One of football’s biggest derbies is returning to Old Trafford this week, and it’s safe to say that the stakes for both Manchester United and crosstown rivals Manchester City are sky-high. City are sitting in a relatively unfamiliar place; second place, to be exact. They’re 5 points behind league leaders Arsenal, and while a win on Saturday would surely keep City right in the race, a draw or loss could be the beginning of the end as the Gunners would have a chance to create separation. United are not only locked into a very tight top four race, but their excellent recent form under new boss Erik ten Hag has them in fourth place in the league, level on points with third place Newcastle with a game in hand, and just four points behind City- so it’s worth wondering if a win for United could turn the Prem into a three-horse race. Both sides desperately want a win, while Arsenal and the rest of the Manchester-hating World will be looking for a draw- let’s get into the odds and make some picks for what promises to be a fascinating Manchester derby.
Manchester United vs. Manchester City Odds
Even as a home side in good form, United are significant underdogs at +310. The draw is set at +285, while City are legitimate favorites at -115. For a goalscoring line of 2.5, the over is a fairly heavy favorite with a number of -145, while the under is +115
Manchester United vs. Manchester City Prediction & Pick
When these two teams met earlier in the prem season, the result wasn’t pretty as City ripped open United for a 6-3 victory. But things have surely changed. The sky blues are looking shakier than usual, while the opposite can be said of a red devils side that has been on fire since returning from the World Cup break. United have picked up all nine points since returning to league play, with an aggregate of 7 goals to none amongst those three matches, while also going 3-0 in domestic cup play. They’re amazingly the only English team left in four competitions this season, although one of course is the Europa league instead of the Champions. Still, there’s more to be excited about at Old Trafford than there has been in recent memory, and all eyes are on not only the new manager ten Hag, but also hometown hero Marcus Rashford, who has been in outrageous form since Christmas, scoring approximately a goal per match over that period.
It’s impossible to talk about City this year without talking about Haaland, so let’s get right into it. Unshockingly, City’s recent vulnerability has coincided with not nearly a true slump, but perhaps a return to mortality for the previously-otherworldly Norweigan striker. Haaland has scored just once in his past 215 minutes on the pitch, not nearly a disaster but also nowhere close to the pace he established before the World Cup pause. Has the league begun to figure him out, or is it just a minor dip in production? We won’t get a definitive answer for quite some time of course, but it’ll be fascinating to see how he performs against a side he ripped apart for a hat trick earlier this season, but is now in much better form in defense and overall.
The lines are set really well for this game; there are no glaringly inappropriate numbers to cash in on. The +310 line for United is incredibly tempting and surely a lot of value, but it’s hard to project City to lose this fixture. Frankly, the same can be said for United; they’re in great form and playing at home, so I’m not sure I believe in them to lose either. We’re hurtling towards a relatively rare pick in these previews; I’m officially projecting the draw at +285, although I think the best value might be the Man United double chance (draw or win) at -105 odds, essentially even money to bet on anything other than a City win. For the total, I’m going to go with a fairly surprising choice for this fixture and pick the under for +115 odds. I like the recent form both defenses are in, outside of City’s heavily-rotated Southampton match, and am not particularly bullish on the state of either attack. It’s going to be a gritty match, as United will do everything in their power to spare their home crowd from watching anything remotely close to this fall’s 6-3 embarrassment; goals will be hard to come by on both ends.
United Attack vs. City Defense
For United’s attack, we’ll start with Rashford, whose excellent form we’ve already alluded to. In his 6 appearances since the end of the World Cup (all United wins), he’s scored in each one for a total of 7, with two assists as well. He’s the heartbeat of the team and when he’s playing well, things are good; he’ll be starting at left wing for this match. Across from him on the right wing will be Antony, a newcomer this season who has struggled a bit in adjusting to the Premier League and United, but is showing some sort of signs of life; he scored a big opener against Everton in the league, and then punched in another goal in the league cup. Up top, United will be starting another rather hot-and-cold player, French striker Anthony Martial, who is more or less in a “down” stretch right now, save for a goal in a 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest. Lastly, not technically a forward but in great form is Bruno Fernandes, who usually pulls the strings from the CAM position for United. He’s carried his excellent World Cup form back to United, as he has continued what has been a much-needed strong Premier League campaign.
