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Premier League: 5 Key Battles Which Could Decide The Manchester Derby
Simon Winter
Simon Winter
November 8, 2018
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Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.

On Sunday, local rivalries are renewed at the Etihad Stadium as City and United wage war in the 178th Manchester Derby.

It’s a fixture that’s tangled up in a knot of plotlines with a history carved deep into a slab of hate with liquid hot venom.

The clubs’ have had almost a complete role reversal over the last half a decade, with City moving vertically past their rivals to claim dominion over Manchester, leaving United to play the role of plucky underdog.

Yet, United have had the better of it in the most recent Manchester derbies, winning 4, drawing 2 and losing only 2 of their most recent 8 tempestuous rendezvous with City.

When the teams last locked horns in early April, United denied City the chance to seal a title win in front of their own fans, coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2 in dramatic fashion – a result that kept City’s champagne on ice, if only temporarily.

City come into the Sunday’s game as champions and league leaders, a full 9 points and 6 places ahead of their cross-town, crimson antagonists.

In their mid-week continental excursions, the Citizens played with verve and style to obliterate Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk. In contrast, United needed Lady Luck to beat the Old Lady in Turin, though the grit and character they showed was a throwback to days when better players wore red.

Sunday’s game will pit City’s verve and style directly against United’s grit and character in a clash of footballing ideologies. It promises to be a fascinating spectacle.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important individual battles that are could play a key role in deciding the Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium.

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Sergio Aguero vs Chris Smalling

Manchester City - Sergio Aguero Hat-trick celebrations

Sergio Aguero has been at the peak of his devastating attacking powers this season for Manchester City. The Argentinean has racked up 7 goals and 4 assists in 11 Premier League appearances for the champions this season and Aguero has an impressive record in games against United.

Aguero scored 7 times in his first 7 Premier League appearances against United, though the 30-year failed to put his goalscoring mark on any of his 3 games against them since. On Sunday Aguero will be desperate to rectify that statistical slide.

Tasked with stopping him will be Chris Smalling – a centre half with a propensity for making big errors in the biggest games.  Smalling tends to struggle most against diminutive, quick attackers and he will have his work cut out against one of the archetypal pocket-rockets in football this weekend.

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Fernandinho vs Paul Pogba

Holding midfielder Fernandinho often performs a thankless task playing the role of destroyer in an otherwise incredibly creative Manchester City team. Pep Guardiola recognizes and appreciates just how vital a role he plays in City’s midfield however, and Fernandinho is one of only four City players to have started every Premier League game so far this season.

One of Fernandinho’s many jobs on Sunday will be to restrict the influence of Man Utd’s Paul Pogba. The marauding Frenchman was United’s game-changer when they last played City in April, and even though he is the very definition of an enigmatic footballer, Pogba has the ability to be a match-winner again this weekend.

Kyle Walker vs Anthony Martial

Anthony Martial in action for Manchester United

The manner in which Manchester City usually dominate their league games means that Kyle Walker, who’s categorised as a right-back, plays as an auxiliary attacker down the same flank most weeks. Walker has averaged just 1.2 tackles per game in the league this season, a number comparable to players like Leicester midfielder James Maddison and Bournemouth schemer David Brooks. It’s not that Walker is averse to making tackles – it’s just that he rarely has many tackles to make.

On Sunday his defensive acumen is likely to be tested to the full against one of the league’s most in-form players – Anthony Martial. The French winger has scored 5 times in his last 4 Premier League appearances, cementing his place on the United left after he started the season as a want-away peripheral figure. Both Walker and Martial are blessed with rapid pace, which should make their tussle really compelling viewing.

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Raheem Sterling vs Luke Shaw

In a head-to-head duel that’s likely to have Gareth Southgate’s full interest, England international teammates Raheem Sterling and Luke Shaw stand either side of the Mancunian dividing line on Sunday. In City’s sparkling attack this season, Sterling has arguably shone the brightest from an individual standpoint. The 23-year old has scored 6 and made 5 Premier Leagues so far this season, as he continues to sharpen his clinical edge under Pep Guardiola.

2018/19 has been a season of rebirth for Luke Shaw, who finally looks like realizing his huge potential. Shaw, who is just 5 months older than Sterling, has been a regular fixture at left-back for United since the summer and has started 10 of the club’s 11 Premier League fixtures since August. Shaw is still prone to lapses in concentration however and he will need to be laser focused to track Sterling’s movement properly.

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Bernardo Silva vs Nemanja Matic

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Imaginative Portuguese attacking midfielder Bernardo Silva has emerged as a Manchester City first team staple this season. Silva had a watching brief for much of his first year in England, playing the role of impact substitute more than first team mainstay after signing from Monaco. In 2018/19 however, Silva has established himself as one of the most consistent players in a team of superstars.

Bernardo Silva will be rubbing his hands at the thought of coming up against Nemanja Matic on Sunday. The Serbian has looked a heavy-legged this season and he has often been drowsy in possession when usually he is so assured. His ability to track runs from deep looks to have diminished and though he still adds value to United’s midfield, he will need plenty of help to avoid being overrun.

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