Opposition Preview: Athletic writer on an improved Man City and an uphill battle for United

Manchester United face Manchester City on Tuesday evening in the first-leg of the mouthwatering Carabao Cup semi-final clash at Old Trafford.

While United are clear underdogs for the tie, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have a sense of optimism after defeating Guardiola’s side on the counter-attack last month at the Etihad Stadium. The Carabao Cup still represents Solskjaer’s best chance of silverware this season, but a depleted squad and an improved Manchester City means the Reds are facing an uphill battle.

We spoke to the Atheltic’s City correspondent Sam Lee, who was kind enough to give us his thoughts on the opposition.

How much importance does Pep Guardiola place on the competition? We know Liverpool are strong favourites for the league so perhaps City will want to claim every other piece of silverware they can get their hands on this season. Will this be reflected by a strong City line-up?

It’ll be a strong City line-up but not because of the title race this year. He’s usually gone strong with his teams (since United beat City in 2016) and you can tell that by the fact they’ve won the last two Carabao Cups and are in the semis again. The best specific example is the Burton semi-final last year, it was pretty much the strongest City team available, bar one or two changes.

We saw how effective United were on the counter-attack at the Etihad earlier this season. Do you expect Guardiola to change his system slightly to nullify United’s threat on the break?

He has changed it in recent weeks because United weren’t the only team giving City problems on the counter, although they probably provided the most glaring example of City’s problems. The move to a back three with wing-backs and two deep-lying midfielders was partly due to controlling matches better and avoiding counter-attacks and while I may well be wrong, I’d expect to see that again at Old Trafford.

READ MORE: Solskjaer’s two key Man Utd selection dilemmas for Carabao Cup semi-final v Man City

United failed to register a single shot on target against Wolves on Saturday. Solskjaer has been hit by further injuries and while City certainly have their own vulnerabilties, can they realistically be beaten over two legs by a depleted United side?

Again, I could be wrong but I think City have fixed the problems (to a large extent anyway) that they had earlier in the season and that United exploited. United may well get a good result on Tuesday but I don’t expect City to be quite as bad, and I expect the pattern of the game to be similar to how they have been at Old Trafford ever since Guardiola took over at City. I do expect City to get a good result in the first leg (if they convert the chances I’m sure they’ll create) and play a similar game at the Etihad. I think if they were to struggle like they did in the recent league derby it would be very worrying for them, because generally they have looked solid. United will have chances still, but I do think City have improved and will be more like their old selves, even playing a different formation.

Score prediction

I think it’ll be 2-1 to City on Tuesday.

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