Key Battles: Eric Bailly to be the man of the moment in defence against City?

Manchester United go head to head with Manchester City in the Premier League for what will be the 174th Manchester derby in the history of both clubs. United have beaten City already this season in the EFL Cup, a competition that Jose Mourinho’s side won in February. In the league, Pep Guardiola’s side beat United 2-1 at Old Trafford back in September, a match which could have been so much different for the red side of Manchester. On Thursday night at the Etihad Stadium, United will have a chance to break into the top four this season with a victory over the bitter blue side of the city. Mourinho’s season can be viewed as a success with one major trophy in the bag, another one still possible and a top four place also possible, with two chances to achieve UEFA Champions League football next season. Manchester City’s season under Pep Guardiola will be viewed as a success by those who are tonguing the Spaniard’s colon, but for everyone else, he has failed, ending the season with only pocket change as the only silver he will tough this season. There will be many key battles in the Manchester derby on Thursday, here are three of them…

Eric Bailly -v- Sergio Agüero

The Ivorian central defender has had a great debut season at Manchester United following his £30 million transfer from Villarreal last summer. For the last few matches, Bailly has been run off his feet but has continued to play to the best of his abilities, no matter who his opposition is. Partnered with Marcos Rojo, Bailly has been at his best, but the injury to the Argentinian which was suffered last Thursday, saw Daley Blind as his partner against Burnley at the weekend. Bailly is still very much the man in the centre of defence for Jose Mourinho and United, making 20 appearances in the Premier League alone this season, maintaining an 88% pass success rate, averaging nine defensive actions per match and still to make a defensive error this season, he will be the best man to stop in-form striker, Sergio Agüero. The Argentinian striker has scored 30 goals in all competitions this season, 17 of those in the league. Agüero has a 53% shot accuracy, not the best in the league, but not the worst either. The Argentinian striker has created 22 chances in the league, so will be a handful, as will the other attackers in his team.

Michael Carrick -v- Kevin De Bruyne

Michael Carrick might be 35 years of age, but this season he has been a breath of fresh air in the centre of midfield, shielding the back four for much of the season, somewhat successfully. Carrick may be seeing out his final season at the Theatre of Dreams with his testimonial being played in June, but he will continue to do his stuff, dictating the tempo and calming the play with his organised presence in the squad. Carrick has made 17 appearances in the Premier League this season, maintaining an 89% pass success rate, showing his ability on the ball. He wins more duels that not with a 58% success rate, averaging four defensive actions per match. That is what United will need against City, who will be looking to pull away from United in a bid to end their season on a high. Kevin De Bruyne could be the player Carrick will be tasked against, along with his defensive teammates, of course. The Belgian has made 32 appearances in the league this season, scoring ten goals and creating 85 chances for his teammates. De Bruyne has a poor shot accuracy (48%), but is a live wire, especially when advancing into the final third of the pitch. United will need a performance like that against Chelsea to keep this City side at bay, should they be on form after their FA Cup semi-final defeat to Arsenal, their feeder club.

Marcus Rashford -v- Vincent Kompany

Marcus Rashford is a player chomping at the bit at this stage of the season, which is good as Zlatan Ibrahimovic saw his season end less than a week ago and Rashford will be United’s hope to find goals, helping the club finish on a high this season. Against Chelsea, Rashford was trouble from the very start. In just over a year since his debut in the first team, the form Rashford is in, despite being unfazed by his achievements, is harrowing, especially for his opposition. If he is in the frame of mind he was against Chelsea, City will have fun trying to stop him. Rashford has played 27 times in the Premier League this season, scoring five goals. His shot accuracy (55%) is better than that of Agüero (53%), which shows how predatory he is in front of goal. Rashford is a good passer, maintaining 79% passing success in the league this season. He wins just under half of his duels (47%), which shows his confidence levels. Pitted against Rashford could be Vincent Kompany, especially if John Stones missed the match through injury. Kompany has played five times in the Premier League this season. What Rashford did in the Manchester derby last season to Martín Demichelis could be harrowing for Kompany, who despite being rejuvenated during his injury layoff and offering something from the back at this stage of the season, could still come crumbling down for the Belgian.

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