Manchester City are going to face Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium next Sunday.
City, the defending champions, are currently second in the league table with 17 points from seven matches. United have won their last four matches and sit in sixth place with 12 points from four matches.
Pep Guardiola will surely be wary of United’s resurgence and his team will have to play really well to secure 3 points from Sunday’s match.
Here are three things to watch out for in the match.
Manchester United’s defense faces a litmus test
Manchester United have kept a clean sheet in each of their past four league matches, but face an altogether different test against their neighbors.
Lisandro Martinez has been very good in the last few matches, winning a couple of Man of the Match awards. He is likely to have his hands full containing Erling Haaland of Manchester City.
The 22-year-old Norwegian striker is in red-hot form and has already scored 14 goals in 10 matches. There is a considerable difference in height between Haaland and Martinez and it might well turn out to be a handicap for the Argentine centre-back. However, he will take heart from the fact City usually do not play too many aerial balls into the opposition penalty box.
Raphael Varane will have to help his partner out to counter the physical threat posed by Haaland. Add to that the pace of the slippery Phil Foden, the dribbling abilities of Riyad Mahrez and consummate attacking skills of Bernardo Silva and the United defense is in for an uphill task.
Erik ten Hag will be extremely happy if his team manages to keep a clean sheet in Sunday’s match.
Expect an intense battle in midfield
As is the case in most big matches, the fate of Sunday’s clash might be determined by how the battle in the midfield pans out. City have Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan in central midfield and the duo are capable of troubling any team in the world with their astute passing, timely runs at the opposition goal and ability to score goals.
United, who are likely to play Christian Eriksen as one of the defensive midfielders (Scott McTominay being the other) in their 4-2-3-1 system, will want the Danish playmaker to shoulder some defensive responsibility as well.
McTominay will have to play as the de-facto third centre-back at times and Diogo Dalot and Tyrell Malacia will have to stay inside their own half for the most part, as De Bruyne has a tendency to move into the flanks and deliver accurate crosses.
United should also prepare to defend long balls played into the box by Rodri from the middle third.
United’s counter-attacking threat
Manchester City are likely to dominate ball-possession – as they almost always do – on Sunday.
United, therefore, will try to make good use of the ball whenever they get it. One can expect to see a number of long balls into the opposition half by the United midfielders – Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes.
Marcus Rashford is likely to be fit for Sunday’s contest and his pace should be a cause for concern for the City defense. It has to be remembered that the 24-year-old striker scored a brace in United’s resounding 3-1 win over Arsenal a few weeks back.
Jadon Sancho and Antony will also want to make their presence known on the flanks. Antony’s ball-holding ability might come in handy should United score first.
The likes of Ruben Dias and John Stones, therefore, will want help from Rodri while defending United’s fast counter-attacks.