• Premier League

City v United: The key battles

ESPN staff
April 30, 2012

It's the match that needs no hype, a derby clash which will go a long way to deciding the destination of the Premier League crown.

United know that if they avoid defeat at Eastlands they will be overwhelming favourites to secure a 20th league championship. Win on enemy ground and Sir Alex Ferguson will need just a point from the remaining two games to enable the title celebrations to begin.

Roberto Mancini may continually insist there is no title race, but such has been the reversal in fortunes this month that the destination of the trophy is in the hands of City as much as it is United. Victory for the home side and they will surely be champions if they win their remaining two fixtures due to superior goal difference.

United could be accused of taking their foot off the gas after a run of eight consecutive wins put them eight points clear following City's loss on April 8. Since then the Red Devils have lost at Wigan and thrown away a two goal lead to draw 4-4 at home to Everton. Now United can feel City's breath on the back of their necks.

Sir Alex Ferguson's side have conceded 19 goals at home this term, only the 10th-best defensive record in the Premier League, after conceding 12 last season. That includes the infamous 6-1 thrashing at the hands of City in October. In total contrast to last season it is United's away form which has kept them in the running, so far winning 12 games on the road compared to five in 2010-11. But it is at home where City have found comfort during a troubled run-in, dropping two points across the entire season.

After a couple of indifferent displays Rafael could lose his place and either Phil Jones or Chris Smalling come in. Meanwhile for City Mario Balotelli is available after suspension but Sergio Aguero and former Manchester United man Carlos Tevez are expected to spearhead the attack.

Man City player to watch: Yaya Toure. The powerhouse in the centre of the park, Toure has been a colossus all season. The scourge of United 12 months ago when he scored the winning goal in the FA Cup semi-final, Toure will again look to take command of this encounter.

Man United player to watch: Paul Scholes. If Toure's performance will be crucial to the home side, Scholes is likely to be even more important for United. Last week's 4-4 draw with Everton saw United fail to win in the Premier League with Scholes in the starting line-up for the first time since he came out of retirement. United would take another draw here, however.

Key battle: Carlos Tevez v Rio Ferdinand. One-time team-mates turned enemies in what could prove to be a feisty derby encounter. With Carlos Tevez now back in the team and among the goals, Ferdinand will have to use his knowledge of the Argentine's game to keep him at bay.

Trivia: There have been six red cards in Premier League Manchester derbies, five of them going to United.

Stats: Manchester United have lost only one of their last five Premier League trips to Eastlands and they also defeated Man City there earlier this season in the FA Cup (3-2).

Prediction: City will be best served going for goals against a United defence which has looked suspect against an opponent out to attack. But they may use the opposite tactic resulting in a tame 0-0 draw.

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