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As Roberto Mancini and Sir Alex Ferguson prepare their men for Sunday's top-of-the-table grudge match, Goal.com looks at who has the advantage in key areas of the pitch

TACTICAL ANALYSIS
By Greg Stobart

The pre-match mind games between the managers ahead of Sunday's Manchester derby centred on the award of penalties as Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini both cranked up the heat on referee Martin Atkinson.

Both men know, however, that the key to controlling the game at the Etihad Stadium will not be whether Ashley Young takes a tumble in the box or a United player handles the ball in their own area.

Goal.com analyses how the battle will be fought in each area of the pitch...

MIDFIELD MAELSTROM


As Premier League leaders United travel across the city to take on their second-placed noisy neighbours, Sir Alex's primary concern will be how his side can overcome their inferiority in midfield.

City will expect to dominate possession, especially at home, with the likes of Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry, David Silva and Samir Nasri all technical players who look to use the ball efficiently. The champions' play is largely based on patience in possession, waiting for the right moment for release one of their lethal strikers.

United will miss the hustle and bustle of Anderson to combat City in midfield, while Tom Cleverley, Antonio Valencia and Nani are all injury doubts. The onus will fall on Michael Carrick alongside Darren Fletcher to plug holes and prevent City's creative players from picking up the ball in spaces where they can turn at the United back four.

DERBY DEFENCE


City are unbeaten in the league in two years and, as is so often the case in big games, the first goal will be absolutely vital on Sunday.

That does not bode well for United, who have gone behind in 10 of their 15 Premier League fixtures this season, with some of their defending described by Ferguson as "cartoon cavalcade", with the 10 goals conceded from set-pieces a particular problem.

Injuries to Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have not helped but the major absence has been that of captain Nemanja Vidic, who has not recovered from a knee problem in time to start against City.

City, for their part, have tightened up at the back in recent weeks after a shaky start themselves, largely blamed on Mancini's tinkering with a 3-5-2 formation early on in the campaign.

The 11 goals that they have conceded in the league makes their defence the most solid in the top flight, with Matija Nastasic's composure on the ball complementing Vincent Kompany's brute power.

Neither side have an obvious advantage behind their defenders, however. Joe Hart is good but not infallible while United do not even have a clear No.1, with David de Gea and Anders Lindegaard constantly rotated.

WIDE WIZARDS


City rely on their full-backs for much of their width, with Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy expected to bomb on into space created by movement in front of them.

This stretches the pitch, creating more space for Silva, for example, to cause damage in the final third, while at the same time forcing United's wide men to defend.

The visitors' injury problems mean that a centre forward - either Wayne Rooney or Danny Welbeck - is likely to play in a wide role against City, an area Mancini that will surely look to exploit.

In an ideal world, Sir Alex would want to sit deep and hit City on the counterattack, which is why Valencia's absence is a huge blow for the away side. Nevertheless, United will look to release the ball quickly to Young on the break and they have the striking power to take advantage of opportunities.

FIRING FORWARDS


Robin van Persie has scored 13 goals since his £24 million summer move to Old Trafford and has battle with City's central defenders will be fascinating. You simply cannot allow the Dutchman space to shoot at goal and his partnership with Wayne Rooney is developing every week.

Rooney will be expected to play a more withdrawn role, dropping into midfield, but he scored two himself at Reading last weekend and will look to release Van Persie at every opportunity. In Chicharito, the visitors have an ideal option on the bench to stretch the City back four and look for balls in behind the defence.

City shared out seven goals between the squad last season as they did the league double over their rivals with victories of 6-1 and 1-0. Their firepower up front is one of the principle reasons that Mancini's men have not lost at home in almost two years - a defeat to Everton on December 20, 2010.

There have been suggestions that Mario Balotelli could start for the hosts, his clinical finishing having set City up for the 6-1 demolition at Old Trafford in October 2011. If Mancini is anticipating a tight game with few chances, both the Italian and Edin Dzeko have strong claims for a starting role.

The likelihood is, however, that City will pair Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez in attack. The Argentine duo's nimble footwork and movement in the final third will trouble United's shaky defence, while Tevez often seems to step up his game when he takes on his former club.

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