Dec 07

Jose Mourinho’s key questions ahead of Man United vs Man City

It may seem dramatic to make such declarations this early in the season, but Sunday’s Manchester derby already feels like a title decider. A victory for Manchester City would see them go eleven points clear of the chasing pack after just 16 games – the kind of margin that suggests they’ll have the Premier League crown sewn up by late March.

Accordingly, for not only Manchester United but also the rest of the division, it’s vital Jose Mourinho finds a way of beating the Citizens in Sunday’s 4.30pm kickoff. In order to do that, however, he’ll need to find the right answers to these three key questions…

Should United stick with three at the back?

It may not be a traditional ploy in Mourinho’s tactical playbook but using three at the back has served Manchester United well on the most-part this season. Indeed, the Red Devils have won five of the six games in which Mourinho has deployed a three-man defence this term, including a current run of three consecutive wins over Watford, Arsenal and CKSA Moscow.

That suggests Mourinho is acclimatising his side to the formation with the Manchester derby in mind. But for such a pivotal fixture in which United will be tested more than by any other domestic opponent this season, it may make more sense to revert back to type – namely, the formation that makes the players feel most comfortable.

Likewise, matching up has become a recurring phenomena in the Premier League over the last few seasons and City are almost certain to line up in their usual 4-3-3 system this weekend.

Who replaces Paul Pogba in central midfield?

Paul Pogba’s absence through suspension is inevitably a huge blow for the Red Devils. The powerful midfielder has made an instrumental impact on the team’s performances this season and he would have been perfect for the engine room battle this Sunday, against City’s more technical but less physical playmakers.

Especially following the admission that Nemanja Matic will start the derby despite injury, deciding who partners the Serbian international in midfield – or whether Pogba’s absence in fact forces United into a change in formation – is a huge call on Mourinho’s part. While Marouane Fellaini shares Pogba’s imposing stature, he may struggle to keep up with the pace in such a technical game.

Ander Herrera is perhaps the better-rounded option, but he doesn’t offer the same scoring potential at set pieces. Getting both on the pitch, meanwhile, could come at the expense of a body in attack.

What City weaknesses can United exploit?

The Citizens may have dropped just two points in the Premier League so far this season but they’re by no means the perfect side we often assume. For starters, their form has clearly waned in recent weeks; their last three Premier League victories have all been decided by a single goal and their last Champions League outing saw a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Shakhtar Donetsk.

That suggests the rampant attack witnessed earlier in the season is starting to slow down, which in turn is highlighting some of City’s long-standing weaknesses at the back.

Pep Guardiola has already admitted set pieces are a weakness and that’s one United should really look to take advantage – no side have scored more Premier League goals from set pieces than the Red Devils this season. But perhaps more simply, it could be a matter of getting at City’s often stretched defence on the break with pace and power.

While very few sides have managed to catch out Guardiola’s side in that way this season, United are surely the best-equipped to do so through the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

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