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What Man Utd must do to upset City: From sticking with Rashford over Ronaldo to shutting down De Bruyne

10:05 SAST 2022/10/01
Rashford Ronaldo De Bruyne Martinez Manchester derby GFX
Stopping Erling & Co. won't be easy but Erik ten Hag's resurgent side have the tools to hurt the Premier League champions on the break.

After a meltdown-inducing start to the season, Manchester United seemed to turn the corner under Erik ten Hag prior to the international break.

However, Sunday's derby meeting with Manchester City will provide an indication as to whether this revival is built on stone or sand.

After a spell of causing their rivals problems in recent years, United were thoroughly humbled in each of last season's fixtures, with City winning 6-1 on aggregate – and barely breaking a sweat while doing so.

While the Premier League champions have mostly replicated this kind of dominance over opponents during the 2022-23 campaign to date, largely thanks to a certain Norwegian striker, they have shown undeniable signs of vulnerability, failing to beat both Aston Villa and Newcastle.

Therefore, while most of the focus heading into this weekend's clash is typically on United, City failing to win would give their rivals hope that Pep Guardiola's seemingly inevitable march to another title can at least be obstructed.

Below, GOAL takes a look at what United need to do to stop Erling Haaland & Co. running riot at the Etihad Stadium...

  • Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal 2022

    Keep Ronaldo & Maguire on the bench

    Ten Hag proved he has cojones following United's early-season humiliations, removing captain Harry Maguire and Cristiano Ronaldo from the starting line-up.

    This proved to be a masterstroke, with Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez immediately forming a defensive partnership that has the potential to be the envy of Europe.

    In addition, Marcus Rashford – who looked lost last season – has also thrived having been allowed to move out of Ronaldo's shadow.

    The forward has managed five goal involvements in six Premier League games and would have got minutes for England during the international break had he not picked up a minor injury.

    Thankfully, it looks as though he will be available for the derby, and it is imperative that he is allowed to continue his resurgence by spearheading the United counter-attack.

    It's not like Ronaldo gave Ten Hag much to think about over the international break either, toiling badly in both of Portugal's Nations League games and looking like a pale imitation of his former, all-conquering self.

  • Marcus Rashford 2022-23 Liverpool

    Be clinical in transition

    For a long time, the key to beating Guardiola's side has been ensuring you take your opportunities on the rare occasions you manage to turn the ball over.

    Newcastle and Aston Villa have already proved that this remains the formula for upsetting the odds this season, with Miguel Almiron and Leon Bailey both finishing well in transition in their sides' draws with City.

    This should give United hope. When Ronaldo is omitted from the front three, they are able to string together effective counter-attacks with ease, thanks to the speed and skills of Rashford, Jadon Sancho and new signing Antony.

    With star of the season so far Christian Eriksen sitting behind them, always perfectly poised to set the trio free with a signature ball over the top, United have the potential to cause City genuine problems at the Etihad.

  • Bruno Fernandes Man Utd 2022-23 free kick

    Make the most of free-kicks

    Can we just shock you? City don't tend to give up many chances.

    In fact, this season they have 'conceded' just 3.99 expected goals (xG) this season, an average of just 0.57 per game, suggesting there has been a slither of misfortune in them letting in as many as six strikes so far.

    With opportunities likely to be at a premium, United would dearly love to convert their first free-kick of the season against City – as Newcastle did last month.

    It's not like they're short of options either, with Rashford, Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes all having proven a dead-ball threat in the past.

    This one might be a bit of wishful thinking, but defying the odds – and the xG – will be key if United are to get a result.

  • Antony Manchester United Arsenal 2022

    Exploit the flanks

    Squad-number purists were left fuming this summer when Joao Cancelo was handed the No.7 shirt.

    However, it is hard to argue that the left-back does not deserve a number previously worn by some of the most potent creators in football history. After racking up 10 assists last season, Cancelo already has three this time out.

    Yet, for all of his genius in the final third, the defender's positioning high up the pitch can often be exploited if his opponents think quickly.

    Antony looks in line for a start at the Etihad and United will be looking to release him as much as possible.

    The Brazilian looked a real handful on his Premier League debut and could make life difficult for Cancelo one-on-one.

  • Erling Haaland Ruben Dias Manchester City Bayern Munich 2022-23

    Hope Martinez can stand up to Haaland

    Stopping something as inevitable as Haaland is akin to trying to prevent the clock hands from turning.

    He has made anyone questioning his ability to adapt to the Premier League look extremely foolish so far, already moving into double figures in the Golden Boot race.

    So, how on Earth do United go about preventing him adding to his tally this weekend? This is the question nearly everyone is struggling to answer right now.

    The orthodox solution in the past had been to sit deep and deny Haaland the space in behind that brought him so many goals at Dortmund.

    However, as he has shown this season, even when that does happen, all he needs is half a yard off his marker to convert a De Bruyne or Joao Cancelo cross.

    Another thing United need to be prepared for is Haaland bullying Martinez. The brutish frontman has made mincemeat of much beefier defenders already this season and the Argentine will need to use his body expertly to avoid becoming his next victim.

  • Kevin De Bruyne Manchester City 2022-23

    Shut down the De Bruyne supply line

    In truth, though, if United and Martinez are to have any chance of nullifying Haaland, Ten Hag will need to figure out a way to shut down the striker's most reliable source of chances.

    That is easier said than done, of course. De Bruyne has begun the season in merciless form, already registering six assists and a goal in City's first seven Premier League games.

    What is most scary about the Belgian's recent displays has been the variety of his goal-creating passes.

    While he is still picking defences apart with incisive through-balls, the arrival of Haaland means the midfielder is now swinging deep crosses to the back post, where City's new striker is always waiting to contort himself in inhuman fashion to finish.

    There could be potential for Fred to come in and perform a man-marking job on De Bruyne, but sacrificing structure in such an extreme way against City is a massive risk – particularly as they have a never-ending list of supporting actors who can exploit this space.

    Thus, stopping De Bruyne needs to be a collective responsibility. He cannot be allowed to settle on Sunday. Otherwise, the game could be over before United have a chance to secure a foothold.