FIVE key battles that will decide the Manchester derby

If one were to cut a cross-section of the Premier League, it would include many of the fixtures taking place this weekend.

Indeed, Stoke City vs West Ham, Leicester City vs West Bromwich Albion, Everton vs Swansea City and Hull vs Southampton are very evenly matched, exciting ties.

But the jewel of the crown undoubtedly comes in the form of Manchester derby, that will see reigning champions Manchester City take on the  former kings of the Premier League (and Manchester for that matter), Manchester United.

Just one of the fixtures that makes the Premier League the most exciting top flight in world football, we at Football Fancast are already bursting with anticipation for Sunday’s lunchtime¬†kick-off.

Thus, here’s a list of FIVE key individual battles that could decide the derby.

[ffc-gallery]CLICK ON MANUEL PELLEGRINI TO REVEAL

Manuel Pellegrini[/ffc-gallery]

YAYA TOURE VS MAROUANE FELLAINI

Yaya Toure
Far from his much-maligned, misfit status last season, Maroaune Fellaini’s had a huge impact on Manchester United’s last two fixtures.

Coming on at the interval against West Brom, he added power and height to United’s midfield, in addition to netting this explosive equaliser on the 47th minute:

That earned the Belgian lankster a start against Chelsea last weekend, excelling in the role of man-marking the Blues’ midfield lynchpin, Cesc Fabregas. As shown below, the Spaniard was kept particularly quiet compared to his usual standards:

fellaini vs fabregas

This acrobatic flick-on to Adnan Januzaj wasn’t too bad either:

Fellaini’s role on Sunday will likely be keeping tabs on Yaya Toure – the Citizens’ goalscoring powerhouse playmaker.

The 31 year-old’s been found wanting in the early part of the season, netting just once in eight appearances compared to his 24 goals across all competitions last year.

Fellaini will want to ensure another difficult afternoon for Toure via the powers of his awkward and imposing 6 foot 4 frame – but just in case you’ve forgotten what the Ivory Coast international is truly capable of, here’s his highlights from last season:

SERGIO AGUERO VS DAVID DE GEA

Aguero
With Manchester United’s defensive frailties well-known and widely-documented, it’s inevitable that Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero will get chances to score on Sunday afternoon.

Indeed, he’s not only the Premier League’s joint-top scorer alongside Chelsea’s Diego Costa:

Berahino English

But the Argentina international is also the second-most proficient shot-taker in Europe’s top five leagues, only bettered by Cristiano Ronaldo:

aguero shots

With no doubts over Augero’s quality or form – indeed, he’s bagged eight goals in his last seven games across all competitions, including four strikes against Tottenham Hotspur:

…Manchester United No.1 David De Gea will have to be in top form. The Spain international won the Player of the Year award at Old Trafford last season and produced a sensational display to secure the Red Devils three points against Everton earlier this month:

He’ll need to rekindle some of that world-class shot-stopping yet again on Sunday if United are to get anything out of the derby.

Pablo Zabaleta vs Angel Di Maria

Manchester United v Everton - Barclays Premier League
Louis van Gaal has implemented three different formations already this season, so one can only hazard a guess as to how Manchester United will line up at the weekend.

But seeking more compact and resilient performances against West Brom and Chelsea, the United gaffer has utilised a 4-2-3-1 system in recent weeks and will likely do the same when facing the Citizens too.

Angel di Maria has most commonly featured on the left hand side – although often switching flanks with Adnan Januzaj – which puts him up against City’s right-back war-horse Pablo Zabaleta.

His form hasn’t been quite so impressive this season when compared to other campaigns, much like Manchester City’s:

Zabaleta form

But the Argentine battler will have to up his game on Sunday afternoon – in compatriot Di Maria, he’ll be going toe-to-toe with one of the Premier League’s most in-form midfielders:

di maria form

Indeed, the 26 year-old’s talismanic displays have been one of the season’s biggest talking points thus far – here’s a look at some of his highlights:

WAYNE ROONEY VS FERNANDO/FERNANDINHO

Manchester United v West Ham United - Barclays Premier League
After spending three weeks on the sidelines after seeing red for this overzealous professional foul against West Ham:

Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney will be keen to make his presence felt against the noisy neighbours on Sunday afternoon. Apart from his recent suspension, the England skipper has been enjoying some decent form this season:

Rooney form

He’s got quite a bit of history in the Manchester derby too as it’s all-time leading goalscorer. Who remembers this bicycle kick from 2011?

Or this stunning free-kick at the Etihad last season, headband and all:

Following some rather lukewarm performances from Juan Mata in recent weeks, Rooney looks a dead-cert to return to his favoured No.10 role at the weekend.

That will see him directly up against either Fernando or Fernandinho, with the Brazilian defensive midfield duo sharing game-time fairly evenly this season, or potentially both, should Manuel Pellegrini look for more protection behind Yaya Toure.

Neither have enjoyed particularly strong form this season, as shown below, so an improved performance is desperately required:

Fernando fernandinho

ROBIN VAN PERSIE VS VINCENT KOMPANY

Felipe Luis Robin van Persie Manchester United Chelsea
As Radamel Falcao’s injury situation remains ambiguous to say the least, it’s likely Robin van Persie will retain his spot as United’s lone striker against City.

The Dutchman’s struggled for fitness and form this season but he produced the goods last weekend with this stoppage-time equaliser against Chelsea:

And Citizens skipper Vincent Kompany will be tasked with nullifying RVP’s potent goal-threat. Much more than just a defender for the Etihad outfit however, the Belgium international is their leader, organiser and often sets the tone for those around him.

He performed like a man possessed in last season’s Manchester derby and Manuel Pellegrini will want a similarly talismanic showing.

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