Ahead of Sunday’s Manchester derby, we spoke to Henry Winter from the Times to get his thoughts on the game.
Henry, let's start with City's form. What have you made of our recent performances?
City’s form is fantastic. There’s defensive solidity and still that attacking verve.
Kevin De Bruyne is one of the team’s top three players and it’s so sad to see him injured again and I can’t think of any other club in the country who could cope without a player of that quality. It’d be like Chelsea without Eden Hazard or Liverpool without Mo Salah. But with City’s remarkable manager and the quality of the squad, they just keep running along.
Raheem Sterling has been outstanding and what is he, 23, 24? It’s remarkable. He’s got so many years ahead of him.
There's been lots of talk about where this team ranks in the pantheon of great Premier League sides. Where do you sit on that one?
There have been some fanatically attacking sides. I can go back further than the start of the Premier League. Liverpool in 87-88 with John Barnes, Kenny Dalglish and Peter Beardsley…they were just a fantastic team.
You’ve got Arsenal’s Invincibles, Manchester United of 99. Actually, United in 94 was a very balanced team in terms of the width and the energy.
But I just think in terms of pure beauty, this is probably the best English football has seen.
You’ve got Sergio Aguero who’s in his prime as a finisher. Raheem Sterling in the form of his life. He seems to have worked on his decision-making, his final ball, his finishing. I know he’s been working with Arteta. If you talk to Sterling, he’s got two goals at home which he works on his finishing with, he’s got a gym at home that he works on keeping the power in the legs and upper body strength.
The City striker who had the lot...
Sane as well – still don’t know what Germany were doing leaving him out. He’s responded to Guardiola’s management. Everyone looks at Guardiola and think he’s a very tactile manager and always encouraging his players, but you watched that Amazon documentary and you realise he is demanding. He asks his players to look inside themselves and be even better.
I find his press conferences very enlightening, it’s really interesting listening to him on tactical matters. But I just think he’s one of those individuals you want to work for and who people respond to.
The balance in the side is right with the two Silvas central. When I first saw Bernardo Silva I thought he is a little lightweight, what’s his best position, coming in off the right? But I think he’s been terrific in the middle. He has an instinctive understanding with David Silva.
I’m a huge Mendy fan. I know he can occasionally get caught out defensively but I think going forward he’s terrific.
There’s talent throughout. A lot of it is started by the goalkeeper, who can play short balls or play an accurate 60-yard pass. It’s a team of all the talents. You don’t have to be the tallest or the strongest of you’ve got the skills.
Do you think City can defend the title?
I do. Liverpool have impressed, but I still think they are a season away. Chelsea might surprise a few people, they’re responding to Sarri.
In terms of quality, I think this is one of the best Premier Leagues we’ve had.
Have you seen...
The battle at the top is pretty strong but I still think Manchester City are ahead of the rest because of the quality of the coach, the depth of the squad, so many individuals playing at the very top of their game. And then you’ve got De Bruyne who will come back – he’s a world-class player to come back in.
I know you watch United closely. Give me the lowdown on their form.
It’s difficult to know what to make of Manchester United. They’re a different team in the first half to the second.
It’ll be interesting to see if he plays Romelu Lukaku. Manchester United fans have been saying for a long time what a class act Martial is. When he arrived in the country and I saw him against Liverpool I just thought wow!
They can be got at defensively. If Sane and Sterling play they’ll look to get behind Ashley Young and Luke Shaw, who are naturally attacking.
They’ve got one of the top three goalkeepers in the world who’s kept them in it at times.
Mourinho seems to be letting the handbrake off a bit more, he seems to be putting a little bit more energy and ideas into midfield. But often when United play City he goes for Ander Herrera, who seems to be his kind of special ops man to disrupt teams because he’s got that energy, he plays on the front foot. The problem is: if you want to get at Chelsea, you try to get at Hazard. If you want to get at City, where do you start? Do you man mark David Silva? Then that creates space for Bernardo. Do you try and get two people around Raheem Sterling? That allows Kyle Walker to run into space. It’s very difficult.
You talk to opposing managers and Manchester City are the worst tactical conundrum. It’s like playing a chess grand master. Guardiola is always four, five moves ahead.
Mourinho will have a plan – I don’t think it’ll necessarily be the most beautiful of plans. It’s such a huge game.Partly because of local rivalry, partly because Manchester United can’t slip away. If United lose on Sunday, they could be seven points off fourth.
It’ll be interesting to see Mourinho’s tactics. Guardiola will go for it. I think he’s met Mourinho 21 times and only lost five. Guardiola seems to have the mastery of the situation.
Has there been a shift in power in Manchester?
There’s a power shift on the field, without a doubt. If you were to do a combined XI, how many United player would get in? Even the most ardent red might make a case for two or three. Pogba at his very best, maybe one or two others. On the pitch, the power shift is undeniable.
Off the pitch, United are still ahead, I don’t think City fans would dispute that. United still have a formidable reputation around the world. That takes time to change.
The opinions published here are personal to the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester City Football Club.