Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag is looking to go from strength to strength as the Dutchman prepares for his first Manchester derby.
Ten Hag's team last played a Premier League match on September 4th but they have won each of their last four league outings, something Man United did not manage all of last season. Next up, however, will be the 52-year-old's sternest test of his three-month spell in the Old Trafford hotseat.
United's last taste of league action came 27 days ago in a 3-1 victory over Arsenal, and since then the Red Devils have only played two Europa League matches. Ten Hag's men have a game in hand over most other teams in the division and three points at the club's city rivals would be the perfect way to make up for lost time.
United are in search of a fifth straight Premier League win but will need to dig deep to grind out a positive result against champions Manchester City. Confidence within the United dressing room is booming after Ten Hag was named PL Manager of the Month for September and Marcus Rashford scooped the Player of the Month award.
So far this season United have beat Liverpool at Old Trafford and claimed wins at Leicester City's King Power Stadium and against Southampton at St. Mary's – a set of fixtures from which United collected a single point last term; they drew 1-1 with the Saints before they were walloped by Leicester and Liverpool in back-to-back games.
After the 4-2 loss to the Foxes last October, changes were clearly needed but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer kept an identical backline of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, and Luke Shaw for the 5-0 thumping by Liverpool. All bar Shaw also started in the 4-1 defeat at the Etihad Stadium in March although present day the four defenders are struggling for minutes this term under Ten Hag.
Maguire and Shaw have not played Premier League football since the debacle at Brentford mid-August, whilst Lindelof and Wan-Bissaka have yet to earn a start in the current league campaign. The quartet of Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez, and Tyrell Malacia have played five times together, keeping three clean sheets, including in United's most recent isntalment against Sheriff on September 15th.
Maguire, Lindelof, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Christian Eriksen played maximum minutes for their national teams last week while the remainder of United's players were utilised sparingly by their countries. Martinez, Casemiro, Dalot, and Bruno Fernandes played 90' once apiece, and the likes of Antony, Fred, and Malacia each played less than a full match.
United's lack of games together with the past international break has given the manager ample time to prepare for a crunch clash in the 188th Manchester derby. Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and David de Gea are some high-profile names that remained at Carrington for the final round of international action before the winter World Cup next month.
Ten Hag and United will need to be on high alert for City throughout, but particularly for the Citizens' potent duo of Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne who are topping the charts this campaign with 11 goals and 6 assists, respectively.
Pep Guardiola's men were one point off the league summit coming into this weekend meanwhile United are five points adrift in 5th place but have played one match fewer than their local foes. Last season City beat United home and away for just the fourth time in Premier League history.
Rashford could be involved after he missed out on an England call-up due to an 'untimely injury', and Anthony Martial may also feature but Maguire is ruled out of the derby.
For the Citizens, England internationals John Stones and Kalvin Phillips are unavailable while Aymeric Laporte is close to a return following knee surgery in the summer.
Guardiola and Ten Hag are most familiar with one another but they have never gone head-to-head on a football pitch. The Dutchman was appointed manager of Bayern Munich reserves in 2013, the same summer Guardiola took the reigns of the Bavarians' first-team.
They were colleagues for two years until Ten Hag returned to his native land with FC Utrecht, where he remained for two-and-a-half years before switching to Ajax. The current United boss is one year the senior of his City counterpart and he will be eager to outwit the Spaniard when red meets blue on Sunday. Kick-off is at 14H00 local time.