Man City vs. Man United Preview: 6 Key Battles to Watch in Manchester Derby
Doesn’t this sound familiar?
Just a little bit: It was only a few months ago, after all, that City dealt a 1-0 blow to United’s lead at the top of the table last season to reopen the 2011-12 title race.
And we don’t need too many reminders as to how that season ended.
So, what should we expect in a fixture that City has won convincingly in their last two outings?
Let’s look ahead at six key battles we’re looking forward to seeing at the Etihad in a potentially high-scoring duel on Sunday.
Vincent Kompany vs. Robin van Persie
Our first matchup is mouthwatering enough already: Vincent Kompany, arguably the Premier League’s finest defender, up against Robin van Persie, arguably its finest forward.
Kompany has virtually cemented himself in any Premier League All-Star XI—possibly even a European All-Star XI—as has van Persie. Both have enjoyed outstanding careers in the Premier League.
Kompany is part of a league-leading City defence with just 11 goals conceded in 15 games played, while van Persie has contributed 10 goals to a league-leading United attack with 37 goals scored.
Matija Nastasic vs. Javier Hernandez
Alongside Kompany is promising defender Matija Nastasic, who has impressed at the Etihad since joining in the summer from Fiorentina and has ousted Joleon Lescott from the starting lineup.
He has already featured in high-profile games against the likes of Real Madrid in the Champions League, establishing himself as one of Europe’s top defensive prospects.
Opposite him, if not from the start then almost certainly off the bench, will be United’s resident poacher, Javier Hernandez, who has recovered from a quiet second season to score five goals in his third so far.
How will Nastasic deal with Hernandez’s movement in and around the box? And with an attack line that just can’t seem to stop scoring goals?
Yaya Toure vs. Wayne Rooney
Now comes a battle not between direct opponents per se, but between like-for-like counterparts in the midfield.
Yaya Toure has understandably earned a reputation as one of Europe’s most fearsome midfielders due to his all-around abilities and his tendency of storming down the middle.
Likewise, Wayne Rooney has received plaudits for his overall contribution to the United team and has increasingly been used by Sir Alex Ferguson in a deeper role.
Two of the league’s premier attacking midfield talents will be on show on Saturday, and they will likely have a huge say in the outcome.
Gareth Barry vs. Michael Carrick
Another positional battle is between defensive midfielders Gareth Barry and Michael Carrick.
When it comes to the big games, you can almost bank on Roberto Mancini fielding Barry, a safe defensive option in the middle of the park.
His play-it-safe mentality is particularly useful alongside a roaming and adventurous Yaya Toure. It will play a big role in dictating the tempo of the City midfield on Saturday, the same role that Carrick plays in the middle of the park for United.
Perhaps not as glamorous as the previous one, but this matchup between two erstwhile England colleagues will likely be as important.
Sergio Aguero vs. Rio Ferdinand
Now we move to City’s final third, and the Red Devils will know all about the threat Sergio Aguero poses after his legendary heroics for City in injury time against Queens Park Rangers last season.
But it’s not just about his finishing: His speed, movement and vision will create plenty of problems for a creaking United defence, marshaled and epitomized by none other than their elder statesman, Rio Ferdinand.
We put forth the numbers surrounding City’s defence and United’s attack, but when we discuss this area of the pitch, let’s consider that City have scored 28 in 15, while United have let in 21.
With such a leaky defensive line around him, Ferdinand will have his work cut out.
Carlos Tevez vs. Jonny Evans
Yet another forward that United will know all about is Carlos Tevez, who famously (or infamously, depending on whose side you’re on) crossed the Manchester divide in the summer of 2009.
For all the headlines he created off the pitch last season, he has such consistency and ability up front that it’s virtually a given that he will start the derby for Mancini.
His opponent on Saturday will be one he is familiar with from his United days, as a fringe player back then but a regular first-teamer now.
In Nemanja Vidic’s continued absence from the team, Jonny Evans will have to cover for Patrice Evra’s adventurous, rampaging nature and lack of a decent defensive positional sense. He will be tasked with nullifying the movement, pace, energy and finishing of Tevez.
Add Aguero into the mix, and the overriding message to Evans et al is: Good luck.