Another weekend, yet another round of mouthwatering Premier League fixtures.
Indeed, Everton play hosts to a wound-licking Arsenal side as Chelsea visit London rivals West Ham on Saturday afternoon, whilst Sunday brings one of the most important Tyne-Wear derbies in living memory as relegation candidates Sunderland and Newcastle United scrap it out at 1.30pm.
But the pick of the bunch is unquestionably the Manchester derby, having the final say on the weekend’s Premier League action with a 4pm kickoff at the Etihad Stadium.
Neither side may fancy their title chances at the moment with just nine games of the season remaining but separated by only four points and just two positions in the Premier League table, both are in desperate need of a win.
Manchester United require all three points if they’re to have a chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season, whilst failing to claim victory could see the Manchester City plummet out of the top four should the fifth-placed Hammers get one over on reigning champions Chelsea.
So with plenty at stake in terms of league standing, not to mention local bragging rights, this expectedly intense contest could well be decided by who dominates the key individual battles. Here are FIVE Football Fancast view as the most important.
With orchestrating skipper Vincent Kompany ruled out for at least a month due to injury, Manuel Pellegrini finds himself choosing between the lesser of two evils ahead of the Manchester derby.
Eliaquim Mangala has perpetually struggled to produce his best form since moving to the Etihad at the start of last season whilst Martin Demichelis’ 35 years are really beginning to tell – and both have been culpable for countless defensive blunders throughout the campaign.
So it’s a real toss up for Pellegrini in terms of selection, especially considering prodigious Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford is still very much an unknown quantity, having made his competitive debut less than a month ago.
The 19-year-old hasn’t been able to impact the scoresheet since claiming four goals and one assist in his first two appearances for the Red Devils. But he’s an energetic, enthusiastic and physical youngster who will be ready to take advantage of an erroneous display from Mangala or Demichelis.
Many would dub these two the leading goalkeepers in the Premier League at the moment and they could resultantly have an enormous impact on Sunday’s scoreline.
Indeed, Manchester United might not even be in the top half without the talismanic services of David De Gea, who recorded 61 saves and ten clean sheets in 25 Premier League appearances this season, whilst counterpart Joe Hart boasts a strong record in the Manchester derby with seven wins under his belt.
The latter is also on course to claim the Golden Glove for a record fifth time this season, amassing a division-best 13 clean sheets thus far, and with the aforementioned Vincent Kompany absent through injury, the England international will need to do his best to fill City’s leadership void at the back.
Both are athletic shot-stoppers who rarely disappoint on the big occasions and have the potential to produce Man of the Match performances.
Sergio Aguero is one of the most lethal strikers in world football and after a stuttered start to the campaign is enjoying top form once again, bagging twelve goals and three assists in his last 16 appearances across all competitions.
The Argentina international has failed to find the net in his last two outings but on his day borders upon unplayable, combining scintillating speed and penetration with pin-point accuracy and expert composure in front of goal.
Consequentially, the task of stopping him must predominantly fall to Chris Smalling. He’s easily Manchester United’s best defender and in the absence of more senior team-mates, is now one of the leaders of the starting XI.
The England international’s endured mixed fortunes in recent Manchester derbies; last season’s first instalment saw him sent off for two incredibly petulant bookings, whereas he got on the scoresheet to complete a 4-2 Red Devils win in April.
United fans will be hoping for a repetition of the latter rather than the former. But as previously said, when Aguero’s at his best there’s not much anybody in world football can do about it.
David Silva and Michael Carrick may be different kinds of midfielder who undertake different positions and different roles in their respective sides, but their fundamental duty remains relatively similar.
Whilst the Spain international looks to retain possession and create chances from the pocket between the midfield and the frontline, Carrick performs a similar kind of service for the Red Devils – launching attacks from the base of the engine room through his mixed-ranged passing game.
Indeed, United have brought in a number of alternative midfielders over the last few years but the England playmaker is still their best when it comes to getting the ball forward, whilst Silva remains the indisputable maestro of the City starting Xi.
With the duo set to line up directly against each other on Sunday – even when deployed on the left wing, Silva always finds himself moving into central positions – this key battle could well depend on who outmanoeuvres each other better to find space on the ball.
With Wayne Rooney injured and Juan Mata struggling to impact from the right-hand side, Anthony Martial enters this weekend’s derby as Manchester United’s most notable attacking threat.
Indeed, the France international ranks first and second throughout the Red Devils’ squad for goals and assists in the Premier League, with seven strikes and three set-ups, and got on the scoresheet against Liverpool in midweek via the penalty spot.
He’s quick, powerful and incredibly composed – especially for a 20-year-old undergoing his debut campaign at Old Trafford – and amid a harrowing injury crisis has emerged as one of the first names on the United team sheet.
Although Pablo Zabaleta has enjoyed a recent revival in terms of first team involvement, I’m resultantly tipping Manuel Pellegrini to select Bacary Sagna at right-back this weekend.
The Argentine is the kind of character you need in a derby but the Frenchman is an incredibly physical defender who can nullify Martial’s athletic prowess. Likewise, Sagna has been in good form this season, claiming three assists in 24 appearances whilst averaging 1.8 tackles and 1.7 interceptions per match.