Kick off: 12:30pm
Venue: Old Trafford
Telly Box: Sky Sports 1
Referee: Marky Mark Clattenburg
This weekend’s Manchester Derby feels different somehow. Previously, even with the league on the line, foreign owners, global fanbases and the increasingly sanitised nature of Premier League football, it all very much felt a very local affair. One existing in a Mancunian bubble. A bubble of taunts across open plan offices on Deansgate and Salford Quays; rain soaked cobbles of Albert Square and public houses from Wythenshawe to Whalley Range via Crumpsall.
This yea however, this fixture feels much bigger in the greater global consciousness. Two rockstar managers who seemingly have about as much good feeling towards one another as Kramer vs Kramer. Managers of repute and success with ties to all of Europe’s great clubs. This no longer feels like a local derby.
There is a sense of this being a proxy war between two higher superpowers, with Mourinho playing the role of the role as the unsexy but effective Soviet Union and Guardiola the alluring façade but ruthless underbelly of Neoliberal America. United and City are to become surrogate combatants in a great, global ideological sporting war. The eyes of the world really will be on this on Old Trafford, come Saturday lunchtime.
For some United fans it’s the man many of us originally wanted win Pep against the man thought to be the antithesis of United’s so called “values.” Which of course, bleeding heart romantics like myself who previously pontificated from hallow soapboxes should now recognise as nonsense. Good football is only good when there is common sense to it, as any Everton fan would tell you anytime in the last two years. Jose has brought common sense in abundance to Manchester United. Quickly forming a solid defence and making things very simple for the players. In addition, we’ve seen more than a few flashes of traditional United football. Fast, direct attacking sprinkled with flair.
As a result, players once thought as busted flushes suddenly look if not world beaters, certainly continental kickers. Valencia is officially now allowed to be referred to as “Tony V” again as opposed to “that plodding t**t who can’t cross a ball.” Mata is playing like a man with a point to prove, to his team’s benefit and then there is Marouane.
One a figure of ridicule for looking like a failed experiment to cross breed humans with giraffes, the Mourinho effect has seen Fellaini morph into a serious, substantial footballer. Imposing himself physically without being stupid and doing all the simple things that allow more talented players further forward to sprinkle their magic on proceedings. The Scarecrow now has a brain.
The additions made to the squad have been largely excellent and effective with the exception of “Hey Mhki you’re so fine,” who has not yet had the chance to strut his stuff due to the excellence of Juan Mata. The new boys have been intelligent additions strengthening the spine of the team and transforming the team from underachieving plodders to contenders very quickly.
The 172nd Manchester Derby is a stern test however. Even with players missing they are still an excellent side with a truly innovative manager who is as good as Mourinho at motivating his players. Moreover, his record against Mourinho is excellent. Sterling has been stellar. Nolito is Navas’ ultimate Pokemon evolution. De Bruyne is the major threat however. Floating around behind the striker, Belgium’s answer to Ron Weasley is arguably the best player in the Premier League, possessing terrific technique and devastating cunning, United’s players must be weary.
With all the fanfare and global interest in the latest edition of Manchester’s bloodless civil conflict however, this is likely the hardest to predict. So early on in the reigns of both managers are both clubs that there is recognition that both manager’s ultimate lineups will look very different from turns out tomorrow lunchtime. Trying to pin down a sensible prediction will be like attempting to predict the next move of Kanye West or what the weather will be like in Manchester from one day to the next.
Predicted XI: (4-3-2-1) De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Shaw; Pogba, Fellaini; Mata, Rooney, Martial; Ibrahimovic.
Predicted scoreline: United 1-0 City