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December 6, 2019

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City, United head into derby with new vigor

A WEEK ago there was little about tomorrow’s Manchester derby to whet the appetite but after statement performances from both teams it suddenly has the feel of ‘must watch’ football again.

Manchester City had lost its mojo, its draw at Newcastle United the latest in a series of below-par performances which suggested not only that its title hopes were fading but that Pep Guardiola might need to think about a rebuild of his side.

Manchester United’s draw at home to Aston Villa was a listless display which brought questions, from some quarters, about whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was the right man to lead it back to full competitiveness.

But on Tuesday, in a 4-1 dismantling of Burnley at Turf Moor, City looked like City again and above all it looked like a Guardiola team again — passing crisply, moving with purpose, dominating possession and deadly near goal.

On Wednesday, United, inspired by a confident Marcus Rashford and with Scott McTominay powerful in central midfield, deservedly beat a Tottenham Hotspur team managed by former boss Jose Mourinho.

What makes tomorrow’s game at the Etihad fascinating is that while sixth-placed United may trail City by 11 points, the same margin that Liverpool has over Guardiola’s team, Solskjaer’s side has been at its best in the biggest games.

United has beaten Chelsea, Leicester City and Spurs at Old Trafford and it is the only team to have taken points off Liverpool, with a 1-1 draw at home in October.

Mourinho himself noted that United is well equipped for games where it isn’t expected to be on top for long stretches.

“They are not afraid to be with a defensive approach, they are not afraid to be at home, to take their time, to be in control of the emotions of the game. Then lots of young people with lots of energy and good mentality,” he said.

“When they are winning matches, they are comfortable in this situation of low block and a giant dominating in the air and being fast in counter-attack.”

There are plenty of teams which have tried such approach against City, however, and found that Guardiola’s side is well capable of dismantling their defense and limiting their counters.

The derby then will be a much better indicator of City’s ability to recapture its best form than a half-hearted Burnley provided. But whatever the outcome, Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool will expect to have its lead intact.

The European champion, which crushed Everton 5-2 in Wednesday’s Merseyside derby, travels to Bournemouth tomorrow with Eddie Howe’s side having lost four straight games and picked up just one win since the start of October.

Meanwhile, Mourinho, who took over as Spurs manager last month nearly a year after he was fired by United, hailed Rashford’s performance in the 2-1 United win on Wednesday.

“I think they deserved the victory by their first half. We didn’t start well at all,” said Mourinho, whose side fell behind to a seventh-minute goal from Rashford.

The Portuguese, sacked by United after two and a half seasons in charge, had plenty of praise for his former forward.

“When he plays from the left he is really dangerous and I knew that and gave the players the best information about it. His first goal is a typical Rashford goal coming on the inside. Our boys knew that clearly,” he said.

Solskjaer was unsurprisingly even more fulsome in his praise of the 22-year-old England international, who scored a brace and delivered a performance of real quality.

“It’s the best he’s had under me. He was mature, strong against good Premier League players,” the Norwegian said.


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