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Four Players to Watch: Midfield technicians or pacey wunderkinds?

This edition of the Manchester derby, surely, is the best one in the history of the city. With Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho in town, both clubs are bigger than ever, and in the race for Champions League football, dubbed ‘the rat race’ by Louis van Gaal, this match is more likely than any other to decide fourth place in the Premier League this season.

Manchester United sits a point behind noisy neighbours City, with both sides within a game of Liverpool with two in hand. City, fresh from FA Cup defeat against Arsenal, in a match that ignited referee-related controversy, will be looking to have as much success as possible in Pep Guardiola’s failed debut season.

Jose Mourinho’s season hasn’t gone much better in terms of the Premier League, though United have won the Community Shield, EFL Cup, and are favourites to win the Europa League. While that isn’t the main objective for United by any means, the main priority this season after a tumultuous transition was getting United back into the Champions League, and a win on Thursday would certainly contribute to the war effort.

This Manchester Derby, most of all, is absolutely littered with talent, and young talent, from both sides, with a glimpse into the future in the attacking units of both Manchester sides. Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane headline the list of promising players purchased by City, while returning United product Paul Pogba joins Anthony Martial and Wythenshawe’s finest, Marcus Rashford, in United’s attacking ranks. Combine that with the talent that was already at United and City, and this Derby could be the biggest spectacle in a while, with the following four players headlining the show.

 

 

Kevin De Bruyne, Attacking Midfielder, Manchester City

While much has been made of Paul Pogba’s ‘poor’ season, which hasn’t been poor in the slightest, Kevin De Bruyne has escaped the headlines despite not quite delivering to his ability. Much like Pogba, he’s had a very good season, but when you’re as good as he is, a lot more needs to be expected.

De Bruyne was a spectacle in September’s Manchester Derby, involved in both goals for City on the night and undoubtedly the best player on the pitch. United will have genuine aspirations of winning this edition of the Manchester Derby, as they have been the better side since the unbeaten run commenced, but if City’s big players perform the way De Bruyne did that day, it will be tremendously difficult for United to earn points at all.

 

 

Leroy Sane, Winger, Manchester City

Perhaps the only area of the pitch this season for Manchester United that isn’t sorted is left-back. Matteo Darmian started United’s game against Burnley, and Daley Blind, United’s best left-back over the course of this season, looks required at the heart of defence. This means that Luke Shaw will most likely start for United on Thursday, and while he’s a good player, he will have a handful in front of his eyes.

Sane has burst into form the way Anthony Martial did last season, almost carrying City through their tougher patches with his darting runs. The German International is young, has searing pace (even more than Shaw himself), and is blessed with a variety of unique dribbling skills, able to beat a man on the inside and outside. It just so happens that he’ll be playing on the weaker side of United’s defence, and if granted access to the channels, De Bruyne (and David Silva, if fit) will love trying to pick him out with a pass.

 

 

Anthony Martial, Forward, Manchester United

Nobody knows where Anthony Martial will play against Manchester City, but after his performance against Burnley, he will be on the pitch. Likely tasked with forming a dynamic partnership with Marcus Rashford, Martial will be holding the goal scoring burden as the far more prolific player of the duo in front of goal. Perhaps not as finished a product as Sane, Martial compensates with inhumanly mercurial talent on the ball, ridiculous lateral movement, and unbelievable composure in front of goal.

Martial will hope to find joy by moving outside into the wide-left channel, where he can run at Jesus Navas (City’s makeshift right-fullback). With Vincent Kompany likely to play centre-back, Martial can undoubtedly get at the City captain, who hasn’t played enough football this season to cope with Martial’s potential threats.

There’s somewhat of an inevitability for opponents when Martial clicks into gear, as we saw last season- he has unprecedented levels of talent and if he clicks into gear, his name will be on the scoresheet.

 

 

Ander Herrera, Midfielder, Manchester United

I’m sincerely baffled that Herrera hasn’t yet gained a reputation as the league’s biggest game player because his record in them is unbelievable. Seemingly loving a crunch clash, Herrera has produced Man of the Match performances against City in the EFL Cup, in both games against Liverpool, against Arsenal and Tottenham at Old Trafford, and the individual performance of the season against Antonio Conte’s Chelsea.

His unique blend of raw aggression and excellent pass choice drives United forward but also keeps the side safe in possession of the ball. Rarely caught out, his positional awareness gives Paul Pogba perfect cover in the centre of midfield, and despite being one of the better defensive presences in midfield in Europe this season, Herrera has 11 assists to date. He’s the exact player Pep Guardiola wishes he had, and he can make the bald Spaniard yearn even more for a top-notch midfielder on Thursday with a good performance.

Written by Aaron Moniz

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