Despite being heavily backed to regain the title Liverpool wrestled from their grasp four months ago, City have prepared for Saturday’s match ranked 13th in the table after drawing two and losing one of their five outings so far this term.
Although Guardiola’s team has been in indifferent form on the domestic front, Wilder highlighted its performance during Tuesday’s Champions League tie against Marseille as a reminder about the quality which remains at the Catalan’s disposal. Goals from Ferran Torres, a Spain international, Germany’s Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling of England propelled City to a 3-0 victory in the Stade Velodrome.
Confirming that United, who enter the game searching for their first win of the new campaign, are expecting to face opponents “on top of their game”, Wilder said: “I didn't see much loss of invincibility about them in the Champions League, if I’m honest. People are always doubting players and doubting managers. People are probably looking at us and saying things relatively on the food chain. They won’t be bothered. They have got world class players, they invest in world class players and a manager who has done it all. Only an outstanding Liverpool team finished ahead of them last season.”
Wilder will hope his message about the fickle nature of modern football punditry will resonate with his own players ahead of a fixture which pits them against a club which has lavished more than £1bn on talent over the past decade. After finishing ninth following their promotion from the Championship, United’s own disappointing results of late have prompted some observers to diagnose an acute case of second season syndrome. Wilder, however, has no truck with that argument; predicting his squad possesses both the character and the character to plot a course through a testing period which has seen them lose key names such as Jack O’Connell, John Fleck and Lys Mousset - who impressed during January’s 2-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium - to injury. Three weeks later, only a 73rd minute strike from Sergio Aguero prevented them from securing a share of the spoils against Guardiola’s star-studded line-up.
“For me, no judgement can be made at this part of the season,” Wilder said, providing an insight into United’s psychology ahead of the contest. “I’m not going to offer any opinion on them. This is the world that we live in. People want to talk about other people’s failings. They might have the same
“issues, a few injuries that have affected them. But world class players get up to speed pretty quickly. When you are an average player, a loss of form can take a bit longer. When you are world class, it can turn really quickly.”
“Our league position last year was deserved,” he reminded. “Expectation levels rise but people in the football world understand where we are as a football club. But most people understand where we are and our situation.”
Despite recognising the danger posed by a City side which despite the absence of Aguero (hamstring), Gabriel Jesus (thigh), Benjamin Mendy and Fernandinho (both leg) can still call upon the likes of Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez, Wilder wants United to be aggressive rather than passive throughout the lunchtime fixture. Last weekend’s trip to Liverpool, despite ending in defeat, saw United stay compact when out of possession and attack in numbers when the opportunity arose. With that approach likely to form the basis of their game plan against City, Wilder is expected to again pair Ethan Ampadu and Sander Berge together in midfield, while Rhian Brewster spearheads the attack.
“The game has moved on, you have to be so mobile as a professional footballer now,” Wilder said, explaining Ampadu’s selection on Merseyside. “Mobility is such a key word, everybody uses it. The game does become stretched but when you’ve got the likes of Sander and Ethan in there, it gives you a little bit more security. They are both very good learners with a huge appetite to get better.”
“I said afterwards, I don’t believe there’s been an incredible dip in performances this year from last year,” Wilder continued. “I don’t want to bore people, we just need to be better in both boxes. Stats wise, last time out, I thought we were incredible against the team we were up against. Ultimately, you want to come away from a good performance with a good result. We didn’t do that but, if we continue to play like that, we will. Definitely.”
Having taken only a point from their last six matches, Wilder accepted City will view the trip to South Yorkshire as an opportunity to put themselves back on track. But he is convinced United can spring an upset, providing they take care of the “small details” and exploit any lack of focus on the visitors’ part.
“Every team needs a little bit of luck,” he said. “The gulf is incredible. We need everyone on top of their game and a few of their players to be a little bit off it.
“There has to be a few things that go your way. We need to defend in the correct and proper manner and be hard to play against out of possession.
“Also, when the opportunity arises, we need to take the game to them as well. Last year, we did that and had periods where we really tested them and could have got something.”