United to turn City’s season upside down
This weekend Manchester United and City play their 179th derby. The history of both clubs is so one-sided in United's favour, this fixture has sometimes lacked the heft of other cross-town rivalries. Other than that brief crossover between Alex Ferguson's end and City's ascent, the gap was usually so big as to make the fight bloodless.
Now the clubs' have flipped positions, will this weekend's match have any more bite? The pressure, it seems, is on City, who cannot afford to surrender any more points in the title race. Nothing but a win will do at this stage.
Liverpool's lead at the top is still 11 points after the midweek fixtures but a gap that large requires perfection from the chasers. All Guardiola can do is push his team to win every tackle, every second ball, every point they can and then hope.
The problem is, United might be just the right team at the wrong time.
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This time last season, City were in Liverpool's position, having not lost a game and drawn twice (Liverpool are even better off with one draw) - yet three defeats already this season demonstrates that City are not at that same level. Partly due to injuries and a lack defensive cover, and partly, perhaps, because of the inevitable cost of passing 100 points two seasons in a row. Without the right players being added to the squad, maintaining that level of performance is impossible.
For now, Guardiola is seriously working his unfamiliar underdog status. As far as the Spaniard is concerned, everyone has already written City off - something he can use as fuel for the surge required to catch up.
And what better time for a fuel injection than a local derby? A title chase on the line, a rival team lacking experience, an opposing manager walking the line between joker and genius. If you can't fire up for this, you better check your pulse. This is the time class should be apparent.
But for all their class on show in their recent defeat of Burnley, City's consistency has dropped. Losing to Liverpool is one thing but a 2-2 draw with Newcastle again demonstrates that the blue half of Manchester has developed frailties that can be exposed.
Are United the team to do that? To be frank, who the hell knows but this season's results suggest they could be City's nightmare right now.
Despite their somewhat laughable form against smaller teams, Solskjaer's have excelled against better opposition this season, beating Chelsea, Leicester and this week Tottenham, as well as taking the only two points Liverpool have dropped so far.
United moved up to sixth after wiping the smirk of Jose Mourinho's face midweek but they are still part of that upper-midtable scramble with four points separating six clubs. This is where they belong.
Solskjaer's Manchester United a greyhound team; give them a rabbit to chase and they'll tear one off.
They are excellent at attacking teams who own the ball, harrying and chasing their opponents and disrupting their usual rhythm - the game against Spurs was just the latest demonstration, and Mourinho admitted he tried to make his Tottenham players grasp this before the game. United want teams to be aggressive against them, it gives them something to push against.
But what Solskjaer's United can't do is own the game themselves. Before Spurs they were very lucky to draw against two promoted teams, Sheffield United (3-3) and Aston Villa (2-2).
This is what really shows how the Red Devils have lost their identity. United aren't scary anymore and are horribly inconsistent under Solskjaer.
The Old Trafford favourite has only won 11 of his 32 matches as the club's full-time manager. United have won only five of their 15 Premier League fixtures this season. They have only conceded one more than City but the Blues have scored almost double United's tally.
And yet the fans still love Ole and appear to sympathise with the club's current predicament as a result of ownership and boardroom issues. They know there is no quick fix.
If he can conjure something against City straight after Spurs, Solskjaer's job will be safe for the season, if it wasn't already. It is reported the club hierarchy have no plans to replace him yet anyway, despite Mauricio Pochettino's sudden availability. For now United have arrested their short-termism and put their faith in Solskjaer to turn the Titanic around.
There are signs that United can disrupt the title race and take points off the leaders - but the point of Manchester United is to be the leader.
This weekend's derby won't decide the title or a coach's job. City fans are looking past United at Liverpool. United fans will want to win but know that in doing so they will help their even more despised rivals on Merseyside. Who wants it more? That's what a derby is all about.