On Sunday Manchester United and Manchester City resume their rivalry for the 185th occasion in a match where the latter can bury any hope of their crosstown antagonists mounting a serious challenge for the Premier League title.
A win for City would extend their lead over United to 17 points, in all likelihood even a win for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side would not be enough to end the procession to the title that is happening at the Etihad Stadium. It would, however, stop Pep Guardiola and his players from matching the record 23 match winning run that Bayern Munich set for a European club last year. If nothing else that offer plenty of motivation for the Red Devils.
Read on for our predictions ahead of the game:
City make it 21 wins in a row
City prepare to welcome Manchester United to the Etihad in the most remarkable of form. All they do is win. This is a relentless juggernaut who have not dropped so much as a point in 20 games since a 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion on December 15. Only two of their 41 games all season have ended in defeat and there has been a notable upswing in performance and results since Christmas.
There are a lot of reasons behind City's improvements of late, from Guardiola ditching a second sitting midfielder and returning to a 4-3-3 to the remarkable goal scoring form of Ilkay Gundogan. One of the most intriguing is how they have redistributed their shots.
Long range efforts and headers have been pared back, from 37.1 and 13.9 percent respectively up to the West Brom draw to 30.8 and 10.3 percent since. Similarly you'll note the drop in shots from the far corners of the box in the graphics above. City have largely focused on getting into the optimal shooting positions on the pitch.
No wonder their expected goals per game have increased from an acceptable 1.58 to an exceptional 2.07.
While City have built a head of steam United seem to have stalled out. Since reaching the Premier League summit they have won just three of 10 matches in the league and regressed to the sort of team that their underlying numbers have suggested they are, one that is a shade off City and even Liverpool in attacking terms.
Their per game expected goals tally of 1.62 is around 15 percent lower than City's. United rank fifth in the top flight for chances created per game, fifth for expected assists, third for passing in the attacking third, fourth for attacking sequences that end in a shot and fourth for opponent xG. Top in all those categories? Guardiola's side.
United are a good team. City are a great team. And while a derby is as good a place as any for a curveball it would be a bold man indeed who predicted that anyone could stop this winning juggernaut.
Fernandes' big six struggles reach their end
It is becoming an increasingly unavoidable knock against Bruno Fernandes. Whilst he steals the lunches of the Premier League's relative minnows when he comes face to face with the other big boys suddenly Manchester United's talisman is nowhere to be seen.
Firstly, a caveat. Few players are better against the best opponents than the worst otherwise, well, they would not be the best opposition. It is naturally harder to get the better of Fabinho, Rodri or N'Golo Kante than, with the greatest respect, John Lundstram, Isaac Hayden or Jack Cork.
Still there is a startling chasm in what Fernandes produces against the 'big six' versus the rest of the Premier League, from open play he is yet to score a goal and should he fail to find the net or provide an assist on Sunday he will have gone a year without a direct goal contribution against Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal in the Premier League.
He has not been entirely nullified by these teams and has been involved in 17 of 47 open play chances created this season across seven games. Fernandes creates roughly one fewer chance per 90 at 2.05 but a drop off of around a third is comparable to that of his team, who have created 11.1 chances per game against the rest of the league and 7.9 against the big six since signing their Portuguese talisman. He attempts the same number of take ons but does so less effectively, again a natural consequence of playing against top tier opposition (and Arsenal).
His shot numbers decline but not drastically, from 3.1 efforts per 90 against the rest of the league to 2.7 against those five teams. There is a more notable drop off of 50 percent in his expected goals per 90 to 0.16 but there is no evidence to suggest that Fernandes can't do the same things against the 'big six' -- take a high volume of long range shots -- that he does against any other side in England.
His perceived travails against the best of the best would seem to be nothing more than the simple realities of playing against the big teams. If he is the same player that he is against every other team then sooner or later his output will reflect that. He has simply not played like someone who will not catch a break against the best opponents.
Of course there are two significant problems with this prediction. First of all, a relentless Manchester City juggernaut are not exactly the sort of team against whom one might hope to get their groove back.
As for Fernandes himself, he seems dead on his feet. United have played 2430 minutes in the Premier League this season. Fernandes has sat out only 141 of them. No attacking player matches that number. No wonder he looked so tired in the 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace. If he rouses himself on Sunday this could be the game to end his big six woes. But he would be entitled to feel desperately in need of a nap instead.
A contentious penalty
United's 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace was so breathtakingly tedious that it was enough to dull any talk of penalties and the Red Devils but that surely cannot last long. A week ago Stuart Attwell's refusal to give Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side a penalty for a possible handball by Callum Hudson-Odoi was the talk of the Premier League with Luke Shaw alleging -- and swiftly retracting the allegation -- that the referee had told Harry Maguire that the decision was too contentious to end up in a spot kick.
Solskjaer then complained about "outside influences" conspiring to deny his team penalties despite the fact that they have had 22 since the start of last season. That leads the Premier League by quite some distance, although the rate of spot kick acquisition has slowed somewhat of late. Since December United aren't even the team with the most penalties to their name.
That honor goes to City, who picked up five penalties in the past three months. Admittedly their finishing of such opportunities -- since the start of the 2016-17 season they have scored just two-thirds of penalties, each of which Opta gives an expected goal value of 0.79. That's the joint-worst record of teams with over 10 attempts and raises the question of whether they are as high value for Guardiola's side as they are for most. But they are certainly racking up the opportunities to find the reliable penalty taker that has eluded them of late.
Both clubs are winning penalties at an impressive rate in the past two seasons -- United have 22 and City 18 -- and have quick, direct wide forwards who will run at defenders and look to draw a mistake. Expect someone on either side to force their defender into a mistake in a dangerous position.