It might have been a relatively quiet week in the world of Manchester United but it is about to get explosive as they attempt to avoid the haunting vision of watching neighbours Manchester City clinch the title in front of their eyes. A victory in Saturday’s local derby would be enough for City to clinch a third Premier League crown in seven attempts.
But City have their own demons to deal with following Wednesday’s 3-0 Champions League loss to Liverpool at Anfield, and while Pep Guardiola will be mindful of the task ahead of them in Tuesday’s second leg he will also want his side to bounce straight back with a confidence-boosting double of derby triumph and title win heading into the return fixtures with the Merseysiders.
For Jose Mourinho and his men this is a chance to measure themselves against the runaway leaders, and United’s fans will want their players to delay the inevitable for at least a week by doing a job on their neighbours.
MAN UTD INJURIES
United have no new injury worries, with Sergio Romero still missing after picking up a knee problem playing for Argentina against Italy during the international break. Daley Blind continues to recover from ankle trouble but has yet to start a league fixture since August in any case ahead of a likely summer exit.
Mourinho confirmed last week that both Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo are in a position to challenge for places, and Marouane Fellaini should be OK to join the matchday squad once more having failed to make the 18 against Swansea City last Saturday.
MAN UTD SUSPENSIONS
United have no suspension issues, and City also have a full squad in terms of disciplinary absences. Fernandino does have nine yellow cards to his name this season though, meaning another booking against United would lead to him sitting out a two-match ban. Should he make it through the derby without punishment, he would see the threat expunged since the next FA amnesty point comes directly after this fixture.
MAN UTD POTENTIAL STARTING LINE-UP
Mourinho’s propensity to bolster his side against City should play out once more at the Etihad, and that could mean him increasing his numbers in midfield. Ander Herrera could be back in with a shout of a midfield start following his return from injury, although Scott McTominay’s rise of late may see him given the nod ahead of the returning Spaniard.
Paul Pogba did enough against Swansea to suggest he is not in danger of missing out but Victor Lindelof could be left out despite a decent display against Carlos Carvalhal’s side with Eric Bailly favoured.
Further forward there could be a late decision between Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard as the third forward to go with Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku. The start is likely to go to whichever player Mourinho trusts more when his team don’t have the ball rather than the man he thinks can most affect things in possession.
MANCHESTER CITY TEAM NEWS
It is rare that a club sitting three points shy of clinching a league title with six games to spare can be considered to have a point to prove, but that is certainly the case with Manchester City following Wednesday’s 3-0 loss at Liverpool in the Champions League.
Guardiola now has to decide whether to change his team around for the derby in order to prioritise Tuesday’s return leg or put the onus on his first-choice side to bring back some confidence and belief against United.
If Pep goes for the latter then Fabian Delph and Raheem Sterling could both start after being overlooked by the Catalan at Anfield in favour of Aymeric Laporte and Ilkay Gundogan.
The maths is simple for City in terms of the title. A win against United and they are already over the line, while a draw would leave them just one win short. A second league loss of the campaign would mean them needing a maximum of two more victories in their remaining six games to clinch a third Premier League success.