Trouble in the City camp could spell derby success for Manchester United

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Leah Galton of Manchester United celebrates with teammate Hannah Blundell after scoring her team's first goal during the Barclays FA Women's Super League match between Birmingham City Women and Manchester United Women (Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images)

Always a tense rivalry in English football, the Manchester Derby is set to be a high-stakes showdown .

Slow and steady under Skinner

Manchester United have enjoyed a quietly successful start to the season under new boss Marc Skinner. Whilst not exactly sweeping aside struggling teams Reading, Leicester and Birmingham, the Red Devils still ground out necessary wins.

Picking up nine points out of a possible 12, United currently sit in a respectable 4th.

Their only meeting with a top team was a 6-1 pummelling by Chelsea. However, as the new signings continue to gel under Skinner, players and fans alike will hope this was an unfortunate blip in an otherwise strong league campaign.

Must-win for City

In the blue corner of Manchester, things have arguably never looked more bleak.

The campaign started well with an emphatic 4-0 victory over Everton. Trouble began when City lost at home to Real Madrid and saw themselves out of the Champions League before the group stage.

Their focus was forced to switch to challenging for the WSL title, but their fortune went from bad to worse.

For the first time in their history, the Cityzens lost three league games back to back. A controversial defeat to Spurs, a catastrophic 5-0 thrashing by Arsenal and a dispiriting 2-0 home loss to West Ham leave them 9th in the table. In such a short season, this poor run of form likely rules them out of the title already. 

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Key players missing

The club is undoubtedly experiencing an injury crisis. When they faced Arsenal, City had a staggering ten players unavailable. The loss of captain Steph Houghton and highly-rated Lucy Bronze especially has left their defence looking frail. 

Even in the midst of this crisis, the investment put into Manchester City’s squad over the years means they were not without talented and experienced options. The usually potent Ellen White and Lauren Hemp have been fit for every fixture.

Manager Gareth Taylor has so far refused to utilise new signing Ruby Mace. The youngster performed well at centre-back on loan to Birmingham last season. However, Taylor opted to use veteran midfielder Jill Scott out of position instead. Khadija Shaw scored a second half hat-trick midweek in the FA Cup, only for Taylor to bench her against West Ham.

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Rising to the occasion

With the supercharged atmosphere of a derby, neither team can call themselves favourites.

United will look to use the volume of their dedicated home fans at Leigh Sports Village to spur them on. The Red Devils must be disciplined in defence and use their tenacious attacking players such as Ella Toone and Leah Galton to force City into errors at the back. A win for Skinner’s side would be a real statement that they intend to challenge for at least a Champions League spot. 

United midfielder Jackie Groenen insists that her team has paid little attention to City’s current problems.

“Previous results don’t really matter when it comes to a derby,” she said.

Despite injuries and poor results, “they’re always a strong side.”

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This caution and reluctance to write Manchester City off is understandable. In their six meetings, Manchester United have come out on top just once, suffering three defeats and drawing twice. The return of key players such as Caroline Weir and Keira Walsh means Gareth Taylor can still put out a formidable XI. There could not be a bigger occasion for them to turn their form around and regain belief in the project.

Star striker Ellen White confirmed that the stakes are high for her team coming into Saturday.

“”This is a massive game for us – there’s no two ways about it,” she said.

Manchester United vs Manchester City will air on BBC One from 1.15pm BST.

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