This Sunday, the "Noisy Neighbors" roll into Old Trafford. At present, Pep's side look like the best English team in a generation, and as United will be without their talisman is the match over before it has begun?
When Sir Alex Ferguson dubbed a newly minted Manchester City side "the noisy neighbors" back in 2009, even he couldn't have expected the success that they have enjoyed since: 2 league titles and marching towards a 3rd, 1 FA Cup, 1 League Cup, routine Champions League appearances, world class players, phenomenal youth facilities, a burgeoning empire with teams on three continents (and not to mention arguably the best women's team in the land as well). Unfortunately for United, and for the rest of the league, City are well set up to dominate for decades to come.
And what of United? With each passing year, it feels less about the football, and more about the official noodle partnerships. Sure, their millions of fans around the globe aren't going anywhere anytime soon, but it has been a rough time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. His buccaneering football, and last gasp winners drew in fans over his 26 year tenure, but with each passing season, and each last minute goal in "Pep time", the pendulum of power seems to be swinging very much towards the blue side of Manchester.
All of that narrative provides a very interesting back drop to this Sunday's affair. City blooming, United despite a wonderful victory at the Emirates last time out, have looked constipated and ponderous without Pogba. So what can Jose do to stop them?
1) Don't park the bus.
For starters, this United team isn't actually that good at it. Against Liverpool and Arsenal, United conceded chances when they sat back, and if it wasn't for wayward finishing and the brilliance of David De Gea, both of those games would have finished differently. If United allow City to come on to them, and in particular if they allow De Bruyne time on the ball to work his magic, City will rip them to shreds. City are a well organized, clinical outfit who get the job done, they will not squander multiple opportunities presented to them, and so this is not a game Jose should expect to soak up pressure, and grab a goal against the run of play. Be bold. Be brave. Get the ball to Martial as often as possible, and hope Lukaku has his (brandless) shooting boots on, and maybe this could become an unlikely win.
2) Exploit City's left back weakness.
Overall, Fabian Delph has done admirably at left back since he has come into the side, but Southampton's Sofiane Boufal exposed him terribly for their goal last weekend, and so United should be doing the majority of their attacking down the City left. Fortunately for Pep, United are blessed with an array of left sided attacking talent (both Martial and Rashford would have Delph on toast) but their right sided options who Delph will be up against have flattered to deceive. Lingard could be a good option there, but his energy will be missed in the middle of the park especially as United will be without Pogba. Will Jose have the courage to try Martial or Rashford wide right in such a huge game? Maybe not. But I don't see what Mata (despite his wonderful touch and calmness on the ball) offers United in a game such as this.
3) Stop Kevin De Bruyne.
Last season against Chelsea at Old Trafford, Ander Herrera was sent out with one task and one task only: don't let Eden Hazard have a kick. He was outstanding that day, and even though he has been in and out of the side this season, Mourinho would be wise to bring him back into the team for this game and have him follow De Bruyne around the pitch like a yappy little puppy scurrying around his legs. That is not to say that City don't have plenty of other players capable of hurting Untied, but KDB has been at the heart of everything City have done well this season. Rustling his feathers will be key to any United success.
For the neutral, it is a real shame that Pogba is missing for this one. With him in the side, and at home, Jose would maybe be a little more adventurous with his team selection and tactics. Without him, it's a little hard to predict how Jose will set up. He certainly can't afford to lose, and he really can't afford to draw either, so will that perhaps lull him out of his defensive tendencies? City have stuttered without stumbling in the last few games (not counting the dead rubber Champions League tie they lost in midweek with a mostly reserve team out on the pitch). Could it be just the right time to play them? A draw seems most likely, but if United go for it, with Old Trafford bellowing behind them, they might be the first team since August to take points off of the sparkling Blues.