Pep Guardiola has hit a sticky patch when it comes to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United.
Guardiola’s Manchester City side have failed to score in their last three meetings with United, winning one of his last five clashes with Solskjaer. That sole win since the start of last season came in the first leg of last season’s Carabao Cup semi-final, so as Guardiola prepares to face United in the last four of this year’s competition, he could do worse than re-watching that 3-1 victory almost one year ago.
Interestingly, Guardiola went into the first leg at Old Trafford with no recognised striker in his starting XI, with Bernardo Silva playing as a false nine and it was the Portuguese man’s fine opener that set City on their way to a blistering first half performance that effectively sealed City’s place in the final.
There are more than a few similarities between that 3-1 win at Old Trafford, and Sunday’s 3-1 win at Chelsea. No striker, a superb first half blitz to take control of the fixture, and a solid second half game management to record a solid away win.
The United game also saw striker Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero on the bench – with the same scenario a possibility this week. Aguero was all smiles in training on Monday after a short cameo at Chelsea continued his road to recovery. With Gabriel Jesus potentially available after his initial ten day isolation period came to an end, both forwards could be fit enough to be one of five permitted substitutes.
From the start, though, Guardiola will be hoping for a similar impact from his attacking midfielders as Bernardo had last year in this fixture. Bernardo is suspended for Wednesday’s clash, but City have had success with Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling playing through the middle this season.
Manchester City shrugged off the difficulties caused by a Covid-19 outbreak to sweep aside Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
First-half goals from Ilkay Gundogan, Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne effectively ended the match before the break with the home side only able to score a consolation in injury time.
It puts the Blues in good heart ahead of the Carabao Cup semi-final against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
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Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan have also been namechecked by Guardiola as options through the middle, and the boss will be aware of the irony that City’s best attacking performance against United in 18 months came without any strikers on the pitch.
This year, Guardiola is in a good position that the false nine worked to perfection at Chelsea, giving the whole squad a confidence boost going to Old Trafford. With an increasingly-fit Aguero and potentially Jesus available too, City have options to change their offensive threat if needed.
Add that enticing factor with United’s improved form and the fact that this game must be won on the night, and fans will hope that this derby is set up to be a far better watch than the awful stalemate last month. After seeing City’s best showing with a false nine since their last Carabao Cup visit to Old Trafford, Blues supporters can be cautiously optimistic that the recent blips against United can be rectified.