How things change.
Going into Manchester United’s league game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on October 20th, there were calls for the head of Jose Mourinho, of Paul Pogba and of Ed Woodward. Many wanted all three to leave the club.
Man Utd played very well at the Bridge, conceding a last-second goal in securing a 2-2 draw.
Three days later, though, the cries went up again as United lost 1-0 at home to Juventus in the Champions League.
Since then United have registered three 2-1 wins – at home to Everton, away to Bournemouth and, best of all, away to Juventus in the Champions League last Wednesday.
With Paul Pogba revealing that the confidence that had left the team earlier in the season has been rediscovered, the Reds go into Sunday’s match in a good place. They also enter it with a fairly settled side.
City have won ten of their last eleven matches in all competitions, scoring 35 goals along the way and keeping nine clean sheets. In the match they didn’t win, they drew 0-0 with Liverpool at Anfield.
City have conceded just four goals in their eleven league matches this season, while United have conceded 18. City have scored 33; United 19.
Nine of Man Utd’s last 14 games have had more than 2.5 goals scored in them. City’s last three games alone have yielded 15 goals, their last five, 19.
There is a lot at stake in this match. It’s not just the bragging rights associated with a fierce city rivalry but also the fact that City, if winning, will effectively end United’s title hopes. Victory would also send out a further sign that City are now English football’s dominant force, not just Manchester’s.
The question is, though, has the tide of United’s form turned enough for them to get a result against the reigning champions and current Premier League leaders and reduce the gap between them and their city rivals to six points?
For encouragement, you could look back to last season when United came from 2-0 down at half-time at City to register a remarkable 3-2 league win.
That memory, and their new-found confidence, will help the cause, but will it be enough against a red-hot City side, one that is easy on the eye, coherent, well organised, with everyone knowing what they are supposed to be doing, and then doing it extremely well.
From City’s last eight games, they have five players who have scored three or more goals – Jesus, Mahrez, Aguero, Sterling and David Silva, who has scored four in his last seven appearances.
For United, Anthony Martial is the in-form player, scoring five times in their last six games, with Juan Mata chipping in with two and Sanchez, Pogba and Rashford contributing one apiece.
Claudio Bravo and Eliaquim Mangala are long-term absentees and Kevin de Bruyne remains side-lined with a knee injury. Aside from this, City have no other injury concerns, which gives boss Pep Guardiola plenty of options.
Man Utd reported on Friday that Paul Pogba (who missed training that day) might miss the match. Alexis Sanchez picked up a dead leg against Juventus but should fine for Sunday. Romelu Lukaku could be fit to be considered for a start following a hamstring problem.
With Mata, Fellaini and Rashford all playing well in Turin, Jose Mourinho’s problem will be deciding who to leave out of the starting line-up.
Despite their extravagant price (7/1 at the time of writing) and new-found confidence, I’m finding it harder to build a case for a United victory than one for City (2/5).
I can see goals. Over 2.5 goals in the match is 9/20, but better options may be City to win and for there to be over 2.5 goals in the game (7/10) and City to win and there to be over 3.5 goals in the game (6/4).
As it’s a ‘Double The Odds On First Goalscorer Bets’ match with us, David Silva, given his recent form, is suggested at 9/1.
All in all, it looks as though it will be United who enter the latest international break licking their wounds.