Comment and Analysis @ghostgoal
Manchester derby highlights City and United's contrasting fortunes
Last Updated: 07/04/18 7:06pm
Only one place separates Manchester City and Manchester United in the Premier League table but they are having very different seasons under very different managers...
First versus second with the title on the line for the home team against their biggest rivals. It does not get much bigger. And yet, something is missing. That is because the gap between the two Manchester clubs stands at 16 points with seven games to play. Manchester City are set to become the earliest ever winners of the Premier League title.
Derby Day 2/Title shot
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It has been a season of contrasting fortunes for the top two despite there being little to separate them in the betting at the outset. It is not just that Pep Guardiola has got the better of his old foe Jose Mourinho but, as has been the case for much of their careers, while they share a storied history of success, the two do it all so differently.
City are top for possession and passing accuracy. United rank sixth for both. City have the most shots of any team in the Premier League, while conceding the fewest too. United are sixth for each of those things as well - once again, behind the rest of their rivals at the top end of the table. In other words, of the league's big six teams, United are the least like City.
It is what makes it so fascinating when Mourinho discusses City's spending. The implication is that if he had such resources his team would be the one topping the table. Mourinho's admirers will look to the eight league titles that he has picked up in four different countries and maintain that past evidence suggests that the Portuguese has a point.
However, what that evidence also tells us is that he would have won it differently. If the two clubs were to swap managers, those same players in the hands of Mourinho would look different. It would all feel different. Even if they still racked up a record points total, they would surely not have racked up a record pass total in the process.
On the other hand, these same players would not have been thrashed by Liverpool either. Just as Guardiola has been the mastermind behind his team's success, he can also be the architect of their downfall. The desire to pick a way through the Anfield minefield is fraught with danger. Mourinho would have avoided that option. Mourinho did avoid that option.
The United boss was pilloried for his team's stalemate at the same venue back in October. Mourinho's men nevertheless did what none of their rivals have done this season and stopped Liverpool scoring in front of their own fans. They won the recent meeting at Old Trafford too. Defend deep. Turn the defence. That is how to frustrate Liverpool.
That focus on frustration is likely to be the ploy on Saturday too as United set about stifling City. Guardiola's side cannot be outpassed. Perhaps not outplayed. But they can be outscored. It is too late to take the season but Mourinho could yet take the day.
Whatever happens, expect contrasts as the rivalry continues…