There are more than just city bragging rights up for grabs here as the two Manchester clubs face serious examinations of their title credentials on Sunday afternoon. Despite sitting high up in the standings neither side has been at their best recently – or at least not consistently. City struggled to beat Sevilla in midweek, when it required the Spanish defence to inexplicably give Kevin De Bruyne all the time he could ever need to cut inside and slot the winner with time running out, while United laboured to a point over in Moscow.
As we’ve often seen with Van Gaal’s Red Devils they dominated possession against CSKA but, particularly in the first half, were guilty of doing little with it and then looked vulnerable to the counter. They’ll be saying a few prayers, therefore, that Sergio Aguero is unfit and that David Silva is also likely to remain sidelined. Last season they were unbeaten at home against fellow top-six sides – thrashing City, Spurs and Liverpool while drawing with Chelsea and Arsenal – but the year before they lost four of six such matches.
City have scored 11 times in their past two league games but they may not face more hospitable opponents all season and they scored just seven times in their five games preceding that. Their lack of attacking options was particularly evident in their last away match when they were beaten 4-1 at Spurs as after a promising opening they struggled to respond when Spurs got level. Vincent Kompany did come off the bench against Sevilla and his return should boost a defence that has conceded in eight consecutive games in all competitions. In contrast they’ve conceded only once in 526 minutes that Kompany has been on the pitch this season.
This fixture finished 4-2 last season but when they met at this time last term, at the Etihad, it was much tighter as City won 1-0 courtesy of a 63rd minute Aguero goal after Chris Smalling had been sent-off in the first half. Since 2011/12 City have played just four (out of 40) away games against top-half teams where neither Silva nor Aguero started and two of those games finished goalless while there was just one first-half goal in total.
With City’s best attackers unavailable United may be able to control the game but that should lead to a slower tempo and with Kompany back to martial his back-line it’s hard to see either side going goal crazy. Under 2.5 Goals is 2.0 but we wouldn’t put anyone off a more speculative punt of Under 1.5 at 3.9 or for a goalless first half at 3.25.
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