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Monday April 15, 2024

Pressure on Manchester City in derby vs United

City’s Erling Haaland continues to lead the Premier League with 17 goals

By REUTERS
March 03, 2024
Manchester City’s Erling Braut Haaland celebrating with teammates. — AFP/File
Manchester City’s Erling Braut Haaland celebrating with teammates. — AFP/File

MANCHESTER: Manchester City begin a defining stretch of their bid to become the first-ever team to win four consecutive English league titles when they host their latest derby against Manchester United on Sunday.

Second-place City (18-3-5, 59 points) have been oddsmakers’ favorites to win the league throughout the campaign, despite strong challenges from leaders Liverpool and third-place Arsenal. City are now eyeing a run of fixtures that could make or break that aim.

After Leg 2 of their UEFA Champions League round-of-16 series against FC Copenhagen next Wednesday, City will visit Liverpool the following Sunday and host Arsenal on March 31. The surrounding games also pose difficulties -- in total City are looking at four consecutive league fixtures against teams currently in the top half of the table, plus an FA Cup quarterfinal meeting with Newcastle United.

With City having won five of the past six Manchester derbies in all competitions, it could almost be tempting to look past the sixth-place Red Devils (14-10-2, 44 points). But City manager Pep Guardiola insisted United have been as good as any Premier League team since January.

“They went to Luton and beat them, Wolves and beat them, Aston Villa to go and win a few weeks ago. They have the biggest quality,” Guardiola said. “In 2024 they lost just one game, the consistency is there.”

Guardiola is factually correct. Qualitatively, though, United have been bailed out on several occasions by late goals that followed relatively poor performances for most of 90 minutes.

That trend continued in United’s 1-0 win at Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup fifth round on Wednesday night, decided by Casemiro’s 89th-minute tally.

And led by seven league goals each from Rasmus Hojlund and Scott McTominay, the Red Devils can’t claim to match City’s attacking weapons -- particularly since Hojlund will miss Sunday’s game due to a muscular injury.

City’s Erling Haaland continues to lead the Premier League with 17 goals, and he poured in five against Luton in City’s 6-2 FA Cup fifth-round win on Tuesday. Belgian playmaker Kevin De Bruyne has had goal involvements in all but one of his past five starts in all competitions, including four assists in the Luton victory.

While ceding the advantage in quality, United boss Erik ten Hag believes his team’s recent habit of winning gives his side a better chance on Sunday.

“We are also in a good run,” he said. “We are in togetherness and make a good game plan. We have done (well) before against City and also lately against Liverpool, so we will prepare well. The players are ready for it and looking forward to it. I can smell it.”