Manchester United must “punish” Manchester City on the counter-attack if they are to triumph in the derby, claims former England defender Martin Keown.
The Red Devils host their local rivals on Saturday evening as they look to bounce back from crashing out of the Champions League on Tuesday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got the better of Pep Guardiola in three of last season’s four meetings, winning the most-recent derby 2-0 using an effective back-three system to blunt City’s attack.
But the three-man defence was exposed in the 3-2 defeat by RB Leipzig earlier this week, as the Bundesliga side surged to an early lead before United’s switch to a back four saw them recover late on.
While Keown believes United should stick to their counter-attacking blueprint, he warned Solskjaer over lining up in a back three and conceding early on again.
“United beat City twice in 2020 using a back three. But they were so poor in the early exchanges against Leipzig that Solskjaer may think twice about using it again,” Keown told the Daily Mail .
“United finished the game in Germany in top gear after reverting to a back four. If their slow starts are down to a mindset or motivational problem, United’s players cannot have that excuse on Saturday.
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“Not in a Manchester derby. They should be looking to pose a threat from minute one — not waiting passively for the opposition to score before becoming motivated to win. The strength of this group is its attacking force.
“They have fast-paced forwards fed by Bruno Fernandes. City will control the ball, so United will stay compact for large parts. But when they win possession, they can punish City on the counter.
What formation should Manchester United use as they bid to beat City? Have your say here.
“No club has scored more breakaway goals than United this campaign. If those counters come to nothing, their players will have to get back into their defensive positions quickly.”
United currently edge City by one point in the Premier League and victory in the derby would likely elevate their status to title contenders.
Keown called on Red Devils players to take ownership on the pitch as they look to close the gap at the top of the table with a game in hand.
He added: “Victory would leave Solskjaer’s United just two points off table-toppers Tottenham.
“It is their inconsistency from half to half and minute to minute that has caused so many problems. United need leadership.
“Solskjaer needs to show he has a clear vision, a system and an XI he trusts. Those players then need to stand up and be counted. United’s successful teams of the past had iconic leaders. It’s time a new group emerged.”
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