Manchester United may have won three games in a row, but they were almost as unconvincing as victories could possibly be, merely papering over their many cracks.
With that in mind, Manchester City are probably the last team on Earth they’d want to face at the moment as they prepare to tussle on Sunday, even if Pep Guardiola’s treble winners have shown fleeting signs of vulnerability themselves over the past month.
City have been beaten by Newcastle United, Wolves and Arsenal in their past six games across all competitions, a run of form that’s seen them drop to the nearly unfathomable depths of second in the Premier League… Okay, they’re only two points off the top and they recovered from a far worse position last season to win the title, but we’re at a point now where we pretty much expect City to win every game, including the derby. That alone is a marker of how far they’ve come (yes, with plenty of financial assistance along the way), and at the time of writing the opta power rankings has City as the best team on the planet while United are struggling to rank inside the top 20.
Sunday’s Manchester derby against United provides City a timely opportunity to make something of a statement. Erik ten Hag’s men are hardly an impressive unit right now, but you can’t take wins for granted at Old Trafford… Or maybe you can when Guardiola’s in charge?
Guardiola boasts a brilliant record against United, particularly in their own stadium. Since taking over as City head coach in 2016, he’s become chief antagonist at the Theatre of Dreams, and another landmark is within reach.
Pep Guardiola’s Record Against Man Utd
● Thirty-nine different managers have presided over five or more away Premier League games at Old Trafford; Guardiola is the only one to have a win ratio of more than 50%, winning 57% of his matches there (4/7).
● Guardiola is also the only manager (minimum 10 meetings) with an overall 50% win ratio against United in all Premier League matches, home or away (7/14). Additionally, only Arsène Wenger (12) has won more Premier League games against Man Utd than the Man City boss (7), though the Frenchman’s record translates to only a 27.3% success rate (12/44).
● Having already beaten José Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Old Trafford, Guardiola is looking to become the first Man City manager to win away against three different Man Utd managers in the English top flight. The last to achieve this in charge of any club(s) was Brian Clough, who registered wins over five different Man Utd managers (Sir Matt Busby, Tommy Docherty, Dave Sexton, Ron Atkinson and Sir Alex Ferguson).
● Guardiola has averaged 1.86 points per game at Old Trafford in the Premier League; among the other so-called ‘big six’ clubs, he only has a better away record against Arsenal, earning 2.38 points per game in fixtures with the Gunners.
● Since Guardiola joined City, they have amassed 142 more points than Manchester United (646 to 504), winning 59 more games in the Premier League (204 to 145) and scoring 226 more goals (678 to 452).
● Guardiola is one of only three managers who have seen their teams score four or more goals against Man Utd in a single match more than once in the Premier League (twice), the others being Jürgen Klopp (four times) and Kevin Keegan (two times).
Erik ten Hag’s Perspective
Of course, we aren’t conveniently forgetting what happened last time Guardiola took City to Old Trafford in January. Jack Grealish gave the visitors a 60th-minute lead with a header from Kevin De Bruyne’s chipped cross, but United levelled – albeit controversially – through Bruno Fernandes 12 minutes from time, the Portuguese midfielder slamming home after an offside Marcus Rashford let the ball run.
Rashford then turned in Alejandro Garnacho’s inviting cross four minutes later to seal the points, a late turnaround and what was only United’s second Premier League home win over City since April 2015.
Were United to win on Sunday, it’d be the first time they’d won successive home league games against City since a run of three between 2008-09 and 2010-11; the ‘noisy neighbours’ began their dominance of this fixture the following season, winning 13 of their 24 top-flight contests since the start of 2011-12. Their previous 13 derby wins in the league had come over 62 matches stretching back to 1970.
But the fact United were victorious in January means Ten Hag could become the first manager in United history to win each of his first two home league matches against City.
While nothing about United’s form this season has suggested they’re particularly well-equipped to beat City, the team has shown hints of character and spirit in the past few weeks that may stand them in good stead.
A surprise home win on Sunday might be all they need to kickstart their season, but by the same token, another mauling akin to the 6-3 battering at the Etihad Stadium last term could lead to serious questions about Ten Hag’s future.