Carabao Cup semifinal: Three ways Manchester United can stop Manchester City
Just a week into 2021, sporting fans are in for a treat as reigning champions Manchester City visit rivals Manchester United in the Carabao Cup semifinal.
Manchester United has been impressive in the cup competition, scoring eight goals, conceding none, and enter tonight's game on the back of five wins in six across all competitions, beating Aston Villa 2-1 in their latest fixture.
On the flip side, Manchester City has had a topsy-turvy campaign so far but have found their groove by winning each of their last four games, including a 3-1 victory over Chelsea at the weekend. Pep Guardiola's men had to break a sweat to beat Bournemouth but effectively registered convincing victories over Burnley (3-0) and Arsenal (4-1) to set up a replay of last season's semifinal.
Speaking of the recent Manchester derbies, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Red Devils have won two of the last four, while conceding none in their previous three meetings. Thus, it is safe to say that Manchester United will start as favourites in the encounter.
Manchester City, the reigning champions and seven-time winners, are currently plagued with a selection dilemma as six first-team players tested positive for COVID-19. Although the squad's depth means Pep Guardiola doesn't need to panic to field a playing XI that can threaten Manchester United.
Here are the three key tactics that Manchester United must deploy against Manchester City to book a place in the final at Wembley.
Trap Kevin de Bruyne in the midfield
There is no question that Kevin de Bruyne is Cityzens' best player. The Belgian maestro can operate in the number 10 role or as a false nine, and will look to pull strings against a Manchester United defence that has often struggled against City's aggression.
De Bruyne has always been an influential playmaker on the field but has struggled to score from open play. This, in particular, means that United must restrict the Belgian within a zone where Nemanja Matic and Fred can set effective traps to lure him into shutting down City's gameplay.
Build a wall around Sergio Aguero
Manchester City have as many as six players sidelined due to testing positive for the COVID-19 virus. Thus, the onus of the attack now falls upon all-time goalscorer Sergio Aguero.
The Argentinian was match-fit when the Reds faced City in a 0-0 draw earlier in December but didn't make the squad. Despite being on the sidelines throughout the season, Aguero's inclusion in the playing XI is imminent, and he will look to add to the count of nine goals against the neighbours.
Manchester United's centre-backs have conceded 24 times in the Premier League this season, with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer failing to find a standard defensive partner for captain Harry Maguire. Considering the stakes at hand, the Red Devils must build a wall around Aguero to stop the 32-year-old from scoring.
Unleash the full potential of the Bruno-Pogba partnership
Since joining Manchester United from Sporting Lisbon last January, Bruno Fernandes has scored 19 goals and tallied 14 assists in 30 appearances in the Premier League - a figure that no midfielder ever achieved in the club's history.
Paul Pogba, on the other hand, has had a stop-start season so far, since fallen out of favour under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. However, whenever called upon, the Frenchman has been a match-winner. Pogba has registered two goals and one assist in seven meetings with Manchester City, and he will be eager to better his tally tonight.
With the Carabao Cup rules permitting five substitutions in the semifinal and finals, United can field two of the best attacking midfielders on the planet and exploit the gaps in the makeshift City defence.
Feature Image courtesy: AFP / Phil Noble