BILLY BUNTER

Weblog: The football punter

Citizens unlikely to waste time in derby clash

TV details: Sky Sports Premier League & Main Event, 7.45pm Wednesday

Paul Pogba has promised an instant reaction from shame-faced United stars following their Goodison Park surrender on Sunday, though it’s more likely to be Manchester City who get off to the fast start at Old Trafford.

The overrated Pogba and his underachieving colleagues certainly owe their fans after that 4-0 hiding at Everton, an 11th straight match in which United have failed to keep a clean sheet.

But talk is cheap, and if City go about their business the way they have while compiling their current ten-game Premier League winning streak, this match should have only one outcome.

It’s almost impossible to believe Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men will be as shapeless and listless against City as they were against Everton but it’s still hard to see them derailing their neighbours’ title challenge.

Odds of 4-9 City confirm what layers and punters think although it ought to pay to back the City-City double result at 5-4 instead.

City’s 1-0 win over Tottenham on Saturday wasn’t their most convincing of efforts against decent opposition. But it was the fourth match in a row and the 23rd league match this season in which they were ahead at the break and still ahead at the final whistle.

Pep Guardiola’s men have rattled up 47 first-half goals this season, way more than any other side, and look set to again go for broke early in an endeavour to quickly break United’s resolve.

City have lost only one of their last seven league trips to Old Trafford and know that to fend off Liverpool they have to keep on winning. The Reds don’t look like losing and nor do City.

This fixture had been pinpointed a while back as a possible banana skin for the champions and Guardiola would dearly love to have gone into it with Kevin De Bruyne in his side.

But the Belgian is injured and that gives the Spaniard a decision to make in midfield. Does he go for pace and the high press and use Bernardo Silva and maybe Phil Foden in there alongside Fernandinho? Or does he leave it to the front three to weave their magic and instead bring back David Silva or Ilkay Gundogan to offer something more measured.

Foden got the nod against Spurs and impressed but there was a cavalier look to the City midfield which enabled Mauricio Pochettino’s to chalk up their share of decent chances, just as they had at the Etihad in the Champions League.

United will get chances, that seems certain, especially with the pace that Solskjaer possesses up front. Both teams to score, therefore, should appeal – except that the hosts’ strikers have become wasteful. They haven’t scored a goal from open play in more than seven hours of football.

And who Solskjaer deploys in attack is also an unknown. Indeed, who the Norwegian deploys anywhere is up for debate. Luke Shaw, back from a ban having missed the Everton humiliation, at least can’t be dropped, although every single one of his team-mates ought to fear the axe.

Teenager Mason Greenwood could come in but it’s all square pegs and round holes with Solskjaer, who doesn’t know his best team although he must have learned by now that Nemanja Matic shouldn’t be in it.

Scott McTominay, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard can expect call-ups but it means yet more tinkering, yet more indecision, and that can’t be good for a manager who has presided over six defeats in his last eight.

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Match in Focus

15:00 Sa 25May SKY

Newport Co v Tranmere

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Newport are unbeaten in 12 matches.
Expert verdict
Michael Flynn’s Newport headed into the playoffs as the fourth tier’s form side, securing seventh spot by finishing the season ten games unbeaten. Tranmere will know all too well about County’s disciplined defensive, having failed to score in both league meetings with them and, even with James Norwood leading the line, they look vulnerable.