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Manchester Derby: Underrated Stars Who Will Shine in Epic EPL Clash

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 09:  Rafael of Manchester United competes with Mario Balotelli of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium on December 9, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images
Dan TalintyreSenior Analyst IIApril 8, 2013

Manchester United will look to wrap up the English Premier League title when they take on Manchester City in their Manchester derby game on Monday.

The Red Devils already beat their rivals 3-2 earlier in the year, but given how close the two teams have been over the past few seasons and how strong their rivalry has become, there's little doubting that this one will again invoke plenty of emotion and passion from both sides.

United and City will be looking to their big stars to have strong performances on the night, with the likes of Robin van Persie and Sergio Aguero both set to receive plenty of attention. However, as with every game, it's the little things that make the difference, and that will be the same again here.

Read on to see the underrated stars for both teams who will shine in the latest installment of this epic English Premier League rivalry.

 

Pablo Zabaleta, Manchester City

Zabaleta has really come into his own for Manchester City this year, with the 28-year-old securing a permanent starting position out on the right-hand side.

He has been very strong in defense and solid going forward, and will no doubt be a huge problem for United on both sides of the ball in this one as a result.

Zabaleta averages an incredible 3.8 tackles per game and two interceptions also—completing 85 percent of his passes coming out of defense also. 

Yet it is his offensive threats that could be most dangerous here, with the defender chalking up two assists this year and a number of good attacking chances—least of which being his goal that he scored against Manchester United when they met earlier in the year.

Likely to be played against either Ashley Young or Shinji Kagawa, Zabaleta has the potential to not only hurt United going forward, but also in defense as well.

 

Rafael, Manchester United

Coming back from injury for this one, Rafael Da Silva will be looking for a big game out on the right also as he seeks to shut down David Silva and the Manchester City attacking unit.

The Brazilian has shown himself to be solid against Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo this season on the right—giving his team much more confidence than they had at times last season when his mistakes often found United shorthanded at the back.

The Red Devils will be looking for another big night from here to neutralize the threat out wide from Silva, and also to hurt Silva and Clichy on the left wing. The pair have been very strong out there this year, but with Rafael's attacking strengths, could find themselves under pressure.

As the table below shows, Rafael has made a habit of having an influence in the final third in key matches for United this year, and they'll be looking to him again in this one.

Opponent Involvement Result
Fulham, first home game of the year Goal United win 3-2
Liverpool, away at Anfield Goal United win 2-1
Chelsea, away at Stamford Bridge Assist United win 3-2
Manchester City, away at Etihad Assist United win 3-2

 

Gareth Barry, Manchester City

Gareth Barry might not seem like he offers much for Manchester City, but he's just your typical battling footballer who always gives out consistent performances for his club every single week.

He might not be the most talented guy on the field, but he is very determined and has the potential to have a profound impact on this fixture as a result.

Barry was largely ineffective against United in their first match, but if played in a defensive midfield role, his ability to pick up either Rooney or Kagawa as they press forward could have a profound impact on City's chances at nullifying United's attack here.

If Barry can help out the defense and clog up the space in between the midfield and defense (where Rooney has thrived this year), the Citizens' defense will stand a much better chance at dealing with the threat that Robin van Persie poses at the top of the attack.

The former Aston Villa midfielder's performance will largely impact on that of Yaya Toure, who Barry can free up with good quick movement through the middle and strong defending. And that, in turn, could have a profound impact on how well City's attack functions against the Red Devils' defense.

Barry might not seem that significant, but he could be one of the more underrated stars (or villains) for City in their rivalry game against the Red Devils.

 

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