As Manchester City continue to gather momentum in the Premier League title race, it’s difficult to envisage a situation where Pep Guardiola’s side lift a fifth trophy in six years. From the way they dispatch opposition defences with ease, to the elite squad depth they boast — essentially having two world-class calibre players in every position — City are on course for a hat-trick of successive titles, leaving the rest of the league to play catch-up.
A large part of their success this season has been down to the goals of Erling Haaland. Perhaps the most exciting transfer the Premier League has witnessed for some time, the 22-year-old joined City from Borussia Dortmund for a fee of £65 million which looks like a steal given his current form. Haaland has taken to the English game like a duck to water, notching double figures already with his combination of brute strength and intelligent movement. If the Norwegian striker continues on his current path, it looks as if he’ll break Mohamed Salah’s record of 32 goals in an individual season, as well as lift a maiden league title come May.
However, if there’s one caveat to City’s relentless momentum, it’s that their next test is the Manchester Derby. A fixture that has been a thorn in the side of Guardiola since his arrival in England, whoever seems to be in the Manchester United dugout for the battle between the North West rivals has measured some success in the biggest moments. Erik ten Hag, the fifth permanent successor to Sir Alex Ferguson almost a decade ago now, will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of José Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjær in frustrating his newfound city rivals.
Things definitely took time to get going at Old Trafford, but Ten Hag seems to have built a cohesive unit — one that has already demonstrated it can compete in the big games after beating Liverpool and Arsenal at the Theatre of Dreams. Whilst Guardiola’s side are overwhelming favourites when making a Man City v Man Utd bet, the Dutch coach has seen his team return to form, and a debut goal for £85 million winger Antony on his debut will give fans reasons to be optimistic.
Defensively, it looks as if the pairing of Raphaël Varane and Lisandro Martínez has established itself as first choice for United. The latter, a summer arrival from Ten Hag’s former club Ajax, has coped with the physicality of the Premier League well despite his comparatively diminutive stature to other center-backs, but faces his toughest challenge yet in Haaland. Indeed, the Mexican coped well with the ingenuity of Salah and Gabriel Jesus, but against a more traditional number nine — one who is scoring goals for fun as well — it could be a long day at the office defending the plethora of attacks City are likely to chain together.
The home crowd should be enough for City to get over the line in this one. On multiple occasions, we’ve seen them serve as a 12th man in difficult moments, most notably against Aston Villa on the final game of last season. The rivalry is personal and those inside the Etihad Stadium will do everything possible to go beyond their reputation as ‘noisy neighbors’ and continue to show why they are the dominant force within the city. Objectively, Guardiola has a much better side at his disposal, but given the unpredictability of a big game in the Premier League, anything can happen.
If last season’s results are anything to go by it could be a white-wash for City. However, the mentality Ten Hag has instilled within his players, combined with the return to form of Marcus Rashford and some appearances for Cristiano Ronaldo mean not all hope is lost yet for those wanting to see Guardiola’s swashbuckling side drop rare points.