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Five major concerns for Man Utd ahead of Man City clash

Manchester United received a timely morale boost ahead of Sunday’s Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium as they claimed a last-gasp 1-0 win at Nottingham Forest in midweek FA Cup action. 

Casemiro’s late header settled an evenly-contested last-16 tie at the City Ground, helping Erik ten Hag’s charges regain some confidence after a dismal 2-1 home league loss to Fulham last weekend. 

After the Red Devils’ quest to whittle down an eight-point deficit on fourth-placed Aston Villa took another hit, their top-four credentials brace up for another stern test.

What better way for Ten Hag to silence his critics than beating perennial champions Manchester City in their backyard?

However, the recent H2H history and the Cityzens’ outrageous form since mid-December suggests Man United will have to punch above their weight to keep their slim Champions League qualification hopes alive.

Let’s look at several potential roadblocks the 20-time Premier League champions must overcome to upset the odds this weekend.

Man City’s dominant home form

You need to go back to November 2022 for City’s last defeat on home turf, which came against Brentford.

But since Ivan Toney’s stoppage-time strike stunned the Etihad, Pep Guardiola’s side have gone into overdrive, racking up a jaw-dropping 35-game unbeaten run (W30, D5).

One of only two Premier League sides yet to lose a top-flight match at home this season, alongside Liverpool, Man City (W9, D4) boast the division’s joint-best defensive record. 

They’ve only capitulated 11 times at home this season, conceding an average of 0.84 goals per game.

Misfiring frontline

Man City’s formidable defensive set-up had a field day against Ten Hag’s uneventful attack in October’s reverse fixture, steamrolling to a 3-0 win at Old Trafford. 

Despite attempting three shots on target, the Red Devils never came close to beating Ederson in that match-up, while their conversion problems continued after the derby. 

Man United’s numbers in 2024 could be deceptive. On paper, it looks fantastic, yet the reality is different. 

They’ve bagged at least two goals in seven of their nine outings across all competitions since the start of the new calendar year.

But four of those seven games came against lower-league rivals in the FA Cup and sides from the Premier League’s lower reaches. 

With standout striker Rasmus Hojlund out of contention for the matchday squad, out-of-form Marcus Rashford will be Ten Hag’s go-to option to fill the Dane’s shoes.

Not an ideal scenario for United fans!

Selection headache at the back

As if lacking the club’s most prolific forward wasn’t painful enough, Man United will have to deal with the third-deadliest Premier League attack severely weakened at the back.

In addition to long-term absentee Lisandro Martinez, Ten Hag can’t call upon former captain Harry Maguire and dependable left-back Luke Shaw due to injuries.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka is also unavailable, narrowing the Dutchman’s selection choices, as evidenced by Sofyan Ambrabat’s introduction as a left-back against Forest on Wednesday. 

Raphael Varane and Victor Lindelof will probably be at the heart of United’s back four. But the Morocco international is a potential weak link, which Man City will try to exploit. 

De Bruyne off the bench?

Guardiola’s endless list of top-class forwards gives him the luxury of leaving Kevin De Bruyne on the bench after the Belgian’s return from a lengthy spell in the treatment room. 

Let’s assume the Spaniard decides to do the same again. If the game doesn’t go to plan, there’s no doubt he’ll turn to his talismanic playmaker for help.

How can you deal with one of the world’s best midfielders in the past decade after being forced to chase behind the ball for 60/70 minutes beforehand?

That’s probably the question Ten Hag will have to answer on Sunday.

Haaland is a nightmare

Leave De Bruyne out of the equation and focus on Erling Braut Haaland for a moment. 

Last season’s Premier League Golden Boot winner reminded the public of his unparalleled scoring prowess in the FA Cup midweek, bagging five goals in a 6-2 rout of Luton Town.

De Bruyne set him up for four goals, but it takes nothing away from the Norwegian’s never-ending thirst for glory.

With 17 strikes, he’s the leading goalscorer in the Premier League this season, with Man United being unfortunate enough to see two of them arrive in the reverse fixture.

It feels like Haaland holds a grudge against the Red Devils. In his first Manchester derby at the Etihad, he netted a hat-trick as City drubbed United 6-3.

He must be stopped, but how?