Another chapter of the rivalry between Manchester City and Manchester United will take place on Sunday, and will feature several x-factors that are likely to go a long way in determining the outcome of this marquee fixture.
This edition of the matchup is all the more critical at this juncture of the season, with the Red Devils sitting atop the English Premier League table, just three points ahead of the Blues. A victory by the road team would put them six clear of their cross-town foes, while City could knot up the top of the standings with a victory in Etihad Stadium.
Here is a breakdown of those aforementioned x-factors, and the impact they will have in this marquee showdown.
Defensive absences for United
There is a feeling that the Red Devils are the underdogs despite the fact that they are ahead in the EPL table.
According to Goal.com, United may be missing a significant portion of their defensive backfield and midfield. Anderson will likely miss action, and he is a key to keeping the ball in United's possession with his defensive presence.
Combine that with a calf injury potentially sidelining Tom Cleverley, and it may cause some serious shuffling for the Red Devils just to fortify their defense.
That will make it difficult to defend the Blues' balanced attack, keyed by Carlos Tevez as well as Edin Zdeko and Sergio Aguero. With such a variety of sources to score from, it will be difficult for United to account for all the Blues' threats shorthanded some of their key players.
As much firepower as United has up front, Sir Alex Ferguson may have to adopt a more defensive strategy to be sure that the hosting Blues can't run away by generating early momentum.
Increasing pressure on Roberto Mancini
The controversial, hard-nosed coaching style that Mancini has overseen during his tenure with City has apparently been more popular with fans than it has with the players he is managing.
According to chief sports writer Paul Hayward of The Guardian, City's disappointing showing in the Champions League where they finished at the bottom of Group D should have ousted Mancini. The only problem is, the manager won the Premier League last year, the first in the club's 44-year history.
That, combined with an outstanding unbeaten home streak of 37 matches and an undefeated record in EPL play so far would seemingly fortify Mancini into a Blues staple. But despite his perception as a savior amongst some of the Blues faithful, Hayward argues his job status isn't exactly secure.
With the return of David Silva (h/t Daily Mail), who wasn't on the field for the Dortmund loss in the Champions League, the Blues should be refreshed to take on their archrivals.
Mancini also doesn't buy into any pressure and speculation surrounding his job status:
I don't feel this. I'm happy with the job I have done these last two years. When you build a new team its normal to have difficult moments. You can't win all the games. You can lose important games. It's normal.
He may not be in the best of favor with management, but the fact that Mancini is stubbornly blocking out any conjecture about his position is a great sign. The Blues should be focused and poised to even up the score with United, and can draw on their 6-1 blowout last year for inspiration.
Robin Van Persie and Co. vs. Top City defense
The Blues have given up just 11 goals in 15 EPL fixtures, but will have their work cut out for them against the high-powered United attack led by Robin van Persie.
The former Arsenal star has made an instant impact and then some for the Red Devils, compensating for a relatively slow year from Wayne Rooney to be second in league scoring with 10 goals in 2012-13.
It will be very interesting to see if Van Persie is able to find his form, but even if he can't get going, he should open up opportunities for 24-year-old forward Javier Hernandez, who has five goals of his own this season.
United has scored a whopping 37 goals—nine more than the Blues or any other Premier League foe. Van Persie can be the ultimate x-factor to push United over the top on the road with an ailing midfield and defense behind him.
But you can bet that captain Vincent Kompany will do his best to hold down the defense for the Blues and knot up the EPL standings with a victory for the home squad.