With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s position as Manchester United boss still under intense scrutiny and Chelsea piling the pressure on in the Premier League title race, the 186th Manchester derby at Old Trafford will have far more riding on it than just local pride.
The game itself is framed by United’s horrendous 5-0 home defeat by Liverpool a fortnight ago, which has generated so much uncertainty around Saturday’s hosts.
Another loss against a major rival so soon afterwards will be difficult for United – and Solskjaer – to swallow. But defeat is not without its consequences for City either given their early-season form.
In three meetings last season, both sides won a game each – away from home – with another drawn. United have triumphed in four of the last seven in all competitions, while Pep Guardiola has five victories from his eight derbies at Old Trafford as City boss.
But can Solskjaer survive another loss – and how critical would a third defeat of the season be for the visitors’ title hopes?
Has Solskjaer ridden the wave of pressure?
The problem for United is the sheer scale of that defeat by Liverpool means nothing can be taken for granted.
United sources may stress everything is calm and the club remain behind the Norwegian. But if Guardiola’s side were to inflict similar-sized punishment, it is impossible to imagine Solskjaer being able to survive, especially given even some of those who have backed the former striker in the face of huge criticism, now feel his tenure needs to end.
United have also put themselves into a situation where any negative result is likely to trigger an overreaction.
For instance, Tuesday’s Champions League draw with Atalanta brought a deluge of negative social media comment and external media inquests. Yet the Italian side beat Liverpool last season and drew with Manchester City the year before.
In a different context, United’s draw would have been viewed as a positive and the late Cristiano Ronaldo equaliser a commendable sign of their refusal to be beaten when they had not played well.
Instead, there is more focus on an apparent lack of a game plan and more comparisons with the systems employed by coaches at other clubs.