Manchester goes tribal this Sunday ahead of the 170th Manchester derby. It's been a while since both sides of the Manchester divide contested a derby from the summit of the league table. Whereas its cliche to suggest that the next derby is more important than the last, there is no underestimating the significance of Sunday's main event.
The very leadership of the league summit on Monday morning depends on the outcome of Sunday's disagreement. The stakes couldn't be higher in October.
The focus around United's preparations for this one are primarily around their recuperation from Wednesday's Champions League away trip to Eastern Europe. It will be less than 72 hours between their touch-down back in Manchester and kick-off on Sunday. At least, Louis van Gaal doesn't have the added strain of travel as United play as hosts on Sunday.
Louis van Gaal wallows in the fact that his record in derby games against Liverpool and City is near perfect, currently boasting a 4-3 aggregate lead over Sunday's opponents and a flawless one against the Scousers.
Team news ahead of the game will be dominated by whether the so far successful midfield combination of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin will retain its place and whether Juan Mata makes a return to the side. Ander Herrera's form and performance in this fixture last season will demand inclusion, a scenario that would mean Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney retain their positions from Wednesday.
It will be important though for the manager to work out how to keep Kevin De Bryune and Raheem Sterling quiet on the flanks. As such, having Mata and Martial as the men to track back on the flanks could make for an uneasy game. Expect a surprise selection in one of the wide areas. City though are weak at left-back with Bacary Sagna, a right-back by trade, likely to be asked to fill in. It's a position United can look to exploit.
The league leaders are without Sergio Aguero, often times the scourge of United, and David Silva. However they remain a potent force going forward. Kevin De Bryune and Raheem Sterling have the pace to threaten any defence. Manuel Pellegrini's boys have been in great goal-scoring form domestically, netting 11 times in their last two league games alone. Keeping them out certainly won't be a mean feat.
Wayne Rooney is the leading goal-scorer in Manchester derby history. Fancy him getting a brace on Sunday eh?
Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo will tussle it out for the left-back berth after the Argentine dipped yet again in mid-week. Certainly, the central defence partnership should remain the more natural Phil Jones and Chris Smalling partnership.
Passion more than anything won United this fixture last time out. It's often been about the side that wants it most. The reward for victory is as big as it could possibly be for United. Leadership of the league for the second time in a season having spent a couple of years without achieving it is worth breaking a limb for.
Perhaps most crucially, Sunday is the ultimate examination of United's title challenge this season. Win that, and the confidence that will follow will carry United beyond most hurdles this season, lose and Louis van Gaal will be left to pick up the pieces again.
The bragging rights are firmly in the red half following the most recent result. It is imperative for the locals that in the least we defend those rights.
Labels: ANDER HERRERA, BASTIAN SCHWEINSTEIGER, CHRIS SMALLING, DALEY BLIND, JUAN MATA, LOUIS VAN GAAL, PHIL JONES, PREVIEWS, WAYNE ROONEY