John Giles: Man City's winning run has thrown up a red flag that should worry Pep Guardiola
JOSE Mourinho is certain of only one thing in the run up to Sunday’s big Manchester derby.
He has to win this game.
With Pep Guardiola and his team in such brilliant form, Mourinho knows that a six-pointer like this could make the difference between a real tilt at the title or a long run in to the end of the season watching Manchester City in cruise mode.
It’s an intriguing fixture which will test both managers and a game which may well answer the one outstanding question about City.
They score for fun and have trampled on all-comers so far but I still have doubts in my mind about how this team defends and I think this Manchester United team has the firepower to trouble them.
Since the start of the season, Guardiola has chopped and changed at the back but the absence of consistency of selection has not impacted on the goals conceded column in the league table.
City have let in just ten goals but I’m minded to put that down to the irresistible form the team has shown going forward as much as any huge improvement at the back since last season when they were very flaky. As an example, there was some very poor defending on show against Liverpool in early September before City cut loose and hammered in five without reply.
Guardiola was understandably buoyant when his team won in injury time after they conceded soft goals to Huddersfield and West Ham in recent weeks.
As I’ve said, this was proof for him that his players are on the same page as he is and that was certainly reason for him to be very satisfied with progress.
But the fact that City got themselves into such trouble against much weaker sides threw up a red flag for me.
I’m not convinced by either Nicolas Otamendi or Vincent Kompany. John Stones is out until Christmas week and if there is one coach capable of exposing weakness in a poor defence, it’s Mourinho.
I certainly don’t expect any ‘bus parking’. Mourinho knows he must try for the win and while he is aware that he is facing the most dangerous attacking team his players will have to deal with all season, he has to take them on and hope that my reservations about Guardiola’s defence prove accurate.
Defence was a big problem for Mourinho in his first season at Old Trafford but he is on top of that now and United have the best record at the back of any team in the Premier League, one less conceded than their rivals.
Mourinho will also take comfort from the fact that United have been particularly mean at home. They’ve played and won seven league games at Old Trafford this season and conceded just one goal.
He will also be encouraged by the fact that he has the best goalkeeper in the Premier League and arguably the world between the sticks. David de Gea has played a big part in making United the hardest team to score against in the top division in England.
As is usually the case, this game will be decided in midfield and it would be a big blow to City if David Silva is not fit. He is the heartbeat of the team.
United will be without Paul Pogba and while much has been made of this, I don’t see it as a major setback for Mourinho.
Nemanja Matic is the man to watch and Juan Mata will create more than Pogba if Mourinho chooses guile over brawn in the form of Marouane Fellaini.
I’m sure Mourinho will be tempted by Fellaini, mainly because of his aerial power and his usefulness in set-pieces which could be United’s best route to goal.
Mourinho has made definite progress this season and I would judge United to be in a better place now than they have been at any time since Alex Ferguson retired.
To take the next step, a win in this game is absolutely crucial and I’ve had a feeling all week that Mourinho might just get what he and all the other title hopefuls want.