Manchester City can all but kill off Manchester United’s Champions League qualification dreams by winning this Manchester derby. It would also boost their bid to make sure a top-four finish and overhaul the faltering Arsenal, who are now third positioned. After Manchester United’s exit from the Europa League, Louis van Gaal could do without a defeat and as this is the story of his frustrating season, expect little to change regarding his employment.
Here are the top 5 battles which could decide the fate of this 171st derby between these two bitter rivals.
Sergio Aguero vs Chris Smalling
Sergio Aguero is certainly one of the most lethal strikers in modern football and following a dismal start to the campaign is now enjoying classy form yet again, netting twelve goals with three assists in his last 16 matches in all competitions. The Argentine hitman hasn’t been able to find the back of the net in his last two appearances but on his day he is unplayable, combining a scintillating speed and penetration with pin-point accuracy and expert composure in front of goal.
The task of neutralising his threat predominantly comes to Chris Smalling. He is arguably Manchester United’s best defender this season and in the absence of more senior team-mates, is now one of the leading figures of the starting eleven.
Anthony Martial vs Zabaleta
As Wayne Rooney injured and Juan Mata struggling to show consistency on the right-hand side, Anthony Martial steps into this weekend’s derby as United’s most notable attacking option.
He is quick, powerful and incredibly composed, especially for a 20-year-old in his debut season at Old Trafford, and amid a disturbing injury, crisis has come up as one of the first names on the United team sheet.
He will be up against Pablo Zabaleta who has enjoyed a recent revival in terms of first team involvement. The experienced Argentine defender is the kind of character Pellegrini needs in a derby like this. He is an incredibly physical defender who can efficiently nullify Martial’s athletic prowess.
Rashford vs Mangala
With inspirational captain Vincent Kompany ruled out for at least a month with another injury, Manuel Pellegrini finds himself picking up between the lesser of two effective ones in this Manchester derby.
Eliaquim Mangala has arguably struggled to display his best form since moving to the Etihad at the start of last season whilst Martin Demichelis’ 35 years are really beginning to tell – and both have been culpable for countless defensive blunders throughout the campaign.
So it’s a real toss-up for Pellegrini to go for Mangala, particularly considering Manchester United’s young sensation Marcus Rashford is still very much an unknown threat, having made his competitive debut less than a month ago.
The 19-year-old failed to add his name to the scoresheet since scoring four goals and one assist in the first two appearances for the Red Devils. But he is an energetic, enthusiastic and physical youngster who will be keen to take advantage of an erratic display from Mangala.
Joe Hart vs De Gea
Many would regard these two as the leading goalkeepers in Premier League right now and they could resultantly produce an enormous impact on Sunday’s high-octane derby.
Indeed, Manchester United may not even be in the top half without the sensational services of David De Gea, who has a record 61 saves and 10 clean sheets in 25 Premier League matches this term, whilst counterpart Joe Hart also has a strong record in the Manchester derby with seven wins under his belt.
Hart is also leading the race to clinch the Golden Glove for a record fifth time this season, with a division-best 13 clean sheets so far, and with Vincent Kompany, the Englishman will need to do his best to fill City’s leadership void at the backline. Both happens to be athletic shot-stoppers who rarely will disappoint you on big occasions and have the potential to display Man of the Match performances.
David Silva vs Schneiderlin
David Silva and Schneiderlin may be different kinds of midfielder who operates from different positions and different roles on their respective sides, but the fundamental duty is relatively similar.
Whilst the Spaniard always looks to retain possession and create chances from the pocket between the midfield and the frontline, Schneiderlin gives a similar kind of service for Manchester United – often launching attacks from the very base of the engine room with his mixed-ranged passing game.
United have signed a number of alternative midfielders over the past few years but the German is still their best on his day when it comes to moving the ball forward, whilst Silva happens to be the indisputable maestro of the City starting eleven. With the duo all set to line up directly against each other on Sunday –this key battle could well depend on who outmanoeuvres each other better to find space on the ball.