It’s the biggest match of the season.
First place vs. second place. A battle of city rivals. The reigning champions against their fiercest challengers.
The Manchester derby.
Sunday morning’s match at the Etihad Stadium pits the two best teams in the Premiership against one another. United enjoys a three-point cushion on City and can open up a comfortable lead with a win away from home. But City remains the only team in the English topflight without a loss this season, and a win can draw them level and change the complexion of the title race.
What will this showdown produce between these two heavyweights? Here are a few things to consider ahead of Sunday’s match:
Deadly strikers on display
We might be in for a goal-fest on Sunday, as five of the most consistent scorers in Premiership history play for these two teams.
Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero boasts the best minutes per goal rate (one every 118 minutes) in league history amongst players who have scored at least 20 goals.
Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez is second (120 minutes), Edin Dzeko is fifth (132 minutes), Robin van Persie is sixth (137 minutes) and Mario Balotelli is ninth (147 minutes).
Van Persie has been outstanding for United since his summer move from Arsenal, as he’s been involved in more goals (14) than any other Premiership player this season, and has registered either a goal or an assist in 11 of his 13 starts.
Hernandez might not start against City because van Persie and Wayne Rooney are in such fine form, but that might be the best plan as the Mexican has scored 11 of his 28 goals coming off the bench since joining United. The same can be said for Dzeko: 11 of his 22 goals for City since he joined the club have come as a sub.
Fergie’s mind games
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is infamous for stoking the fire and playing mind games in the buildup to important matches, and this one is no different.
Ferguson took a swipe at City, suggesting the Blues have received the benefit of the doubt and some favourable decisions from the officials.
“The number of penalty kicks they get – 21 in the last year or something like that. If we got that number there’d be an inquiry in the House of Commons. There’d be a protest!”
In fact, United get the exact same number: both Manchester clubs have been awarded 21 penalties, more than any other side in the Premiership, since the start of last season.
Who can forget last season’s epic trio of tussles between these two sides?
Last October, the Blues handed the Red Devils’ their first defeat of the season after running out 6-1 winner at Old Trafford. The result marked the first time since 1926 that City scored six times at Old Trafford, and that was a 6-1 win for the Blues, too.
The second meeting between the clubs came in January during the third round of the FA Cup, a 3-2 win for United at the Etihad. City was down 3-0 at halftime, and nearly forced a replay in a match most noteworthy for Paul Scholes coming out of retirement and returning to United.
The third and final meeting was the turning point in the title race between the two city rivals. Vincent Kompany scored on a header just before the half time whistle, and the Blues held on for a dramatic 1-0 win. The victory put City top of the league on goal difference after trailing United by eight points in March, and the Blues went on to win the league title.
Pack of facts
Here are some numbers to keep in mind for all you statistical nerds.
– There have been five goals scored in the last six league meetings between City and United at the Etihad Stadium, and no more than one in any of those matches.
– United (21) and City (15) and have come from behind to win a combined 36 points from losing positions in the Premiership this season.
– Manchester City has not lost any of the 35 Premiership games that Carlos Tevez has scored in (31 wins and four draws).
– Fifteen different players have scored in the league for Manchester United this season, more than any other club.
– City hasn’t lost a league home game since Everton won at the Etihad in December 2010, a run of 37 consecutive matches (33 wins and four draws).