Manchester City host Manchester United on Sunday (1pm GMT, live on Sky Sports) in what promises to be a enthralling derby between the current Premier League top two.
Reigning champions City trail United by three points at the top of the table, having accumulated 33 points from the opening 15 matches of their title defence.
City are the only undefeated team in the Premier League, with nine wins and six draws and have the best goal difference (+17) in the division. There is, however, a feeling that they have regressed slightly in comparison to last season.
Roberto Mancini has tried to move his team towards a more possession-based approach. He has jettisoned the tough-tackling, muscular defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong in favour of the more expansive Javi Garcia and replacing Joleon Lescott with the composed Serbian defender Matija Nastasic.
City have had a slightly higher share of possession (59.3% to 58.2%) and completed slightly more passes (86.4% to 85.9%) than last season. They are perhaps lacking the thrill factor that accompanied some of their performances in that campaign, performances precipitated by the forceful midfield running of Yaya Toure, who has seemed a little constricted this season.
Mancini still has the likes of Carlos Tevez, David Silva and Sergio Aguero to call on in the final third – plus the height of Edin Dzeko off the bench – players who are always capable of tipping a match in City’s favour. But even with this collection of prime offensive talent at his disposal, City are still scoring far fewer goals than last season.
They finished their title winning campaign with 93 goals, scored at a rate of 2.45 goals per match, whereas this season they have scored 28 in 15, at a rate of 1.87 per match. Averaged out over an entire season that would result in them scoring around 71 goals, a massive 22 less than last season.
City have marginally improved defensively, conceding 0.73 goals per match in comparison to 0.76 per match last season, but even there they have looked vulnerable. They conceded 11 times in the six matches of their ill-fated Champions League campaign and have often looked susceptible to conceding from set-pieces, a weakness Sunday’s opponents United are well poised to seize upon.
United have scored 10 times from set-piece situations already this season, the highest number of any team in the division. With a good mix of height and players adept at finding space inside crowded penalty areas they are sure to pose a threat to the City defence from dead balls.
That is not the only threat they will pose, though, as United have also been scoring plenty of goals from open play this season. They are the league’s highest scorers with 37 from their 15 matches to date, nine more than any other side.
Robin Van Persie has scored 10 in 15 appearances since his summer move from Arsenal. Javier Hernandez has pitched in with five (four of them off the bench). Wayne Rooney, playing in a slightly deeper role than last season to accommodate Van Persie, has four.
It is not just the strikers who are finding the back of the net. United’s goals are coming from all over the pitch. They have had 15 different scorers already this season – the most in the division – including four defenders and seven midfielders.
Sir Alex Ferguson will not, however, have been as impressed by his side’s defending. United have conceded 1.4 goals per match so far this season and have gifted leads to their opponents on a far too regular basis.
United have come from behind to win after conceding the first goal of the match on 10 occasions so far this season, but Ferguson knows that his strikers will sometimes have off days and that his defence therefore cannot continue to concede so readily. Four of United’s five defeats in all competitions this season have come when they have failed to score.
Ferguson’s defensive problems were plain for all to see in the 4-3 victory away to Reading last weekend, in which a tame clearance and two instances of poor marking from set-pieces saw his side concede three preventable goals. Nemanja Vidic is expected to return from injury in time for the Christmas period, but until then Ferguson will have to find other ways of tightening up his porous backline.
Manchester City v Manchester United Betting Tips
City have a long unbeaten home record to defend and despite not firing on all cylinders remain undefeated in the Premier League this season.
United are yet to draw a match this season, winning 12 and losing three, but with injuries to Anderson and Tom Cleverley depriving them of energy in midfield we think a more cautious approach could yield that very result on Sunday.
- Bet on the the draw @ best odds of 47/18 with Pinnacle or 13/5 (a tiny fraction shorter odds) with BetVictor.
- United are scoring for fun this season. Although City’s attack is not functioning as effectively as last season, they have a good chance of scoring against a porous United defence. We therefore suggest backing both teams to score @ 8/13 at Ladbrokes.