Manchester derby: Key battles

Football fans across the globe have been patiently waiting to see how Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United will match up to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, making this one of the most eagerly-anticipated Manchester derbies in recent seasons. We have identified some key battles that could decide the outcome of this epic encounter.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic v John Stones

Ibrahimovic will surely spear-head the Manchester United attack following his impressive start to his Old Trafford career.

He is likely to be monitored very closely by Manchester City’s new young centre-back Stones, who has been immense in the heart of Pep Guardiola’s defence so far.

While City have conceded a goal in each of their opening three Premier League games, Stones is yet to make an error that led directly to any of those goals but will have to be at his best to deny Ibrahimovic, who has already proved his versatility, with a headed goal, one from outside of the area, as well as from the penalty spot.

Stones is also the only player at Man City to have completed over 90 per cent of passes in the Premier League this season, meaning even the mighty Ibrahimovic will have a tough task to break down the assured young defender.

Paul Pogba v Ilkay Gundogan

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Pogba has shown he is a class above the average Premier League midfielder with his ability to glide past players, coupled with his phenomenal passing range.

The 23-year-old is set to be the driving force for the Red Devils from midfield but in Gundogan he faces an able adversary.

The Germany international is yet to play for Man City this season after suffering from a dislocated kneecap in May while still with Borussia Dortmund but is expected to make his debut in the Manchester derby.

Having been described as a complete midfielder with a sublime range of passing, he will provide City with excellent attacking options from the centre of the park.

Nolito v Antonio Valencia

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Nolito is proving good value for his £13.8 million price tag with two goals in his three appearances for the club already, as well as providing an assist.

Described as the little man for the big occasion, Nolito is a specialist winger with a good understanding of his position, quick feet and a work-rate to match.

In Valencia he faces a converted right-back who has received much criticism for his poor defending in recent seasons – although under Jose Mourinho he appears to have made the position his own.

A powerful athlete with a massive engine, Valencia has this season at least, found and end product to his mazy runs, meaning Nolito will have to be on top of his game to nullify the Ecuadorian while still providing an outlet for City.

Kelechi Iheanacho v Eric Bailly

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Iheanacho is expected to fill the massive void left by the suspension of Sergio Aguero, and has no shortage of confidence ahead of the tie.

He said: “If I get picked I’m going to do my job. Games like this mean a lot and it doesn’t come bigger than a derby.”

The 19-year-old has certainly not been overawed when called upon by City in the past, having netted eight times already in just 26 appearances. He is a tall, powerful and imposing centre-forward who will surely keep Bailly on his toes.

Named the Manchester United Player of the Month for August, the 22-year-old Bailly earned the Man-of-the-Match award in three of the club’s four games that month, only missing out when Ibrahimovic was hailed for his performance in the 2-0 victory over Southampton.

He has settled into the United backline with consummate ease, causing Red Devils goalkeeper David De Gea to gush with praise when describing the influence Bailly can have on his team.

De Gea said: “He is physical, strong, technically confident and super fast. He’s a big presence and when I stand in the tunnel and look behind me, he is one of the new big, powerful players along with Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic that gives us real presence and stature this season.”

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