For Manchester United, this week’s home match with Manchester City is largely about pride. After a disastrous season that has seen them go from title winners by 11 points to languishing in seventh, it’s a game that offers David Moyes a chance to provide the United fans, who have become increasingly frustrated in recent weeks, with something to cheer.
For Manuel Pellegrini’s men, this is the first of their three games in hand over leaders Chelsea. City know that if they win all of their matches between now and the end of the season, they will be champions. They currently have three games in hand over Chelsea and are six points adrift of the west London side.
So how will City line up? Predicting their starting XI throughout the season has been difficult given Pellegrini’s desire to continually rotate his side, but with the season nearing its conclusion, one can expect his tinkering to reduce somewhat.
In goal, of course, will be Joe Hart, whose form has been much improved since he was dropped earlier in the season after a series of poor errors. His confidence and focus has returned, and although not yet at the level he was at between 2010-12, he is firmly in possession of City’s No. 1 shirt.
Micah Richards’ dreadful form means it’s unlikely he will play much between now and the end of the season, so Pablo Zabaleta will start at right-back. Richards has played just two league games all season after struggling with a number of injuries over the last two years.
Vincent Kompany will return from suspension to captain the side, and after another excellent display in the win over Fulham, Martin Demichelis is likely to partner him at the heart of the defence.
Left-back is the most debatable defensive position. Aleksandar Kolarov has been Pellegrini’s favoured pick over Gael Clichy for much of the campaign, but the Serbian started against Fulham on Saturday and Pellegrini likes to rotate between the two when possible.
With City’s first-choice midfield four all available, Pellegrini may opt for the Fernandinho-Yaya Toure-David Silva-Samir Nasri combination across the middle. James Milner’s excellent showing in the win over Fulham, and his discipline, which has proven useful in tight away games before, may see him force his way in, though.
If Milner does play, it could see Silva pushed further forward to play off the frontman. It’s a tactic City have used a few times this season, and it always seems to work. Silva enjoys being close to the striker and can do more damage from a central position, rather than drifting in from wide.
Edin Dzeko missed the Fulham match with illness, and he will be monitored before a decision is made on his availability. The signs of Alvaro Negredo's touch and movement returning on Saturday may thrust him into the XI once again.
Not the best thing to be sick on the match day 😓 today will have to support my team mates only from my home,watching on tv😔 Good luck @MCFC— Edin Džeko (@EdDzeko) March 22, 2014
Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Kolarov; Fernandinho, Toure; Milner, Nasri; Silva; Negredo.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_.