By Andrew Embling
- Who will be the kings of Manchester come full-time at Old Trafford?
- What are the five key battles that could decide this match?
Sunday afternoon’s roast dinner could be more nervy than usual as the Manchester derby rolls into town once again, pitting family against family and friend against friend in the battle of red and blue.
United may be at home but Louis Van Gaal has insisted it is City who hold the upper hand as United have to cope with the fatigue of a midweek trip to Moscow whilst City had the benefit of a home tie in the Champions League.
Only two points separate league leaders City from their neighbours, with United currently third on goal difference behind Arsenal.
Which colour comes out on top at Old Trafford in the Derby will depend largely on which set of players can hold their nerve in what is usually a blood and thunder episode.
With so much quality on show the game could centre on a number of key battles, with some experiencing the atmosphere of the Derby for the first time.
David De Gea v Joe Hart
Some critics feel Hart is head and shoulders above the rest of the goalkeepers on show in the Premier League, but David De Gea has shown once again that he is a world class performer and is fully committed to helping United to compete for silverware.
De Gea has been in sparkling form once again for United, proving why Louis Van Gaal was so desperate to keep him out of the clutches of Real Madrid.
Since De Gea’s transfer to Madrid fell apart at the eleventh hour the Spaniard has not looked back.
De Gea showed once again in Moscow in midweek what an important part of the side he is, with a penalty save and another breathtaking save to keep CSKA from doubling their advantage.
If United are to get something from the game against a free scoring City side then de Gea is going to need to be at the top of his game, with the likes of Sterling and de Bruyne hitting a rich vein of form.
At the other end Hart will be looking to keep United at bay.
England’s number one has had a relatively quiet season, but City have one of the best defensive records this season having conceded only eight league goals so far – the same number as United – with only Spurs and Arsenal having a better goals against record.
After five clean sheets in a row at the start of the season, City have now conceded in eight consecutive games and Hart was once again exposed by his side’s defensive frailties against Sevilla, something United’s coaching staff are sure to focus on as they look to exploit any weakness in their opponents, with Hart admitting United can hurt them.
Matteo Darmian v Raheem Sterling
Darmian has already proved to be an excellent and versatile addition to the United defensive ranks.
The summer arrival from Torino has hit the ground running, proving to be a bargain at just £12.7 million and showing that defending can be an art form.
Darmian sat out the midweek Champions League tie against Moscow, but could return in place of Antonio Valencia and will need to be at his best against City new boy Raheem Sterling.
The former Liverpool player, who made a controversial big money move to Eastlands during the summer, has started to find his best form, scoring his first hat trick in City’s 5-1 victory against Bournemouth last weekend.
Sterling is full of pace and trickery and has started to form a good partnership with the likes of Sergio Aguero and Wilfried Bony and will be itching to show what he can do against United.
Morgan Schneiderlin v Yaya Toure
This could be the crunch battle as both sides fight it out for control of the midfield.
Toure may be temperamental at times, but on his day he is a powerhouse of a player and has been a thorn in United’s side on more that one occasion in recent seasons.
Schneiderlin may be very busy on Sunday afternoon, but he gives United’s midfield what it has been lacking since the departure of Roy Keane.
The Frenchman’s work rate exemplifies what he is all about, whilst he is an expert at breaking up opposition attacks.
City will look to counter at speed at the weekend and Schneiderlin’s awareness and ability will be important if United are to snuff out the threat of Toure and his fellow midfielders and win the game.
Chris Smalling v Wilfried Bony
With City’s main man Sergio Aguero out with injury Bony has stepped up and is enjoying a run of games which have yielded goals.
He doubled his City tally with two against Bournemouth last weekend and was involved in the equaliser against Sevilla on Wednesday night.
Bony has proved to be a difficult opponent for United in the past with his strength and ability to bring others into the game, but this season Chris Smalling has emerged from the shadows and has started to become a key member of this United side.
Smalling has never played better and, if he could just improve his distribution, would be one of the best all round central defenders in the country.
The United man has outfought and out-thought plenty of opponents this season already as he continues to grow in confidence, and is now one of the first names on van Gaal’s team sheet every week.
He will need to continue his excellent run of form against a City side who are favourites to win the league.
Bastian Schweinsteiger v Kevin de Bruyne
De Bruyne was an expensive addition to the City ranks in the transfer window, but he is already starting to repay the mammoth transfer fee.
The free scoring midfielder once again hit the back of the net as City left it late to beat Sevilla in the Champions League on Wednesday.
De Bruyne can score from range and will be a danger if United don’t close him down quickly.
The 24-year-old Belgian started more centrally against Sevilla and if he does so again at the weekend it may be the job of World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger to keep him quiet.
Schweinsteiger has come in for some criticism in recent games and was replaced early by van Gaal in midweek, but the German captain oozes class and authority in the midfield.
His calmness on the ball and ability to dictate play may mean he gets the nod once again over Michael Carrick, who has had to watch from the bench, but it is feasible that the England international may be given a starting role instead of Schweinsteiger with only a few days recovery from the tiring trip to Russia.
This week’s Sunday roast may just have a bit more bite than usual in Manchester.