Manchester City have not beaten Manchester United at home for over three years. Under Pep Guardiola, they have only secured derby bragging rights at the Etihad once in six meetings.
On Sunday, that trend must change if Guardiola wants to guide City to another Premier League title, with previous title challenges slightly derailed by defeats against their biggest rivals.
City know they are far superior to United in recent years – the league tables and contrasting trophy cabinets will illustrate that – but when it comes to head-to-head meetings, Guardiola appears to have a blind spot when it comes to derby day.
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In all clashes, Guardiola has seven wins from 15 derbies, but six of those have come at Old Trafford in nine visits. It’s a strange quirk that the away side fares better in the last few years of this great rivalry, and one that will bother a perfectionist in Guardiola.
Confusingly, the form often seems to go out of the window, too, with City not even able to rely on a decent recent run compared to United’s faltering form under Ralf Rangnick.
City were dominant and ruthless at Old Trafford earlier this season, but were shocked last season as they fell to a 2-0 Etihad defeat to end their 21-game winning run and temporarily slow their procession to the title. The season before, two home derbies resulted in two defeats, with a 2-1 reverse in the league to leave City 14 points behind Liverpool, effectively ending their title hopes in December, while a 0-1 loss in the Carabao Cup semi-final The second leg was disappointing but the Blues still reached the final after a victorious first leg.
In 2018/19, City secured their only home derby win under Guardiola, producing some spectacular football in a 3-1 win featuring a 44-pass move for Ilkay Gundogan’s goal. Jose Mourinho’s excuse was that City went into the game with two easy fixtures, compared to three tricky trips away for his United side.
He said: “It’s a heavy result for the effort of a team that had three away matches in the same week, with a super difficult match of a high, demanding level in Juventus against a team that had two friendly matches at home against Southampton and Shakhtar.”
City fans will want to forget the 2017/18 home derby, when a 2-0 lead looked set to hand City the title against their Manchester rivals, but a second-half collapse gave United a 3-2 win and kept the champagne on ice . The year before, another forgettable clash, but in different circumstances, saw a dull 0-0 draw only livened up by a late Marouane Fellaini headbutt on Sergio Aguero.
These derbies show us that regardless of form, City have struggled to impose themselves on United, who have arrived at the Etihad in various states of disarray in the last six seasons. Only in that 2018 win have City successfully dominated United on home soil, so Guardiola will be keen to learn from last season’s behind-closed-doors defeat and the 2018/19 double home defeat.
With the defeat to Tottenham last time out at the Etihad still fresh in the memory, and Liverpool praying on any further slip-up from the leaders, City cannot afford another derby defeat.
Guardiola must work out why his side drop their level when United venture across time, and implement an effective solution in time for Sunday. City know they are better than Rangnick’s side, and they showed it against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in November. United’s players are the same, and so are City’s, so this game will be won or lost in the collective mind of Guardiola’s men.
It could be the most important derby Guardiola has ever prepared for, and he knows there is no room for error that he has benefitted from in past home slip-ups.
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