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Another week, another opportunity for David Moyes to prove himself as Manchester United manager, even if Tuesday's match is the rather daunting proposition of a Manchester derby.
Though Liverpool’s visit to Old Trafford may have been a disaster, recent wins against Olympiacos and West Ham offer hope for a positive outcome when Manchester City come to town.
Below are the players vital for a United victory against their local rivals.
1. David De Gea
Even at his team's lowest ebb this season, David De Gea has been a figure of consistency and composure at the back, regularly called upon to produce world class saves as opponents, big and small, prey on the uncertainty that has haunted Old Trafford of late.
Against Olympiacos in their Champions League second-leg match at home, the Spaniard pulled off a fine save to deny the Greeks, who would have practically confirmed their progress into the last eight had they scored an away goal.
City will pose an even greater attacking threat for the goalkeeper to nullify however, with the likes of Alvaro Negredo holding fond memories of their last tangle with Moyes' stumbling side.
It goes without saying that De Gea needs to be at his very best to prevent another embarrassing rout against the Citizens, especially given how porous United's midfield remains against players such as Yaya Toure, and the defensive injury crisis currently gripping the Red Devils.
Yet the former Atletico shot-stopper must also focus his mind on aiding his outfield colleagues in catching Manuel Pellegrini's side out, with City also possessing weak points in defence and midfield, especially when Fernandinho is also drawn forward to support attacks.
De Gea's distribution could be key in firing the ball upfield as rapidly as possible to get behind Vincent Kompany and his defensive colleagues, to either grab a chance or trigger the increasingly card-prone Belgian into another impulsive and reckless challenge that will put him and his cohorts under the scrutiny of the referee and his cards.
Whether it's standing tall as United's last line of defence, or looking ahead as their initial outlet for building attacks, the Spaniard is set to place a headline role in deciding which way the latest instalment of the Manchester derby swings.
Ahead of De Gea will be Rio Ferdinand, refreshed after being allowed to rest up at the weekend, and set to marshal United's back line in the absence of Nemanja Vidic.
The former England international remains one of the most elegant defenders in the Premier League, but his peak years are now well beyond him as far as speed and strength are concerned. His best qualities remain timeless however: positioning, reading of the game, leadership over others and technical ability in one-on-one situations. Whether he is able to bring those assets to bear, rather than being found out by his weaknesses, will be decided by how Moyes deploys and supports his defensive kingpin.
A high defensive line would be a risk, but such a ploy may be necessary for United to compress the play and seize the initiative, rather than sitting back and inviting pressure onto their lines. Should he line up next to the more impetuous Phil Jones, Ferdinand may be able to harness the younger centre-back's energy to augment his risk assessment of whatever City throw at them, guiding his charge into the best positions and spaces to occupy to try and deny their opponents.
Even if such a best-case scenario is possible, should City target Ferdinand with pace, sending the likes of Jesus Navas surging towards and behind him, it could be a recipe for disaster. Much will depend on how closely Moyes is able to place Michael Carrick to his senior defender, in order to intercept dangerous balls and shutdown potentially advantageous passing angles in front of the backline.
3. Wayne Rooney
With Carrick likely to be required to help manage Ferdinand's workload, and screen the defence, United's midfield will be outnumbered and outgunned compared to the powerful double pivot of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, not to mention the forward-lying creativity of David Silva and Samir Nasri.
That's where Wayne Rooney comes in.
Not only is the England striker United's best bet for a decisive and spectacular derby-winning goal, due to his propensity to drop deep, search out the ball and link up play with his midfielders, he will be pivotal in deciding whether United can respond to the pressure City are able to apply through the middle.
His ability to make his presence known in other areas of the field could be key for Rooney to make a meaningful impact on the game too. After all, in their last meeting, Kompany marked him out of the game. Should the Belgian do a similar job on the forward this time, his moves towards midfield could pull the defender out of position and help to create space for an on-running team-mate such as Danny Welbeck.
Should opportunities arise for the striker however, having been reinstated as United's primary man up front, he has to take them and prove his credentials as a No. 9.
Be it by goals, assists or a dismantling of City's defensive structure, much depends on Rooney and his ability to not only lead from the front but reinforce the middle as Moyes seeks a way to win over the fans once more by bringing their rival's title challenge to heel.
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- Manchester United
- David De Gea
- Manchester City
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- Rio Ferdinand
- Manchester derby
- Old Trafford