Following defeat to Sevilla, key United players need to stand up and prove game-impacting quality, while any bus-parking by the manager will be extremely unpopular
Manchester City v Manchester United: Mourinho, Pogba and Sanchez owe club fans exciting football
This writer asked a Manchester United player last week if any good could come from the pain of losing Saturday’s Manchester derby and City winning the league.
The example was given of May 13, 2012, when United thought they had won the league at Sunderland because Manchester City had failed to beat Queen Park Rangers. Then news was delivered to the United players that Sergio Aguero, probably the most respected City player among United players, had scored a goal after 93 minutes and 20 seconds.
The United players were floored, the league was lost. City had become champions of England for the third time – the same as Huddersfield Town and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
As the Sunderland supporters laughed at the United players and celebrated like they had done when they themselves won their last title 66 years previously, Alex Ferguson told his players to feel the pain, to make sure they never felt the pain of defeat like it again.
Several used that pain as motivation the following season, some recalling that afternoon at Sunderland before every single game they played. It made them more determined and helped as United won the league back with a 20th league title in 2013. There has not been one since.
“No,” said the United player still reeling from a defeat to Sevilla, when asked about this derby, “we can’t lose there."
That was the spirit that United supporters want to see in Saturday’s Manchester derby, where a win for City would see them crowned champions of England.
City manager Pep Guardiola wants a response from his players after they were hammered 3-0 by Liverpool in the first leg of their Uefa Champions quarter-final tie on Wednesday. United coach Jose Mourinho knows he also needs to give fans still seething from the Sevilla defeat last month something to cheer them up.
The players, too many of whom have underperformed, owe United fans a seriously good performance against City. United’s recent derby record is dreadful, losing eight of the last 13 league games.
You have to go back 49 encounters to 1978 to find the previous eight United defeats against City. It is a huge change from the 1990s when City did not beat United once.
But what should Mourinho, who has all but a full squad and no suspensions, do? Several of his players have a point to prove, reputations to recover after too many poor showings.
Paul Pogba has the talent to be talked about as a potential player of the year along with City’s Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva or Liverpool’s Mo Salah. Sadly, Pogba has yet to fulfil it at Old Trafford with his form so disappointing that Jose Mourinho has dropped him this year.
When Pogba missed the December Manchester derby because of a suspension, it felt like it would hurt. Less so now, even though Pogba is likely to play.
He is due a stand out game in a big match, the type of performance he was so capable of at Juventus but less so at United.
Alexis Sanchez has been another disappointment since signing in January. It is early days for the Chilean at his new club and he is working hard in training. He also played well against Swansea City at home last week as United recorded an eighth Premier League win in 10 games in 2018, but he was brought to shine against Sevilla-class sides, not only against Swansea.
Sanchez has a chance to show the Manchester City fans what they are missing out on since he chose to join United over City. He, too, is due a top-class performance – if Mourinho’s set up will allow for one.
In the equivalent fixture last season, United set up to avoid defeat, just as they did away at another of their great rivals, Liverpool, this season. That was not seen as the United way by a lot of fans who want their team to attack and let the opposition do the worrying.
Liverpool’s drubbing of City this week, attacking from the whistle, will make any bus-parking by Mourinho doubly unpopular. United certainly have the quality to go at City, but have won only one of their last 10 away games against top six sides.
With a Champions League place all put assured for United and all his players rested, surely Mourinho can afford to take some risks.
Manchester City v Manchester United: Mourinho can try to win battle but war is already lost