Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remains at the wheel, nearly two weeks on from a 5-0 defeat to Liverpool that he described as his 'darkest day' in management. Manchester United have responded with a comfortable win at Tottenham and a hard-fought point at Atalanta. But another key game comes on Saturday.
This weekend they face Manchester City, live on Sky Sports, and another heavy home defeat to a rival would be a blow Solskjaer might not recover from.
The good news for United is that Pep Guardiola holds no fear for their manager. Solskjaer has a winning record over the Spaniard, winning four and losing just three of their eight meetings. In fact, Solskjaer is the only manager to face Guardiola at least four times and have more wins than defeats.
Solskjaer's win percentage of 50 per cent against Guardiola puts him up with modern management royalty.
Best win % vs Pep Guardiola (min. 4 meetings)
|Manager||Games vs Guardiola||Wins||Win %|
|Ole Gunnar Solskjaer||8||4||50%|
How Solskjaer could defeat Pep again
Keeping Man City out will surely be the starting point for Solskjaer, who responded to the 5-0 loss to Liverpool by switching to a back three at Tottenham. It was the first time he'd gone with that system at the back in 57 league games, since beating City 2-0 in March 2020.
United have won their last three league games without conceding when they've used three at the back, facing only five shots on target.
In their two most recent Premier League games with a back four - defeats to Leicester and Liverpool - they faced 19.
Man Utd with a back three - last three PL results
|Date||Opponent||Result||Shots on target faced|
|October 2021||Tottenham||W 3-0||0|
|March 2020||Man City||W 2-0||4|
|February 2020||Chelsea||W 2-0||1|
The bad news here is that United are potentially two centre-backs short.
Raphael Varane has been ruled out for a month, while Victor Lindelof did not feature against Atalanta due to a minor knock.
Eric Bailly acquitted himself well in Italy, though, and when United beat City last March, Luke Shaw was part of that back three. So they've shown they can make the system work, regardless of the personnel.
City's struggles in attack against United
Since the start of 2020, City have scored 151 league goals, but none against their Manchester rivals. United have kept clean sheets in all three league meetings since January 2020, and in four of the five meetings in all competitions.
Man City Premier League goals since start of 2020 (vs sides which finished top 8 in last 2 seasons)
Simply put, City have struggled in recent meetings to break United down.
Solskjaer has generally let City have the ball and tried to hurt them on the counter. It's a tactic plenty of teams use, but one that Solskjaer's United have been uncommonly good at.
The more possession City have had, the more they have struggled. Since the start of 2019/20, they've lost all four derbies when recording over 60 per cent possession. They have gone unbeaten in the three games when they have had 60 per cent possession or less.
Man City's record vs Man Utd since start of 2019/20
|Over 60% possession||4||0||0||4||1|
|60% possession or under||3||2||1||0||5|
It's not hard to imagine that United will try something similar this weekend. They went toe to toe with Liverpool with disastrous consequences, then named seven defensive players in their XI and won at Tottenham.
Grealish key to City unlocking United's defence?
If Solskjaer does go with this plan and allows City to have the ball, somebody will need to open up that massed defence.
Kevin De Bruyne's form has been a concern this season: he is yet to assist a goal for City in the league. This could be Jack Grealish's moment.
Eleven of Grealish's 13 starts for City have been on the left wing. He started as part of a midfield three in the opening weekend defeat to Tottenham, and Guardiola used him unproductively as a false nine against Liverpool - Grealish recorded just 29 touches at Anfield, his fewest in any Premier League game as a starter since January 2016.
The numbers suggest Grealish is beginning to impose himself from that left wing position. In his last five starts - all Premier League and Champions League - Grealish has been creating more chances per 90 minutes.
The quality of those chances is improving, according to his expected assists record, and his trademark ball-carrying is becoming more productive.
Jack Grealish on the left wing - 11 starts (all comps)
|First 6 starts||All stats per 90||Last 5 starts|
|0.27||xA (expected assists)||0.4|
|1.2||Carries ending in chance created||3|
|27||Passes in final 3rd||33|
Grealish has two goals and three assists for City. Not a bad start, but the £100m man was Aston Villa's talisman for years and will back himself to become the same for City.
A big showing in his first Manchester derby will set him on his way - but Solskjaer has shown in his storied United career that he can keep City at bay, and that he doesn't give in easily.
Manchester derby podcast: Man Utd's injury problems at the back | Must-win for Man City? | Big match prediction
Peter Smith is joined by Sky Sports football journalists Richard Morgan and Ben Grounds to discuss the huge Saturday lunchtime showdown between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford.
PART 1 | How are the two rivals shaping up for the big clash? We weigh up how Man Utd's injury concerns in defence could affect their approach, while we ask whether Jack Grealish is living up to his big price tag and the reasons behind some inconsistent form from the defending champions. Is this match now a must-win for them with Chelsea pulling clear at the top of the Premier League?
PART 2 | Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a winning record against Pep Guardiola so what's the secret to his success in this rivalry? And how will the clash go on Saturday? We make our big match predictions!
Manchester United host Manchester City in the first Manchester derby of the season on Saturday - and you can follow all of the action live on Sky Sports.
Manchester United vs Manchester City will be broadcast live on Sky Sports Premier League from 11.30am; kick-off at 12.30pm.
Sky Sports customers can watch in-game clips in our dedicated live match blog on the Sky Sports website and app.
Free match highlights will also be published on the Sky Sports digital platforms and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel before 2.45pm on Saturday.