Five Questions for the Manchester City-Manchester United derby
Ahead of the weekend's Manchester Derby, Nick Miller checks in with five questions for this highly anticipated Premier League showdown between Jose Mourinho's United and Pep Guardiola's City.
1. Will we see any of the old Guardiola-Mourinho animosity?
They used to get on quite well, these two. From when they both were at Barcelona -- Pep Guardiola as a player, Jose Mourinho as a translator then coach -- they were friends, and Manchester United's new manager has described their relationship back then as "close." That obviously changed when they were managers of Barca and Real Madrid, two men taking on the personalities and rivalries of their respective clubs, whose rows spread from touchline to news conference and beyond. In the end, their animosity was undoubtedly a factor in Guardiola's burnout and departure from Cataluyna.
So will that spill over into their first meeting in the Premier League? Relations have seemingly been quite cordial so far, and Mourinho even managed to leave Guardiola off his list of targets to have a brief jab at in his introductory news conference. Maybe it's too soon for the old rivalry to manifest itself, and it will take an incident, a comment or a perceived injustice to spark it again. For now, maybe it's best just to concentrate on the football.
2. Who will City replace Aguero with?
Sergio Aguero found out the hard way that, these days, there isn't much you can get away with on a football pitch. The cameras see all, and in this case they spotted him laying an elbow on Winston Reid, earning him a three match ban and Guardiola with a bit of a quandary. Who shall play up front in his place? There are two obvious options: Guardiola could either go with what is as close to a like-for-like swap as is available to him, bringing in Kelechi Iheanacho, or he could choose from a number of "false nine" possibles. Nolito, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling are the stand-out candidates for the second option, but Guardiola might be loath to move the latter two from positions they have already excelled in this season.
The "false nine" seems the most likely choice, but when Aguero was rested for the second leg of their Champions League qualifier against Steaua Bucharest, he opted for Iheanacho. "He is always ready," Guardiola said of the young forward. "We will need him. Sergio can't play all season and Keli is going to play." Playing in what was essentially a meaningless match is one thing, but it will be interesting to see if Guardiola trusts him in a game as big as this.
3. Can Mourinho afford to ignore Rashford?
Even before Marcus Rashford sauntered off with the match ball, having helped himself to a hat trick for England's under-21s on Tuesday, the case for him starting more for Manchester United was strong. Rashford's goal against Hull in United's last game may well have been a tap-in, but it was his vigour and relentlessness that really made an impression, providing more danger in 19 minutes than many of the United players managed in 90. When there are still question marks over the City defence, can Mourinho afford to ignore him? And if the answer is no, who would he play instead of?
There's little chance of Zlatan Ibrahimovic being left out of a game this size, while Wayne Rooney seems to still be the apple of any manager's eye, regardless of how he actually plays. Thus, oddly enough, the most likely candidate to be omitted is Anthony Martial, who has looked slightly subdued in the opening weeks of the season. Rashford has already shown that he can provide a threat from the left flank. Mourinho's record with young players is constantly queried, but the only way Rashford plays like a kid is through the energy in his legs. The pressure on Mourinho to start him is strong.
4. Who will City play in defence?
The top end of Guardiola's team looks fine, a buzzing collection of busy and absurdly skillful attackers providing just as much threat as we thought they would. The defence is more questionable, and might provide the biggest head-scratcher. Nicolas Otamendi has started the last two games alongside John Stones, but he might be in no fit state to take part after appearing for Argentina in Venezuela on Tuesday. Ideally, Vincent Kompany would be back to reassure everyone, but his fitness is, as always these days, in doubt. Aleksandar Kolarov has played in the middle, and Guardiola talked up the possibility of Fernandinho filling the role a few weeks ago. In short, any option looks risky, and when the "defensively incomplete" Stones is the safest option available to City, it's no wonder they could be worried.
5. Will Mourinho adapt his tactics to counter City?
So far, Jose Mourinho has deployed a fairly conventional 4-2-3-1 system with a deep-lying midfielder alongside Paul Pogba, behind the attacking trio. However, with the greatest respect to Southampton, Bournemouth and Hull, this is a different matter entirely, with the added problem of a dangerous City attacking line featuring De Bruyne, Sterling, David Silva and possibly for the first time, Leroy Sane. Could Mourinho change things and switch to a 4-3-3 system, bringing in an extra midfielder to counter City's attackers? That could be the most sensible option, but would require dropping a forward, with one of Juan Mata, Rooney, Martial or Rashford missing out. The arch pragmatist, you can be sure Mourinho will have a plan.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.