Manchester United v Manchester City: Fear may lead to tight tussle

Manchester United's attempts to go toe-to-toe with Liverpool proved disastrous, so Kevin Hatchard believes they'll play far more conservatively against old foes Manchester City...

Ronaldo keeping the show on the road

There are people who make things happen, and people who things just happen to. People who act, and people who react. In midweek, Cristiano Ronaldo once again proved he's still in the former category, as he lashed the ball into the bottom corner to rescue a 2-2 draw at Atalanta in the Champions League.

While Manchester United toiled in Bergamo, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had the air of a nervous bank manager who had been told his branch might be shut down this year. The sad thing about that is that the Norwegian was very much a game-changer as a player, the ultimate impact sub.

Ronaldo's heroics in the Champions League - he has scored in all four games, including two winners and a last-gasp leveller - have masked the side's deficiencies against teams like Villarreal and Atalanta who are strong, but not elite. It seems unlikely that United would be able to string wins together against the very best sides in the Champions League, and the recent 5-0 hammering at home by Liverpool was a stark reminder of how much work is still to be done.

To give Solskjaer some credit, he had to smile sweetly while the powerbrokers at Old Trafford tore up his gameplan to facilitate Ronaldo's glitzy return. The possibility of the Portuguese titan joining cross-town rivals Manchester City was clearly too horrifying to allow, and it's hard to escape the notion that commercial considerations were king, as has often been the case in the Glazer era.

It's important, however, not to get carried away with the doom-mongering when regarding United. They should qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League, and they are only three points off the top four. They have several world-class talents, and a glut of young players with enormous potential.

For all that, the Red Devils are already eight points behind the leaders Chelsea, and the absence of a genuine title push this season will be unacceptable given the resources at Solskjaer's disposal.

Paul Pogba is still suspended after the injudicious lunge that got him sent off against Liverpool, Raphael Varane is injured after picking up a knock against Atalanta, and Victor Lindelof is racing to be fit.

Guardiola must solve derby puzzle

Given the general dominance of his teams, it is always eye-catching when Pep Guardiola struggles against a certain opponent. We can certainly put Manchester United in that category, as City have failed to beat them in the last four league meetings, and have lost three of those encounters. It is the Citizens' worst run of results against their old foes for a decade.

Last weekend's 2-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace left Guardiola's side five points adrift of the leaders Chelsea and two behind Liverpool, and City have dropped points in four of their first ten matches. That said, they have shown up in the big games - they were outstanding in the first half of a 2-2 draw at Liverpool, while their 1-0 success at Chelsea in one of the best team performances in recent Premier League history.

The buzz around City's failure to land a world-class centre-forward in the summer refuses to die down, but in truth their attacking process remains strong. Guardiola's side has scored 20 goals in ten PL games, and while their Infogol Expected Goals For figure of 22.6 suggests they could be a touch more clinical, they still have the ability to carve teams open with clever movement and slick passing.

Aymeric Laporte is suspended after his red card against Crystal Palace, but Ruben Dias was rested for the 4-1 midweek win over Club Brugge, and should return to partner John Stones. Kyle Walker picked up a knock in midweek, while Ferran Torres is definitely out.

City too short to excite

Manchester City are the correct favourites, but their price of 1.77 in the Match Odds market seems too short, and too heavily informed by United's humiliation at the hands of Liverpool. City's recent record against United is poor, and to give Solskjaer his due, he has had more success against Guardiola than most. His public commitment to "the United way" can be too schmaltzy, but it seems to inspire his players on derby day.

If you think United can hunker down, hoping for some Ronaldo magic, you can back them to avoid defeat at +0.5 on the Asian Handicap at 2.28. Alternatively you could back United to produce a shock win at 4.9.

Drab derby is a possibility

If we look at recent games between these sides, they haven't exactly been full of fireworks. None of the last five meetings have featured more than two goals, and none of them have seen both teams score. Solskjaer can't afford a repeat of the Liverpool debacle, so I would expect him to pack the midfield with the likes of Fred and Scott McTominay, and perhaps persist with the back three he used against Spurs.

We can back Under 2.5 Goals here at 2.5, and that seems big to me. If you want to be a little more cautious, you can use the Goal Lines market to back Under 3.0 Goals at 1.91. That way you only lose if there are at least four goals in the game, you get your stake back if there are exactly three, and get a winner if there are one or two goals.

Ronaldo to leave his imprint

Cristiano Ronaldo remains a big-game player (he is the greatest ever goalscorer in Champions League and international history), and he'll be determined to make his mark on another significant occasion.

He is a hefty 2.7 to score at any time, but I'll back him to have at least two shots on target at 2.4.

The Portuguese forward has had ten efforts on target in seven Premier League appearances, and if you look at the six games he has started in the top flight, he has made 26 goals attempts in all.

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