There are plenty of places where the Manchester derby could be won or lost today. Alexander Kolarov will have a tough time against the in-form Antonio Valencia and Patrice Evra may struggle to contain the pacey Jesus Navas, but there is one battle that could define the game – Marouane Fellaini and Yaya Toure.
Ask any United or City fan what player has been the most influential in recent derbies and Yaya Toure will likely be a name that is high up on the list. Up against a physically weak United midfield, Toure has been a constant thorn in the side of United in derby matches but now that Fellaini has moved to Old Trafford, that is set to change.
During his unveiling, Fellaini stated that he wanted to be a defensive midfielder United and against Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday, he showed what he can do in that position. On a night where many feared his discipline could cause problems in Europe, he was fantastic. Calm, measured and disciplined, Fellaini stopped Leverkusen’s free flowing football and gave United’s defence some genuine protection from his holding position in front of the back four.
United haven’t had that in the derbies against Yaya Toure and he has been allowed to run straight at our defence but Fellaini won’t let that happen. He will stop Toure from being able to dominate the game and his defensive duties should allow Carrick to dictate the play going forward. We have depended on Carrick’s defensive contributions for too long but now that we have Fellaini in the side, Carrick will be afforded more license to roam.
Today is going to be a big game for Fellaini in his first Manchester derby. So far, he has shown that he has the mental strength to not let the emotion of an occasion get to him and it will be a big test for him at the Etihad in what will be a hostile and unwelcoming atmosphere.
If Fellaini can quash the threat of Toure, City may struggle to get a foothold in the game. With their main playmaker David Silva set to miss out, a shackled Toure would allow United to dominate possession and hopefully dominate the game.