Man Utd v Man City: 'Derby is right game at the wrong time for City'

Robbie Savage
Manchester United v Manchester City
Date: Sunday, 12 April Kick-off: 16:00 BST
Coverage: Live build-up and commentary on BBC Radio 5 live from 15:00 BST and live text commentary online

In his regular BBC Sport column, Robbie Savage looks at this weekend's Manchester derby and why it will not help Manchester City solve many of their problems as they try to rediscover their best form.

Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany is wrong when he says Sunday is a good time for his side to be facing local rivals Manchester United.

Yes, the derby is a chance for City to give themselves a much-needed lift by putting in a big performance in a massive match that would make a statement about how they still can finish a disappointing season on a high.

They also have a fantastic recent record at Old Trafford, where they have won on their last three visits, and it should be an open game, too.

That will be a welcome change for City to the ranks of massed defence they have faced on so many occasions home and away in the Premier League this season.

But the bad news is they are playing United about four weeks too late.

Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany was left dejected by City's defeat by Crystal Palace
Palace pain: City head for Old Trafford on the back of four successive away defeats

Louis van Gaal's side are flying after beating Tottenham and Liverpool and finally putting in some stylish attacking performances.

And while United's players are in form and full of confidence, City's squad appears to be the complete opposite.

Those factors do not go out of the window just because they are playing their local rivals.

Possession is not helping City in attack

One thing that will be different for City is that United will probably be set up to attack them, rather than focusing on keeping them out.

When teams tried to shut up shop against City last season, breaking them down was not a problem for Manuel Pellegrini's side. It has been far more of an issue this time.

Even the big sides, like Arsenal and Chelsea, have used the tactic successfully: defend deep and in numbers, let City have the ball, frustrate them and then hit them on the break.

Francis Coquelin operated between two banks of four players in Arsenal's midfield and defence against City
Keep it tight: Arsenal used a disciplined 4-1-4-1 shape when they beat City at Etihad Stadium in January, with Francis Coquelin operating between two banks of four players in their midfield and defence

City have had more possession than any other team in the top flight and have also played the most passes with the greatest accuracy, but none of that has done them much good - especially as they are a team built to attack at pace.

Along with Chelsea, City are still joint-top scorers in the Premier League with 63 goals from their 31 games but at the same stage a year ago they had found the net 84 times.

In all competitions last season, they had hit 138 goals in 50 matches by 5 April 2014, at a rate of 2.76 per match.

That has dropped to 82 in 44 games by the same date this year, roughly one goal less in every game, and not scoring as many goals has magnified City's problems at the back.

Man City in the Premier League (rank)
Stats: Opta
Average possession57.9% (2)61.4% (1)
Average passes per game546.5 (3)604 (1)
Passing accuracy86% (1)85.2% (1)

It is not long since United were also struggling to turn their possession into penetration, but their last few games have been a different story.

United's wins against Tottenham and Liverpool saw them take the game to the opposition and look to play in the other team's half.

If they try to go on the front foot on Sunday, it will leave City with space to attack into and, possibly, the chance to play at the same tempo they did at times last season, when they blew some teams away.

But even then, it will not be easy for Pellegrini's side.

What has happened to City's defensive rock?

Manchester City defenders Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis
Partners in crime? Kompany and Demichelis have not teamed up at the back with the same success as they had last season

Without the ball, United press with a much greater intensity than City. With it, they will cause them plenty of problems. Those are the two reasons I think United will win on Sunday.

A lot was made of United's defensive uncertainty earlier in the season when Van Gaal was changing formations and personnel on a weekly basis.

City's backline has seen plenty of chopping and changing too, however, and you could argue that United's looks the stronger unit going into the derby.

Statistically, City's defence is no worse than when they won the title last season - they have conceded 30 goals in 31 league games compared to 37 in 38. That does not tell the full story, though.

The partnership of Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis was the backbone of that success - City lost only one out of the 20 games they played together, and they picked up 2.45 points per game.

This season, that pairing has been far less reliable and has sometimes been split up by choice rather than because of injury or suspension.

Man City with/without Demichelis and Kompany
Premier League 2014-15With D&KWithout D&K
Stats: Opta (for games where they have both started at centre-back)
Points per game1.82.1

City have not been much better at the back when £32m summer signing Eliaquim Mangala has come into the side.

The full-backs on both sides have also been changed constantly and the end result is that I am not sure what City's best back four is any more.

I don't think Pellegrini does either - he has tried 12 different starting combinations in the Premier League alone, and in all competitions has only stuck with the same back four in consecutive games on three occasions all season.

City have not just given up

A lot has gone wrong for City this season but the one thing I would not question is their players' attitude. Of course they care.

Some of the criticism I have heard of City's players recently would make you think they are losing games because they are going through the motions but I do not think that is the case.

They have problems in defence, midfield and attack but they have not just given up.

Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure
Off target? Toure scored 20 Premier League goals from 50 shots in 2013-14 - this season he has managed eight from 56

Monday's defeat by Crystal Palace was more down to bad luck than through any of them not trying hard enough.

People were questioning the passion and desire of Yaya Toure, for example, but going forward you could not fault his effort, even if his end product did not always match the quality of his strike for City's goal.

He was also criticised for supposedly ducking out of the way of Jason Puncheon's free-kick which put Palace 2-0 up, but I thought that was really harsh. It was a fantastic strike.

It is when it comes to recovering the ball that Toure is lacking but he is not the only one - hardly any of City's midfield want to do any defending.

That attitude will be unacceptable in the derby, and the City players will know it. Put it this way, if the same happens again at Old Trafford, then their fans will definitely let them know.

For me, City's title defence is over now but, let's face it, it had effectively ended before they lost at Palace.

The important thing for them now is to finish the season well.

Ideally, that would mean finishing second and above United but, like their chances of beating their neighbours, that also looks far less likely than it did a month or so ago.

Robbie Savage was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan

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