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|EPL Preview: Manchester City v Manchester United - Title on the line as Manchester rivals square off at the Etihad|
In what is the biggest Manchester derby of the modern era, Manchester City host Manchester United in a title defining blockbuster. A win for the blue side of Manchester will propel them past United on goal difference, whilst a victory for Sir Alex Ferguson's men can establish an almost unassailable lead on top with two games to go.
Monday, April 30, Etihad Stadium
Manchester City vs Manchester United
The status quo right now is United being three points ahead of City, but trail City by six goals in goal difference. A win or draw for United will mean they will need to drop points against Swansea (home) and Sunderland (away) for City to have any chance. A win for City means they will leapfrog United into top spot and two wins against Newcastle (away) and QPR (home) will guarantee the title heads to Etihad Stadium.
The current champions have been nearly invincible in the Premier League this year with 13 wins, two draw and one loss as they have clawed themselves above City. The worrying trend is that they have only won two of their last four games with an away draw at Wigan and last week's surprising home draw against Everton.
United have had a fairly settled line-up of late and we can expect a similar line-up to the XI that started against Everton last week. There is however a chance that Rafael, who looked unsettled in the last few minutes of the Toffees clash, could be replaced by Phil Jones as United look to shore up the defence. Ferguson has also showed a penchant in the past for playing Park Ji-Sung in big games and he could replace Nani as United look to crowd the centre of the pitch. Javier Hernandez could be in line for a start as it's expected that City will have the possession advantage at home and his clinical finishing may be an asset.
Manchester City have got their season back on track after a three game winless period through the back of March and start of April. Draws against Stoke City and Sunderland culminated in a 1-0 loss against Arsenal which put United in the box seat for the title. However, City have won their past three games with convincing 4-0 (West Brom), 6-1 (Norwich) and 2-0 (Wolves) wins that have kept them in reach of United.
City have been buoyed of late by the presence of Carlos Tevez and he is almost certain to start upfront. But the big question remains about whether Mario Balotelli will return for the club's biggest game of the season? There has been murmurings in the press that he may return but I believe it likely that the in-form Sergio Aguero will partner Tevez and the controversial Italian will come off the bench at some stage. There is also a chance that Nigel De Jong may replace Gareth Barry in central midfield; depending on who is fresher.
Both teams will be able to put out almost full strength teams in a battle to the end that will have a hugely significant say on the destination of the title. Manchester City will be confident of getting a win at home and after belting United 6-1 at Old Trafford earlier on this season. Manchester United have the experience in big games at this stage of the season and will be hoping this counts for something in what should be a tight tussle. Both teams attacking flair should cancel each others out in a result that will give United the upper hand in the title race. There will definitely be goals as the Premier League's two best attacks go head to head.
Prediction: Manchester City 2-2 Manchester United