Manchester United's title credentials will be given their toughest test yet when league leaders Manchester City visit Old Trafford on Sunday. Louis van Gaal declared City derby favourites in Friday's press conference, though United would leapfrog their notoriously "noisy" neighbours with a victory. Only two points and as many places currently separate these sides.
We'd certainly take a repeat of the last Manchester derby, when United bounced back from conceding in the opening 10 minutes by scoring four goals in a 4-2 win. A high-scoring contest can be expected again here; neither side's defence is especially convincing, though United's will hopefully be made to look a little more secure by the absence of the injured Sergio Agüero.
Agüero is sidelined alongside a couple of bit-part City players in left-back Gaël Clichy and central midfielder Fabian Delph. David Silva faces a late fitness test on a calf injury, and at this stage looks unlikely to make Manuel Pellegrini's starting lineup. Unfortunately, their wealth of attacking options mean we can't celebrate this too much.
United only have three certain absentees: the injured Paddy McNair, the injured Luke Shaw, and the no-longer-injured-but-still-not-fully-fit Ashley Young.
Manchester City have looked oddly Arsenalesque so far this season. That is to say that they've played some of the most sublime attacking football of anyone in the league, only to be shown up by a rather dodgy defence. A defeat at home to West Ham United and a 4-1 hammering at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur were both hilariously unforeseen, though reassuring in illustrating that this team isn't quite as strong as we'd all feared.
Certainly, they have the most fierce attack of anyone in the league. Even without Agüero and Silva, they have plenty of players who can do damage -- and do it in style. Their summer acquisition of Belgium's goalscoring playmaker Kevin De Bruyne looks annoyingly excellent, while former Liverpool man Raheem Sterling appears to be finding his best form. Expect those two to interchange around United's defensive midfield area, while right winger Jesús Navas sticks rigidly to his flank. Whoever starts at left-back won't have an easy game, but at least Navas is predictable.
Wilfried Bony will almost certainly spearhead the attack. He may lack his pace but he's much more of a strong, aerial presence than Agüero, meaning it's just as imperative that Daley Blind doesn't start at centre-back.
The good news is that City's deeper midfielders aren't as strong as their more advanced ones, and Yaya Touré seems to be on the decline. He no longer dominates games like he once did, and in United's win at Old Trafford last season, it was his lazy positioning that contributed to the win. If United move the ball quickly, the likes of Juan Mata and Ander Herrera should find the space to do damage.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): David De Gea; Matteo Darmian, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo; Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin; Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, Anthony Martial; Wayne Rooney.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Joe Hart; Bacary Sagna, Nicolás Otamendi, Vincent Kompany, Aleksandar Kolarov; Yaya Touré, Fernandinho; Jesús Navas, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne; Wilfried Bony.