Manchester United have won 14 points against the Big Six this season, a record only bettered by Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool… but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must learn from their Carabao Cup embarrassment if they are to upset the odds and beat fierce rivals City
- Manchester United host rivals Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday
- United go into the match in fifth-place, while their ‘noisy neighbours’ are second
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a positive record against fellow Big Six sides this term
- Only Jurgen Klopp has a better win-rate against Chelsea, Tottenham and Co
- The United boss has a big tactical decision to make against Pep Guardiola’s men
Manchester United’s quest for a top-four finish continues on Sunday when they host bitter rivals Manchester City in the Premier League.
Depending on results this weekend, fifth-placed United could move into fourth with a win against their ‘noisy neighbours’ at Old Trafford.
Victory is imperative to the Red Devils’ hopes of securing Champions League football as a defeat could see them drop to eighth – such is the congestion in the table.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates after Manchester United’s 2-1 win over City back in December
United’s players mob Anthony Martial after he scored their second goal of the derby clash
Second-placed City go into the match as the favourites and with the added impetus of their Carabao Cup final win over Aston Villa last weekend.
Playing against the traditional Big Six hasn’t been United’s problem this season, but can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his side continue the trend on Sunday?
His record in the Premier League this season suggests he can.
In matches against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham, Solskjaer has collected 14 points from a possible 24.
Those have come from wins against Chelsea (two), Tottenham (one) and City (one), with a draw apiece against Arsenal and Liverpool.
United’s counter-attacking style has proven a hit against sides who tend to dominate the ball. However, their issues arise when they face those who wish to sit in deep defensive blocks.
Harry Maguire was on target as United earned a crucial victory away at Chelsea last month
Marcus Rashford struck twice as United beat top-four rivals Tottenham back in December
January’s woeful 2-0 home defeat by Burnley was a microcosm of that, while the tepid 0-0 draw with Wolves a month ago was another example of their inability to break down a resolute defence.
Thankfully for Solskjaer, United shouldn’t encounter a deep defensive block against City on Sunday.
Pep Guardiola’s side will come out to attack the Red Devils and assert their authority on the match; as is their philosophy. In their most recent clash against Sheffield Wednesday, City had 80 per cent possession on their way to a 1-0 win in the FA Cup fifth round.
United will pose greater problems on the counter-attack than Wednesday though, with Solskjaer looking to utilise the speed of Anthony Martial in the transitional phases of the match.
In the reverse league Manchester derby on December 7, United prevailed at the Etihad Stadium with a 2-1 win – despite having just 28 per cent possession.
The Red Devils broke at will in that game and were especially devastating in the first half – leading 2-0 at half-time courtesy of a Marcus Rashford penalty and a strike from Martial.
Rashford wheels away in celebration after converting his penalty against rivals City
Maguire roars towards the away end at the Etihad after United’s 2-1 victory on December 7
It was a backs-to-the-wall job in the second half with stubborn defending preventing City from earning a point.
Since that match, the sides have played against each other twice more in the Carabao Cup semi-finals.
City came out on top 3-2 on aggregate, but it was very much a tale of two legs. The first one will serve as a stark warning to Solskjaer about the dangers City can pose, while the return encounter will evoke memories of what his team are capable of producing against them.
The first leg at Old Trafford was an embarrassment for United. They lost 3-1, but in truth the margin of defeat could have easily been six or seven goals as City tore them apart at will. Solskjaer looked to attack Guardiola’s side, but instead left his team horribly exposed.
By half-time they were 3-0 down and the semi-final, as a whole, looked over. The central defensive pairing of Victor Lindelof and Phil Jones were a mess that evening, while in midfield Andreas Pereira, Jesse Lingard and Fred looked out of their depth against counterparts Ilkay Gundogan, Rodri and Kevin De Bruyne.
Bernardo Silva scored a stunning opener as City embarrassed United at Old Trafford in January
Kevin De Bruyne was instrumental as City won 3-1 in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi
Fred and Phil Jones struggled on the night but United did manage a 1-0 win in the second leg
The second leg at the Etihad was much better from United. They won 1-0 and could have forced the semi-final into extra-time had they made better decisions in the final third.
Solskjaer dispensed with his 4-2-3-1 formation from the first leg and deployed a 3-4-1-2.
This tweak allowed the Red Devils to soak up pressure from City better but maintain their counter-attacking threat via the dynamism of Martial and Mason Greenwood.
Solskjaer will have learned what does and doesn’t work against City from those three games, but the same goes for Guardiola and United.
The Manchester United manager, however, will have a dilemma on what tactics to use against the reigning Premier League champions.
City went on to win the Carabao Cup, beating Aston Villa in the final a Wembley last weekend
Solskjaer will need to decide whether to go on the attack against City or play on the counter-attack a Old Trafford
The emotion of the occasion will see the home fans call for the Norwegian to play on the attack and look to win the game rather than nick it.
In new signing Bruno Fernandes, the 47-year-old has a player who has reinvigorated the side. Since he’s joined, Solskjaer has built his team around the Portuguese playmaker and it has worked a treat. Does he go against what he’s been building in hope of stifling City?
In the Premier League, Solskjaer has been tactically spot-on more often than not against the other traditional Big Six sides – as his record shows.
When it comes to his win percentage, the United boss sits second when compared against Guardiola and Co.
Only Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp, at 85.71 per cent (six wins from seven matches), has a higher win-rate than Solskjaer’s 50 per cent (four wins from eight matches).
The Baby Faced Assassin will be hoping to have added another crucial victory come full-time on Sunday evening. His record this season suggests he just might.
Only Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp (left) has a better record against the traditional Big Six
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