Manchester United and Manchester City prepare to lock horns for the second time this season as the Blues make the short cross-town to trip to Old Trafford.
This fixture may have been pencilled in as a potential title decider early doors, with the two Manchester clubs occupying the top two positions in each of the last two seasons, but while City remain well in the title picture and have their fate in their own hands with games in hand over rivals Liverpool and Chelsea, United’s title defence has fallen painfully short this term.
That said, there is still plenty to play for in a match which is usually full of passion with City seeking to close the gap at the top and United not only bidding to restore some pride after an early season 4-1 thumping at the Etihad, but needing to continue to build momentum ahead of a season-defining clash against Bayern Munich next week.
United have been markedly better in their last two matches, first seeing off Olympiacos 3-0 to progress to the Champions League quarter finals before besting West Ham 2-0 at Upton Park at the weekend. However, we haven’t won three games on the spin since late December and have endured a fairly pathetic start to 2014, winning just eight from 16 games since the turn of the year.
Old Trafford has been far from the Theatre Of Dreams this season with United winning just three of their last six at home, Norwich and Stoke are amongst a clutch a teams to boast a better record at home than the Reds, which doesn’t bode well ahead of Pellegrini’s typically free-scoring Manchester City’s visit.
Nemanja Vidic will serve the second game of his suspension following his dismissal against Liverpool while Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling are still likely to be absent through injuries. Rio Ferdinand could come back into the side but if not, Michael Carrick could continue at the heart of defence after an impressive display against West Ham as a makeshift centre half.
Elsewhere, Patrice Evra, Danny Welbeck and Antonio Valencia could all come back into the side while Ashley Young is likely to drop to the bench. Wayne Rooney should continue up top in the absence of Robin van Persie and Juan Mata is a certainty to retain his place in his favoured central role.
Manchester City have been extremely impressive this season and have been exciting to watch having racked up big wins against Spurs, Arsenal and United already this term. They’ve already scored 76 goals in the league this term, 28 more than United.
However, City have perhaps ran out of steam a little over the past month having crashed out of both the FA Cup and Champions League and will be without top scorer Sergio Aguero to a hamstring injury at a time when fellow strikers Edin Dzeko, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic have been troubled by inconsistency and niggling injuries.
The Citizens have won their last three in the league all with clean sheets and warmed up for the derby with a 5-0 victory against Fulham. Manuel Pellegrini stated in his pre-match press conference that Sergio Aguero has ‘no chance’ or featuring while Matija Nastasic is also out, meaning Martin Demichelis should continue at centre back alongside the returning Vincent Kompany.
The statistics point to an away victory with City unbeaten in their last eight Premier League away games having kept clean sheets in three of their last four away games. On the contrary, United have already lost five times at Old Trafford this season and have failed to beat Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs at home this campaign but with derby games, form often goes out the window.
Wayne Rooney, whose brace at Upton Park took him to 13 in the league this season is likely to be key. The 28-year-old was excellent against the Hammers and is the leading scorer in Manchester derbies with eleven goals, notching five in his last five against City.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-2 Manchester City