Ronald Koeman didn’t get much right at Everton this season before getting fired at the end of October, but he can at least hold his head up in one respect. One of the more bizarre aspects of Manchester City’s unbeaten start to the Premier League is the fact that Everton, one of the big disappointments this season, is the only team to take points off Pep Guardiola’s runaway leaders after a 1-1 draw at Etihad Stadium in August.
Fourteen other managers have tried _ and ultimately failed _ to devise a plan to catch out City.
Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho is the latest to have a try on Sunday and he loves nothing more than setting up a team to subdue and frustrate a big rival. And there’s no bigger rival than City and his long-time coaching foe from their years in Spain, Pep Guardiola.
Here’s a look at how former Real Madrid coach Mourinho might get the better of City, which heads into the match at Old Trafford with an eight-point lead over second-place United:
Corners and free kicks were where Guardiola’s Barcelona teams often seemed most vulnerable and it increasingly appears to be the case at City, too.
In the last three league games, City has conceded goals from corner situations against both Huddersfield (an unfortunate own goal from Nicolas Otamendi) and West Ham (Angelo Ogbonna’s header following a short-corner routine).
Ogbonna’s goal last weekend was the only goal that City has conceded to a header but it had been coming, with Leicester, Huddersfield and Southampton wasting great opportunities in the previous three matches from balls into the box.
United will have a clear height advantage on Sunday, which the likes of Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matic, Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling, in particular, will look to exploit.
Fabian Delph, a midfielder filling in at left back, has done admirably as the makeshift replacement for long-term injury absentee Benjamin Mendy since late September.
But defending still does not come naturally to him _ Delph can sometimes get in the wrong body position to face his winger _ and that position remains the weak link of City’s team.
Mourinho is likely to play Anthony Martial as United’s left winger, but will he be bold enough to play Marcus Rashford on the right? Rashford could certainly outpace Delph in a sprint and United picking two rapid wingers might make Guardiola twice about getting his full backs, Delph and Kyle Walker, to attack so much.
LUKAKU ISOLATING OTAMENDI
It would be a surprise if United didn’t choose to sit back, defend in numbers, and hit City on the break. Playing expansively plays right into City’s hands and would be very unlike Mourinho, anyway.
Key to those tactics, then, will be the positioning of lone striker Romelu Lukaku. If United beats City’s high pressing game or steals possession to launch a counterattack, Lukaku may look to isolate and get behind Nicolas Otamendi. Pace isn’t Otamendi’s strongest attribute, while the Argentina center back is prone to making rash tackles high up the field, too.
Similarly, City’s other likely center back, captain Vincent Kompany, can struggle on the turn against quick strikers. He was lucky to escape a red card for bringing down Jamie Vardy following a simple through-ball down the middle early in City’s recent win at Leicester.
Most of all, though, United might just need a little luck. City has already had its fair share this season.
Raheem Sterling has scored late winners against Bournemouth and Huddersfield via a deflected shot and a fortunate ricochet. City’s 2-0 win at Leicester might have been a different story had Kompany been sent off instead of getting booked in the second minute. Then there’s the run of four straight games, before Wednesday’s loss at Shakhtar, where City required goals in the 83rd minute or later to eke out victories.
United might just have the resilience and mental fortitude to go the whole 90 minutes against City.