United no match for the City juggernauts
Second placed Manchester United make the very short trip on Sunday afternoon to the Etihad Stadium to face rivals City, full in the knowledge that even decisively ending the hosts' supremely long winning run would still leave a gap in double figures, with just 10 more to play. Pep Guardiola's charges cannot keep their form up forever, but just six victories from the remaining 11 would see the Premier League title come back to Eastlands. The previous clash in the top tier was the sort of drab affair the Red Devils have become renowned for being involved in during 2020/2021 against sides just as fancied to win as they are, but that too should be a thing of the past tomorrow. Read our preview here:
Kevin's Wonder Years
That most of the Citizens' current record-breaking streak was done without Kevin De Bruyne is testament to the level of quality Guardiola has in his squad, even without the Belgian maestro. The defence has become rock-solid without sacrificing their short passing style out from the back; Portuguese 26 year old João Cancelo, after a tricky first year in English football, has now firmly established himself both as City's full-back of choice, as well as the best in the whole league by some distance. İlkay Gündoğan has shaken off his injury woes to become a potent force in midfield, especially with his late runs into the area. Perhaps best of all, the false nine striker system has, just like it did with the Spanish national side at their peak a decade ago, made it incredibly difficult for the opposition to reliably mark whoever is operating in that role, and the last thing most sides want to do is to push their backlines up to leave gaps in behind. De Bruyne is exploiter in chief of such situations, and whether United's central duo decide to do that or not, they simply don't have the collective pace to pick up Raheem Sterling or Phil Foden once they're on their shoulders from a pinpoint pass.
The personnel in Ole Gunnar Solskjær's lineups this season hasn't changed all that much in the league, although the attacking three surrounding Bruno Fernandes have rotated reasonably often. One player who's come in from the relative cold to be more of a feature is Welsh winger Daniel James. The 23 year old is more at home on the right of the midfield trio, although he can operate on the left as well. In recent matches, he has claimed a starting berth, and was particularly impressive in the demolition of Spanish outfit Real Sociedad in the previous knockout round of the Europa League. On Sunday, he'll be up against Cancelo, who not only gets up high but also drifts inside as an auxiliary midfielder to ensure his side aren't outnumbered if the opposition break. The double pivot will be needed more than ever to hold the fort against an onslaught, and United will have to make the most of their scant periods of possession.
The new Invincibles?
A United victory against the odds would help to at the very least cement second spot, which would be a commendable improvement on their sprint finish to fourth last season, when they pipped Leicester City on the final day. There's little to suggest that City would suddenly collapse if this was achieved, but it would at least give a shot in the arm to supporters. It's more likely that Pep's men will assert their total dominance, but perhaps not without at least letting their adversaries in on one occasion. 888sport have odds of 3.15 for both teams to score and yet another win for City.