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As Manchester United prepare to make the short trip across to The Etihad to take on Manchester City on Sunday, Goal.com looks at the crucial duels that will decide this match.

Round 16 of this Premier League season sees Manchester United renew their rivalry with bitter cross-town foes Manchester City. And, with the Red Devils currently leading their hosts and reigning champions by three points, this game is sure to possess the spice and edge that comes with every Manchester derby. With both sides boasting squads with world class players there will be some crucial individual battles that will, no doubt, go a long way to deciding which team goes away with bragging rights and a whole lot more.

The two sides come into the game in reasonably good form, although each have their concerns of a varied nature. While both defences have been far from water-tight this season, it is undoubtedly, United who have looked the more vulnerable at the back. Indeed, the Old Trafford side have conceded a whopping 19 goals in the league already. One major factor for this is the absence of a settled back four. City, on the other hand have suffered from their debacles in the Champions League, where they have looked out of their depth for two seasons in a row now.

With, all that said, both are deservedly placed as the country’s top two teams and by some distance. As usual in a game of this magnitude both managers will be looking to their star names to stand up and be counted. Goal.com looks at some of the key battles that may determine the outcome of this tie.
                              
Robin Van Persie
vs Vincent Kompany

Sir Alex Ferguson recently completed 26 years in-charge at United and the Scot may well have engineered one of his best transfers in all that time, in the signing of ex-Arsenal talisman Robin Van Persie. The Dutchman whose goal-scoring feats saw him hit the headlines last season has settled into the team seamlessly, as if he has been in Manchester for years. A return of 13 goals in all competitions this term, proves he has picked up from where he signed off last season. Certainly, while their defence has been porous to say the least, Van Persie and his colleagues have had no problems finding the back of the net and have been scoring for fun. Indeed, Sir Alex’s men have made a habit of coming from behind to win games. This uncanny ability is due in no small part to the prodigious talents of United’s new No. 20 and if City are to harbour any hopes of victory this weekend they will have to find a way to negate the influence of the striker who does a lot more than just score goals. Van Persie has developed the happy knack of delivering in big games and Ferguson will be counting on his summer signing to come up trumps again.

The man who will be tasked with the unenviable job of containing the Netherlands international is City captain Vincent Kompany. The Belgian centre-back who was undoubtedly one of the players of last season has struggled to replicate that impressive form this term. A combination of a personal drop in form coupled with constant changes in his centre-back partners has meant he has battled to find consistency in both play and understanding. For City to win in the derby, Kompany will not only have to produce a commanding display to keep Van Persie at arms length, but will also require his leadership qualities to rise to the fore, as the prolific Dutchman is sure to pounce on even the slightest error.
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Wayne Rooney
vs Yaya Toure

One of the major reasons behind United’s free scoring form this season has been the telepathic understanding that has flourished between Van Persie and ex-Toffees man Wayne Rooney. Both strikers clearly like playing off each other and often come deep to get the ball. The Citizens will rely on midfield strongman Yaya Toure to break up play. The muscular Ivorian will certainly have to be on the top of his game to keep track of the street-smart striker. The Englishman has shaken off his recent injury worries and while his overall play has been good the goals are now starting to come. Having put in arguably his best performance this season against the Royals last week, he comes into this game in prime shape and as hungry as ever.

However, City boss Roberto Mancini will count on his dominant midfield general to track Rooney every inch of the way throughout the game, thereby, neutralising one of the opposition’s most potent attacking avenues. Similarly, it must not be forgotten that the holding midfielder has scored his fair share of crucial goals, while Rooney is not shy when it comes to putting in a defensive shift either. As such, this is likely to be a pivotal and fascinating duel.

Jonny Evans
vs Sergio Aguero

Indeed, the Etihad outfit have their own expensively assembled strike force to occupy, what has so far been a very creaky United defence and the jewel in their crown is most certainly Argentine prodigy Sergio Aguero. With Nemanja Vidic still not fully fit to return to first team action, it will fall on young Johnny Evans to keep the potent hitman on a tight leash. Aguero has been in decent form this season and he will fancy his chances of getting on the scoresheet, particularly given he will be up against the youngster who, like most of United’s defence has had his moments of indiscretion this season.

Evans will certainly have to be on his guard as the fleet-footed Argentine has provided enough evidence he can strike in the blink of an eye. While United will fancy their chances to score given their embarrassment of riches in attack, they, much like City, will need to find a way to keep the back door shut. For that to happen, Evans must put in one of his best performances in a United shirt against the man they like to call 'El Kun'.

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