Saturday 11 April 2015 21:46, UK
Manchester United host Manchester City in a huge derby game at Old Trafford on Sunday. With just a point separating the sides, small margins could decide this one and that means winning personal battles...
Can Wayne Rooney get the better of Vincent Kompany? Could Sergio Aguero have too much for Marcos Rojo? And will it be Michael Carrick or David Silva pulling the strings in midfield?
We pick out three key battles that could decide the Manchester derby…
Rooney v Kompany
The respective captains have enjoyed and endured a long-running battle for supremacy in this fixture that dates back years. It’s not always been friendly either with Rooney criticised for brandishing an imaginary card when angling for Kompany’s dismissal in 2012.
Rooney has certainly had his moments of glory too. Kompany could do nothing to prevent the Manchester United forward’s stunning overhead winner in 2011 and Rooney also scored braces away to Manchester City in each of the following two seasons – games in which the defender was sent off after 12 minutes in the first then substituted due to injury after 21 minutes in the second.
Kompany has had his highs as well. Plenty of them, in fact. He scored the only goal of the game in what turned out to be a decisive win in the title race in April 2012 and has played every single minute of City's victories at Old Trafford in each of the past three seasons. The concern, however, is that the Belgian’s form is not what it was.
“Vincent Kompany has turned into Mr Rash,” said Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville last month. “I don’t know what’s happened to him. He needs to settle his game down.” Rooney does not appear in the mood to let his opponent off the hook either. He’s scored six goals in his last eight appearances for United and is revelling in his forward role.
“He’s proving now that he is Manchester United’s best striker, enjoying the role and scoring goals,” said Neville on Monday Night Football. Although Robin van Persie has confirmed his fitness ahead of the derby, it seems unlikely that United boss Louis van Gaal will want to change too much with Rooney in this form. How this battle shapes up could go a long way to deciding the outcome.
Rojo v Aguero
At the other end of the field, an Argentine duel could be critical for both teams and it seems that there might be a little animosity between these international team-mates. The pair reportedly fell out during last summer’s World Cup and when Aguero pulled out of a community event in the build-up to the November derby between the teams, Rojo jokingly suggested that the City striker might be scared of him.
Events at the Etihad Stadium proved that to be nonsense. Aguero had the better of it even before Rojo went off with a shoulder injury in the early stages of the second half, having run away from his marker once only to be hacked down and eluded him a second time before being denied by David de Gea. Aguero scored the winner – and only goal of the game - just seven minutes after Rojo departed.
United are better organised now and Rojo knows he’ll need to be vigilant. “In the penalty area he is a very quick mover and gets into position very quickly,” said the United defender. “He can be controlled, but it is up to us to keep an eye on where he at all times and get into him with a degree of firmness. You have to stick close to him, that’s for sure. Be very attentive.” Easier said than done.
Carrick v Silva
Silva excelled in the No.10 role the last time that City played at Old Trafford. Operating behind Edin Dzeko, the Spaniard had a role to play in the striker’s first-minute goal when he burst through the centre and might have doubled the lead inside 10 minutes when he found vast space between Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones. The little magician controlled the play for much of the first half with Marouane Fellaini summing up United’s frustration in a 3-0 defeat when taking a sly kick at him.
The question on Sunday will be whether Manuel Pellegrini keeps that performance in mind and opts to utilise Silva in the same position. City’s penchant for playing with two forwards has meant Silva has had to drift in from the flanks and the playmaker was out with a knee injury when the teams met in November so Pellegrini’s thinking on the matter is unclear. Given that City were not entirely convincing that day, even once United were down to 10 men, it could see Silva return as a No.10.
Not least because the make-up of the Manchester United midfield will be ostensibly similar to how it looked a little over 12 months ago. Van Gaal has made fundamental changes to the team since replacing David Moyes, but the Scot’s midfield that day featured a trio of Carrick, Fellaini and Tom Cleverley. Two of those seem certain to feature in a midfield trio with Ander Herrera asked to knit the play instead of Cleverley.
Of course, Van Gaal has worked hard to bring more cohesion to United than Moyes ever achieved and he’s unlikely to spend too much time thinking about a game that happened before he’d even arrived at the club. But Carrick struggled to get to grips with Silva that afternoon and the job of tracking the City star when he moves into those pockets of space will be a crucial one. Indeed, it’s just one of a host of battles that could decide which team finishes on top in Manchester this season. We'll have some answers on Sunday.
Watch Man Utd v Man City live on Sky Sports 1 HD this Sunday from 3.30pm