Recent performances have suggested that Manchester United may have finally cracked the style of play Louis van Gaal has been trying to implement, though only this weekend's derby clash with cross-town rival City will give us a definitive answer. United should be sky-high on confidence, whie City's recent struggles suggest they'll be rather more unsure heading in.
City have now lost five of their last seven games in all competitions, including defeats to Burnley and Crystal Palace. It is a run that has seen them drop below United into fourth place, with the future of manger Manuel Pellegrini looking ever more uncertain. They may have won their last four games against the Reds, though they head in as underdogs.
For United, Jonny Evans continues to miss out through suspension, while defender Chris Smalling and striker James Wilson both face late fitness tests. Robin van Persie is back available after an injury layoff, though is unlikely to make the first team. City's only doubt is Wilfried Bony, who could return to action after missing the defeat to Crystal Palace.
City are unlike most big teams in that they play a 4-4-2. Their strikers -- in this match likely to be Sergio Agüero and one other, possibly Wilfried Bony after Edin Džeko's poor performance against Crystal Palace on Monday -- press from the front, forcing opposing centre-backs into quick distribution. Central midfielder Yaya Touré often pushes up high against the opponent's deepest midfielder, so in this game Michael Carrick shouldn't be expecting much time on the ball.
However, City are vulnerable in that intelligent, quick passing can bypass this first press, leaving the single holding midfielder -- be it Fernandinho or Fernando -- having to cover the width of the pitch alone. Even Palace found this weakness pretty easy to exploit -- there'll be no excuse if Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini can't collectively do the same.
City are a lot scarier on the ball than they are off it, where their 4-4-2 often becomes rather more narrow. While right-winger Jesús Navas -- who will probably pose United the biggest problems on the counter-attack -- hugs the line and looks to deliver crosses into the area, David Silva loves to wander in from the left and find any opportunity for the crucial through ball.
That's often to Agüero, who is is a lethal penalty-box striker, drifting across the width of the area searching for any defensive weakness. His strike partner is usually rather more static, offering an option to go direct and aerial, much like Fellaini in the United team. All the while, Yaya Touré marauds from deep, where his long shot poses a considerable threat.
So, how can United win? They're going to have to maintain their recent high tempo to beat City's press and exploit Fernandinho's midfield isolation. Quick, accurate passing is the way to maximise their midfield superiority, while clever movement and one-on-ones will be important in the final third.
Off the ball, Carrick is going to have to stick to Touré like glue, while an intelligent solution will have to be found to keep David Silva from finding space off the right. A man-marking job from Antonio Valencia probably won't be the solution, given Gaël Clichy's love of charging forward on the overlap. Daley Blind will have to work hard against the pace and skill of Navas, who is predictable but effective. In the last line of defence, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones will have to be strong against crosses, and wary of Agüero's constant movement.
Not much then, eh lads?