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Will it be derby day blues for the Reds?

Will it be derby day blues for the Reds?

FOOTBALL: Tomorrow (Mar 7) sees one of the most passionate derbies in the English football calendar as Manchester United and City meet for the 185th time.

By Ben Tirebuck

Saturday 6 March 2021, 11:30AM

Key men: Kevin de Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes. Photo: AFP.

Key men: Kevin de Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes. Photo: AFP.

The Premier League encounter at the Etihad Stadium sees hosts City in fine form on the back of a 21-game winning run in all competitions, including 15-straight victories in the league. They are 14 points clear at the league summit and look odds-on to secure their seventh league title.

West Ham made them work hard for their victory last Saturday (Feb 27) when goals from central defensive pairing Ruben Diaz and John Stones afforded them a narrow 2-1 win. Manager Pep Guardiola admitted City “were not going to paint anything beautiful” but they still found a way past a well-organised and enterprising Hammers team.

They also had to dig deep against Wolves in mid-week although were still able to run out 4-1 winners thanks to three late goals.

They are a well oiled machine that knows how to grind out results and it is difficult to predict who may be able to stop them. Still active in all competitions, they could well advance to achieve a historic quadruple trophy haul.

Cross-city neighbours United sit a place behind them in the table and know any distant hopes of catching their rivals are very slim. Lose this game and they all but disappear altogether.

The Reds experienced a frustrating game last Sunday when they drew 0-0 with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, a game dominated by a controversial referee decision that denied them a stonewall penalty.

This was followed up on Wednesday evening with another goalless encounter against Crystal Palace where, once again, their struggles in front of goal were amplified.

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United’s statistics away from home are actually very impressive: they are now unbeaten in 21 league matches away from Old Trafford, a sequence that includes 13 wins. However, they have never truly showed the belief and ruthless edge of potential champions, especially against the bigger teams. Indeed, their goal-shy attack against the "big six" has yielded only one positive strike - and that was in the 1-6 reverse against Tottenham in October.

Their talisman, Bruno Fernandes, has gone off the boil of late and the lack of an authoritative centre-forward has meant points dropped in games drawn that arguably should have been won.

Uruguayan stalwart Edinson Cavani has contributed well, adding some crucial strikes, yet a spate of ongoing niggling injuries have limited his involvement. Anthony Martial often carries the look of a man just not interested and Marcus Rashford has largely been deployed from the flanks where his threat is somewhat restricted.

City, on the other hand, have played out the majority of their season without a centre-forward yet have largely flourished, relying on a roving pack of talented midfielders to force their attacking intent. When he has been used in the out-and-out striker role Gabriel Jesus has performed admirably, illustrated with his two-late goals in the Wolves win.

The fact that players of the class of Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero have now returned from injury only suggests further trouble for opposing defences, starting with United tomorrow.

Will City prolong their incredible winning streak? Will United be able to maintain their own undefeated run away from home? One would hazard a guess that something has got to give.

Even with the continued absence of fans and the vociferous, unpredictable atmosphere they often create on derby day, the inevitable outcome seems to be another three points for the City machine as they continue their relentless match to the title.

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