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Man Utd v Man City: What are the big issues going into Manchester derby?

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With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s position as Manchester United boss still under intense scrutiny and Chelsea piling the pressure on in the Premier League title race, the 186th Manchester derby at Old Trafford will have far more riding on it than just local pride.

The game itself is framed by United’s horrendous 5-0 home defeat by Liverpool a fortnight ago, which has generated so much uncertainty around Saturday’s hosts.

Another loss against a major rival so soon afterwards will be difficult for United – and Solskjaer – to swallow. But defeat is not without its consequences for City either given their early-season form.
In three meetings last season, both sides won a game each – away from home – with another drawn. United have triumphed in four of the last seven in all competitions, while Pep Guardiola has five victories from his eight derbies at Old Trafford as City boss.
But can Solskjaer survive another loss – and how critical would a third defeat of the season be for the visitors’ title hopes?

Has Solskjaer ridden the wave of pressure?

The problem for United is the sheer scale of that defeat by Liverpool means nothing can be taken for granted.
United sources may stress everything is calm and the club remain behind the Norwegian. But if Guardiola’s side were to inflict similar-sized punishment, it is impossible to imagine Solskjaer being able to survive, especially given even some of those who have backed the former striker in the face of huge criticism, now feel his tenure needs to end.

United have also put themselves into a situation where any negative result is likely to trigger an overreaction.
For instance, Tuesday’s Champions League draw with Atalanta brought a deluge of negative social media comment and external media inquests. Yet the Italian side beat Liverpool last season and drew with Manchester City the year before.
In a different context, United’s draw would have been viewed as a positive and the late Cristiano Ronaldo equaliser a commendable sign of their refusal to be beaten when they had not played well.
Instead, there is more focus on an apparent lack of a game plan and more comparisons with the systems employed by coaches at other clubs.
United’s executive team, led by the Glazer family and outgoing executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, may have shown admirable backing for Solskjaer, but the storm is not past yet.
If United beat City, the two clubs will be level on points. However, if they lose, United could fall to as low as 10th in the league table.
The positions mirror the uncertainty around Old Trafford just now. And given Antonio Conte is settling into his new surroundings at Tottenham, if United do have to make a change, the biggest name available in the immediate aftermath of the Liverpool debacle is now unattainable.

Can City afford to lose any more ground in the title race?

Last weekend’s home defeat by Crystal Palace has left City’s title defence in trouble.
Despite beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in September, they are now five points adrift of Thomas Tuchel’s side. In addition, their goal difference is nine less that Chelsea.
City are two points ahead of their total after 10 games last season, when it was widely accepted their start had been sluggish. After drawing their next two matches, City dropped only three points from their next 19 games.
With leaders Chelsea likely to exceed the 86 points City gained last season – having dropped just five points from 10 games – a similar run might be required for Guardiola’s side to retain their crown.
The major question is whether this is possible given Guardiola failed to get the striker he hoped for last summer, when Borussia Dortmund refused to sell Erling Braut Haaland and City’s attempts to sign Harry Kane got nowhere either, despite the player making it clear he wanted to leave Tottenham.
Clearly, City – both last season and this – have proved effective with a ‘false nine’.
But Guardiola has spoken before about the special abilities of top strikers, someone who can ‘smell’ chances, as the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach puts it.
With Kevin de Bruyne not yet at his best and Jack Grealish producing in bursts rather than on a consistent basis since his record £100m transfer from Aston Villa, Guardiola definitely has issues to deal with. Ones that go beyond his claim that City get no ‘help’, something he did not elaborate on after the midweek 4-1 win over Club Brugge despite being repeatedly asked to.

Will City losing out on Ronaldo come back to haunt them?

In the aftermath of the Club Brugge success, Guardiola was also asked to assess United.
He admitted he had not seen the Atalanta game but said he knew how good they were and they have ‘one of the best players of history, a guy who can be a scoring machine’.
It may be some time before it is known for certain how close City were to signing Ronaldo in August. However, it is beyond doubt the club were in for him. Equally sure is that United only made their move when it

their move when it became clear to them it was a real possibility one of their greatest-ever players could be joining their closest rivals.
Given Guardiola wanted a striker and Ronaldo was available, it is fair to assume he would have liked him. However, there are two schools of thought around his on-field impact since his return to United.
One is to simply look at his nine goals in 11 games and their impact – late winners against Villarreal and Atalanta and Tuesday’s sublime stoppage-time effort to earn a draw in Italy – and declare the case closed.
However, there is another school of thought. Namely that Solskjaer had been putting together an attack of quick, young players, capable of executing the high press many clubs – including City, Chelsea and Liverpool – prefer.
In addition to spending £73m on England winger Jadon Sancho, he had persuaded Edinson Cavani to remain at the club, meaning he had some experience to guide the youngsters through.
Ronaldo’s arrival effectively ripped up that template. Sancho and Cavani have been used sparingly for a start.
Yet, at 36, Ronaldo cannot press in the way the modern game requires, even if it had been his game in the first place. Ronaldo has always been a player whose effectiveness comes from what he does in possession rather than out of it.
In his first stint at the club, Sir Alex Ferguson ended up switching Ronaldo to centre-forward and moving Wayne Rooney out wide because he felt the England man would not be found wanting when it came to the defensive side of the game.
United’s incoherent press was cited by many former players as a major reason for their hammering by Liverpool.
So, is Ronaldo saving United, or just saving United from a situation that his presence has been a major factor in putting them into in the first place?

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