless Guardiola tweaks his tactics.
The Nigeria international will need to make a goalscoring impact similar to last season if he is to be handed a proper run in the side—and in the derby.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Manchester City
Source: Bleacher Report