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Wednesday, 23 January, 2019

Manchester derby may be a close encounter

City could miss out on Premier League record

Tactical masterminds Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola do battle in the Manchester derby
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Sky Sports Premier League, 4.30pm Sunday

Manchester United have won all seven of their Premier League home games and Manchester City have won all seven of their top-flight away matches so something will have to give when England's top two meet in a match which is about so much more than local rivalry.

Paddy Power have already paid out on a City title success and should they move 11 points clear of the pack there would surely be no catching Pep Guardiola's side, although if United snatch the win a five-point gap would suddenly give Jose Mourinho's men a fighting chance.

The sub-plot of Mourinho versus Guardiola, two of the very best managers around who go about their business in very different styles, has brought another dimension to the Manchester derby, a fixture that could reach boiling point despite the freezing temperatures.

These are two high-class managers with high-calibre players and it could be worth backing home advantage to aid United's cause by denying City a record-breaking 14th straight Premier League win.

United are unbeaten in 40 matches at Old Trafford, although the caveat to that is City were the last side to triumph at the venue and are clearly the best side in this season's top flight.

However, even the best teams don't win all the time and City could be about to drop points for only the second time in this campaign.

Guardiola's side have it right going forward with Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling providing the width, pass masters Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva continually probing from midfield and either Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus gobbling up the opportunities.

However, the injury to John Stones has coincided with a defensive slump which has seen City keep just two clean sheets in nine and if doubtful replacement Vincent Kompany is unavailable it will be a massive blow for the leaders.

Back-up Eliaquim Mangala is not up to scratch, although even the fragile Kompany would be tested by the qualities of United's Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial.

Paul Pogba's suspension is far from ideal for United but at least it will enable Mourinho to bring in a more defensive type of midfielder as for all the Frenchman's excellent qualities on the ball he can be a liability off the ball as was shown at Arsenal last week.

David de Gea's fabulous goalkeeping exhibition saved United against the Gunners and they will need to be more switched on to deny City anywhere near as many sights on the Spaniard's goal.

From a counter-attacking point of view, though, United got it spot on at the Emirates and they are likely to adopt a similar approach which can see them avoid defeat at the very least.

Manchester United +0.25 Asian handicap
1pt Evs Paddy Power

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Premier League standings

Team news
Manchester United
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Nemanja Matic and Phil Jones return but Marouane Fellaini remains doubtful. Injured pair Michael Carrick and Eric Bailly join the suspended Paul Pogba on the sidelines.

Manchester City
John Stones and Benjamin Mendy are out, while there are doubts over Vincent Kompany and Fabian Delph. David Silva returns.

Key stat
Manchester United have conceded once at home in seven Premier League games this season.

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The injury to John Stones has coincided with a defensive slump which has seen City keep just two clean sheets in nine
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