Jose Mourinho accused Pep Guardiola of lying about David Silva being injured this week and, frankly, all power to the Manchester United manager.
Relations between the tempestuous Portuguese and his feisty Catalan sparring partner have been almost nauseatingly cordial since they arrived in Manchester last year.
But with their teams heading the Premier League pack, will we see a return to the fractious mood that saw Guardiola turn the air blue in the Santiago Bernabeu press room before his Barcelona faced Mourinho's Real Madrid in the 2011 Champions League semi-final?
Even if the two managers keep their powder dry this weekend, we've thrown together Jamie Smith and Dom Farrell to state the respective cases of the red and blue halves of Manchester. After all, what is derby day without a good old argument?
Up next: the Manchester derby... pic.twitter.com/3UR7FC1TSn— Premier League (@premierleague) December 3, 2017
Who is most valuable to their respective side – David de Gea or Ederson?
DF: David de Gea's virtuoso display at Arsenal last weekend underlined his claim to being the best goalkeeper in the world, with perhaps the most remarkable element of his 14-save showing that it was almost to be expected. He is part of the furniture at Old Trafford, whereas Ederson is arguably Pep Guardiola's most influential pre-season signing. The Brazil international has proved to be everything the accident-prone Claudio Bravo was not in terms of sweeping up behind a high defensive line and building play from the back. Despite some recent set-piece wobbles, the City backline are operating with considerably more confidence than this time last season. If De Gea was to sustain an injury in the warm-up on Sunday, Europa League winner Sergio Romero would enter the fray with reasonable assurance. If Ederson pulls up lame, City's unbeaten run this season will never have looked so vulnerable.
JS: Ederson has made a massive difference for City; they would not be so far clear at the top with football-dodging keeper Bravo in goal. But De Gea has demonstrated time and time again that he can effectively win games on his own, as he did at Arsenal last weekend. Jose Mourinho's focus on defence is well-known and De Gea is usually protected reasonably well - under the radar, Phil Jones is having a quietly excellent season - but it is hard to imagine any other goalkeeper pulling off the frankly miraculous double-save he made at the Emirates. The impact of having the world's best player in a particular position in your team is huge and De Gea's presence is a major factor in United rediscovering their daunting aura from the Ferguson era under Mourinho.
"The best goalkeeper in the entire universe." - @YuliLow— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 6, 2017
"One of the best individual performances I've ever seen." - @Vintage_Utd
"@D_DeGea could save a PDF file on a calculator." - @hashim0307
The reviews are in - now sit back and enjoy #DaveSaves: Arsenal Edition! pic.twitter.com/M4Kgw6jVNc
How vulnerable are City defensively?
DF: Vincent Kompany being rested last weekend against West Ham due to his risk of collecting a ban following four bookings in six Premier League starts spoke both of a player still working his way back to prime match sharpness and one not entirely attuned with Guardiola's defensive requirements. Having seldom been troubled by set-piece situations until the trip to Huddersfield Town two weekends ago, clearing their lines at the near post has become a relative ordeal. Nevertheless, only United have conceded fewer than City's 10 goals in the top-flight this season and their 91 shots faced represents a league low. The fast-improving John Stones has been missed following a hamstring injury but the Guardiolafication of Nicolas Otamendi – a hot-headed liability during his first two seasons at City – has had to be seen to be believed.
JS: Dom is right to highlight the set-piece issues suffered by City in their last couple of matches and this is an area Mourinho will certainly expect United to exploit. The aerial power of Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic - if they are all fit - will be a huge threat for City to deal with on Sunday. While Otamendi has been a changed man so far this season, United will also feel he can be needled into making stupid decisions. Fellaini v Otamendi in the air promises to be a key battle and it would be no surprise whatsoever if one of them was to get themselves sent off at Old Trafford. John Stones will be a loss for City due to the way he manages the tempo of their passing from the back - they badly missed him in the flat display against West Ham.
Can United win the midfield battle?
DF: Any realistic hope of this disappeared when Paul Pogba trudged down the tunnel at Emirates Stadium. Even with the majestic Frenchman it would have been a tall order – the first half of last season's match at Old Trafford when City's midfield creators buzzed and baffled Pogba makes a strong case. Nemanja Matic has been a fine addition for United (not to mention a baffling sale by Chelsea) but any combination of the Serbia man, Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini cannot link to United's pacey forwards in the way Pogba does. Their instructions will be to stifle David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. Backed by the irrepressible Fernandinho at the base of a central three, no side has managed to convincingly becalm City's duel playmakers this season.
JS: There is no doubt City will dominate the ball - they always do - and Pogba's absence due to his ill-judged lunge on Hector Bellerin tips the balance of the derby even further in their favour. Mourinho has already gone into siege mode with a dig at Guardiola over David Silva's 'injury' and this is often where he operates best. Will there even be a midfield battle to speak of? United will likely park the bus as they did at Anfield, the Portuguese deciding that bringing an end to City's long winning streak is worth missing the chance to narrow that overwhelming eight-point gap. It would be no surprise at all to see Matic and Fellaini line up as a giant wall in front of United's defence, with runners like Jesse Lingard given a spoiling brief. West Ham provided the blueprint for blocking City's passing moves and a pragmatist like Mourinho will have been working on his plans for this game for weeks. Don't be surprised if he locks the midfield down and serves up a bore draw on Sunday, but Pogba's absence absolutely affects United's ability to hurt City on the break.
13 in a row! pic.twitter.com/FrVguCqjKF— Kevin De Bruyne (@DeBruyneKev) December 3, 2017
Lukaku and Ibrahimovic or Aguero and Jesus – whose striking options are better?
DF: It is certainly unusual to see the top two teams in the country coming into this with question marks over the form of the strikers. Romelu Lukaku's flying start at United is a fading memory and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a 36-year-old the wrong side of a major injury who last scored against Sunderland in April, is a viable alternative to start in his place at the weekend. Things are not overly rosy for free-scoring City in this regard, either, with Sergio Aguero's last goal from open play coming on November 1, while Gabriel Jesus' rotation in and out of the starting line-up has left him short of rhythm. Nevertheless, having Brazil's starting centre forward and City's all-time top scorer – eight of Aguero's record haul have come against United – to call upon means the deck is stacked in Guardiola's favour here.
JS: City and United's attacks are a useful demonstration of each manager's belief in the way football should be played. Lukaku is still working out how to best use his power and strength but, with his goals drying up, Mourinho may decide he does not offer enough in open play for a game like this. Ibrahimovic offers no more mobility either, though, and that means United will be unable to press City high up the pitch. A technical player like Jesus is a great fit for Guardiola and it's a sign of City's squad depth that they could leave a player as prolific as Aguero on the bench. He would be an automatic starter for United, if not just about any team in world football. But what about Marcus Rashford? The 20-year-old is yet to catch fire this season but he has previous in this fixture, having scored the winner at City in March 2016, a matter of weeks after making his senior debut for United. The local lad has the X factor to light up a terrific fixture like this one.
23. März 2018
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22. März 2018
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