Can you imagine anything better than winning the league title in front of your own fans in a derby match? One man can. Managing the team who prevents that from happening would mean the world to Jose Mourinho.
Too bad for him Paddy doesn’t fancy his chances. City are priced at just 8/11, and the nerdy numbers suggest that’s even a little generous. However, statistics might know how a team has performed in a season, but they don’t know about the granite hard streak of spite which runs through United’s manager. He doesn’t enjoy football, so why should you?
Numbers are also unaware of rumours circulating which say Pep Guardiola is planning to rest players for this match, as his main focus is the Champions League quarter-final tie with Liverpool. After City were soundly beaten on Wednesday night, does that make it more or less likely Pep will rotate here?
That doesn’t make my task of suggesting first goal scorers any easier, but here goes. If you’re looking for someone with pedigree in big matches this season, then the man to back is Leroy Sané. Assuming Trent Alexander-Arnold lets him out of his pocket to play, that is.
Sané has scored four goals in league matches among the big six this season, which is the most by any player on either side. None of them have been opening goals though, so perhaps go for an ‘any time’ scorer bet if Leroy’s your Aladdin Sané.
One other City player to keep an eye on here may be Bernardo Silva, and especially if Pep does indeed rotate his team. Despite only making 11 league starts this season, he has been in the Citizens’ squad for every match.
More importantly for us, he has scored the opening goal in City’s last two league games with other members of the big six. Well, the league table is more of a moderately sized five below City’s one, I suppose. But Bernado is 16/5 to score, or 8/1 to break the deadlock, so if he plays he’s definitely worth considering.
For the United end of the scorer market, it’s really tough to know who to select. Not because they don’t have players who have scored in big matches this season, but because they so rarely attack in this fixture.
In their last three visits to the Etihad, the Red Devils have scored one goal but picked up two red cards. United only had three shots in this match last season, and just five the year before. What’s even more remarkable is they won that match in March 2016, thanks to a goal from Marcus Rashford.
The England international recently netted twice against Liverpool, and also in the reverse of this fixture in December, so he might be worth a look in the scorer markets. Rashford is priced at 15/2 to bag the opening goal, or 11/4 to score at some point.
Despite this feast of potential scorers, I’m not convinced both teams will score, even though Paddy’s odds of 8/11 for that to happen are shorter than their odds of 11/10 that at least one side draws a blank.
Mourinho will get his dream scenario with a clean sheet, and City get theirs from as little as a 1-0 win. Both teams scoring has happened in just two of United’s trips to fellow top six sides since Jose took charge, and it occurs infrequently in their away games under him full stop.
Despite the Etihad being the Premier League ground which has seen the most games where both teams score in recent times, I’ll be backing ‘no’ at 11/10. Everyone bar the millions of neutrals will be satisfied with a low scoring match, it’s just a question of which way it goes.
Assuming there is to be a goal, the form book certainly suggests it’ll be City who get the opener. They’ve scored first in seven of their nine league or European matches with the top six in 2017/18, with their visits to Anfield the only exceptions.
United’s only opening goal on the road in a big game this season was at Arsenal (if you can still call them big), and their other three away days have seen them either concede first or bore Liverpool to a 0-0 draw. City to score first is a skinny 8/15, and with good reason, but it still looks a good betting choice here.
One person who may have an influence upon the outcome will be the referee, Martin Atkinson. He sent off Marouane Fellaini in this fixture last April, though it wasn’t the ref’s fault the Belgian was an idiot twice in a minute.
Interestingly, Atkinson has taken charge of four Manchester derbies, with United winning three and drawing the other. I’m not suggesting there’s anything untoward here of course, as the PGMOL claim 99.2% of referees’ decisions are correct. Never you mind that, even Kim Jong-un doesn’t claim to be right that often, there’s nothing to see here.
Atkinson’s main influence may be through his disciplinary stranglehold on the match, as he’s the only regular top flight ref who is ranked in the top three for both issuing yellow and red cards.
Everyone’s favourite centre of attention Mike Dean is the only ref to average more points than Atkinson, and with so much on the line on Saturday you should bear the cards market in mind when selecting your bets.
My overall prediction for the match is City to win to nil. If you like the sound of that, it’s available at 21/10. I’m an optimist, and they undoubtedly deserve to clinch the title in style. I just have to hope the good will out when football fun meets it’s pessimistic cousin from across town.