This weekend, we finally get to see the premier managerial rivalry in the world of football play out in Manchester: José Mourinho vs. Pep Guardiola. Arguably the two most successful, and sought after coaches in the game today will now face each other in the Premier League. Mourinho’s Manchester United have come out of the gates flying, and have won their first four competitive matches of the season. Guardiola’s City have done equally well and currently sit atop the league through goal differential. This is perhaps the most anticipated matchup of the season, and eyes around the world will be glued to Old Trafford.
The biggest storyline in the buildup to the derby had to be Sergio Agüero’s three-match suspension. A blatant elbow delivered to the face of Winston Reid went unpunished initially, but a post-match review found the striker guilty of violent conduct. Without their leading goal scorer on the pitch, City’s attack may struggle to find the back of the net. If I had to guess the starting 11 for City today, I would pick Raheem Sterling to lineup as the leading man. The winger has found new life under Guardiola and has arguably been the club’s best player to kick off the season. Although he has primarily lined up on the flanks this campaign, Sterling has experience playing as a center forward, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he finds himself there on Saturday.
There will be a new face lining up between the pipes for City on Saturday. After dropping Joe Hart and eventually shipping him off to Torino, Guardiola has brought in a keeper that better fits his playing style. Claudio Bravo cost the club £17 million, but at Barcelona he has been near unbeatable. In his two seasons at the Nou Camp, Bravo helped lead the club to two league titles. In both of those seasons, Barça had either the best, or second best defensive record in the league. He provides City with a reliable shot stopper that can comfortably distribute the ball from the back. You couldn’t really ask for a bigger stage to make a debut, and the result could very well depend on how he handles this pressure.
Switching over to United, Mourinho may have a bit of an issue when selecting his lineup. While City may struggle to find a striker that can fill in for Agüero, United appear to have a surplus in the area. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been near unstoppable since arriving at Old Trafford with four goals through his first four competitive games. Coming up right behind him is Marcus Rashford. The teenage phenom scored the winner against Hull City last matchday, and in his England U21 debut over the break, he bagged a hat trick. Last season, we saw how effective Rashford can be when given an extended run of games, and with his latest run of good form, he may be pushing harder and harder for a starting spot. I feel like Ibra will still be given the nod because he hasn’t really given a reason for him not to be included, but if the game is still deadlocked in the second half, don’t be surprised if Rashford finds himself on the pitch.
Along with Zlatan, another summer signing that has been on fire since moving to Old Trafford is Eric Bailly. The 22-year-old center back just won United’s player of the month award for August, and on the pitch has he been an absolute beast. His ferocity and defending reminds me of Nemanja Vidic, and it has endeared him to the United faithful. Hard-nosed tackles and composed distribution have seen the defender thrive in his Premier League introduction, and with City’s now limited attacking options, he should continue to be a force on Saturday. His partnership with Daley Blind has allowed just a single goal through three games, and they’ll be looking to extend that great form into Saturday’s derby.
There was never any doubt about who I was going to pick to win this match. Agüero’s injury just gave more fuel to the fire. I think that Manchester United have such a deep and talented squad, and that Mourinho will be working even harder to ensure that he walks away from his first Manchester Derby as a winner. Final score: United 2-1 City