They’ll be going up a City defense who have allowed the third-fewest goals of any side during this league campaign. Against Chelsea, Pep Guardiola experimented, as he tends to do, and tested out a back-three, but I’d expect a more traditional 4-3-3 in this match. Starting at left back, City are lucky enough to employ one of the best in the World in Portugese international João Cancelo, who has been used sparingly since returning from World Cup duty, as youngster Rico Lewis has suddenly usurped many of his minutes- this will be something to keep an eye on as Pep names his XI for the derby. On the right, we’re likely to see the speedy Kyle Walker, one of the steadiest fixtures in the City lineup over the past several seasons. And lastly, we come to the centre-back pairing, where there’s a few options. John Stones is overwhelmingly likely to have a place, but the other spot is relatively open; Manuel Akanji, Aymeric Laporte, and even Nathan Aké are all solid options in that position as each is having a very nice season, although Aké’s versatility makes him valuable off of the bench. Pep is known for overthinking in big matches, and as things stand, this is certainly a big one. Let’s see what he does with the blessing and curse of vast breadth of options when it comes to his back 4 (or three, if he so chooses once again)
City Attack vs. United Defense
Here’s a sentence I wasn’t planning to maybe ever write out- as of late, City have actually struggled a bit with scoring. While it was a weakened lineup, it was stunning to see City blanked by Southampton, perhaps the worst defensive and overall team in the Prem, in the league cup. Additionally, the sky blues tucked away just 1 goal in each of the league matches vs Chelsea and Everton, two mediocre defenses, although it is worth noting that they fired four past the blue lions in the FA cup. Interestingly enough, Haaland did not touch the pitch in the resounding cup victory, while he was held scoreless across a full 90 in the league match at Stamford Bridge. One connection between the two successes was Riyad Mahrez; he started and bagged a brace in the FA match, while he came off the bench to score the lone goal in the Prem edition.
In this match, Pep will be looking to field a full strength lineup so Haaland will of course be in the XI, but beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess who’s at the two wing spots. The Spanish manager is of course inexplicably enamored with homegrown youngster Phil Foden, who has played well but in my opinion is not nearly the team’s best option in an attacking role. Mahrez is of course in the mix, but is frequently a bench weapon, while the same can be said for the talented, if inconsistent and polarizing, Jack Grealish. One sure starter, is Kevin De Bruyne; he’s not technically a forward, but as a CAM he is the engine behind the whole City machine, and I would be remiss if I did not mention perhaps the best player in the World over the past few years. Lastly, while there’s literally endless names I could talk to when it comes to the City attack, Julián Álavarez is one to watch after an excellent World Cup with Argentina; he won’t take time from Haaland, but he did score in the FA Cup, and could present an interesting option off of the bench if Guardiola wants to take a different shape late in the match.
And here’s the question of the hour; can United’s resurgent defense slow down the attack that justified two paragraphs worth of analysis, and more relevantly has torn up England and to an extent Europe for the past half-decade? I might be crazy, and it pains my Liverpool heart to say it, but I’m going to say yes; I like what Erik the Red is cooking up in Manchester. Luke Shaw continues to be one of the very best in the business at left back, while on the other side, Diogo Dalot has been extremely solid following a 2020-21 loan spell at Milan. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is also worth mentioning; his playing time has been fairly limited this season, but in those spurts, such as an impressive 69-minute outing in the win over Bournemouth recently, he’s shown the quality that made him such a sought-after transfer back in 2019. In the middle is of course team captain and perhaps the most memed player of all time, Harry Maguire (OG). Jokes aside, the Englishman has been fairly solid this season, although consistency is still lacking as he is still occasionally prone to a genuine disasterclass; safely assuming he gets the start, it’ll be interesting to see which Harry shows up against City. I’d expect him to be paired with newly-minted World Champion Lisandro Martínez, who has been eased back into the lineup after a celebratory absence following the World Cup. He’s made two sub appearances, and then started the cup match against Charlton; I’d fully expect him to start in a match like this one, even if he doesn’t play the full 90. If he doesn’t start and/or finish the match, expect either one of Raphaël Varane or Victor Lindelof in his stead. For the first time in some time, there’s actually some high-end talent as well as legitimate depth in the United defense. This will be their biggest test in awhile, I’m thinking they’ll pass, but I can’t wait to see how it plays out.