One only needs to glance at the Premiership table to get a flavour of the differing fortunes afflicting both halves of Manchester at the moment. Having lost two games and drawn one so far this season, it hasn’t been all plain sailing for City – but they’re still sitting pretty in second place and have hammered in more goals than any other team this season. United, by contrast, are languishing in a 12th place that flatters them, being merely two points off the drop zone.
Last month saw both teams enter the Carabao Cup for the first time this year, and a similar story was told by their results. United were drawn at home to Rochdale, while City faced an away tie at Preston, as highlighted in Sportsbet.io’s preview of the third-round schedule of the 2019-20 EFL Cup. While both teams find themselves in the hat for the next round, one ran out as comfortable winners, while the other scraped through after a tense penalty shoot-out. No prizes for guessing which one was which.
City cruising, United stuttering
As many would have predicted, City eased into the fourth round with a routine 3-0 win at Deepdale. Despite making nine changes from their 8-0 pasting of Watford three days previous (with Bernardo and David Silva the only survivors), City were still able to field an incredibly strong line-up featuring the likes of Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus, both of whom scored in the first half. An own goal by Ryan Ledson just before half-time completed the rout for the current Premier League champions.
Meanwhile over at Old Trafford, United hosted lowly Rochdale, who were flirting with relegation and had only won three of their ten games so far this season (and two of those were the cup ties which allowed them to meet United in the first place). Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also made nine changes from the team that lost to West Ham at the weekend, but the calibre of both the survivors and the replacements was far inferior to the squad at Pep Guardiola’s disposal.
This flimsy strength in depth, made worse by the general atmosphere of doom and gloom surrounding Old Trafford at the moment, meant United needed 17-year-old Mason Greenwood to spare their blushes and take the tie to penalties. Although they eventually triumphed 5-3 in the shootout, the victory was anything but convincing. The standing ovation afforded to the Rochdale players by the 5,500 away supporters, alongside the sheepish exit from the pitch by those in red, meant that an uninformed observer could be forgiven for thinking the result was the other way around.
What next for Pep and Ole?
Ole’s woes were compounded by the fact that his team were handed an unappetising away trip to Stamford Bridge to face Frank Lampard’s free-scoring Chelsea in the next round. Solskjaer might take some heart from the fact that while Chelsea have netted 18 times this season, they’ve conceded almost as many (14) – and the opening day Premier League drubbing of their old rivals may still be fresh in United minds. Given recent form, however, the smart money might not back Solskjaer’s men to repeat the feat.
Guardiola, on the other hand, was also awarded an all-Premier-League tie at home to Southampton, who have enough worries of their own. On a run of three league defeats, the Saints are haemorrhaging goals in the Premiership (only the bottom two in the division have conceded more) and City’s blistering attacking options will be licking their lips at the prospect of adding to that disastrous defensive record. For those reasons, City’s name will surely find its way into the fifth-round hat – but their cross-city rivals might well find themselves dumped out at the next hurdle.