Ahead of the massive Manchester derby on Thursday at the Etihad Stadium (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) both Manchester City and Manchester United have some massive absentees through injury with Paul Pogba and Zlaan
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That being said, there are still plenty of stars who will be out on the pitch and both Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho will be sure to surprise many with their team selections. With City in fourth place but just one point and one place ahead of United, this game will be crucial in the race for UEFA Champions League qualification.
[ MORE: Manchester derby, team news ]
Below is a look at three key battles on the pitch which will determine the outcome of the game.
Vincent Kompany vs. Marcus Rashford
This will perhaps be the most pivotal individual battle on the pitch. With Vincent Kompany back fit, Man City’s defense has looked incredibly solid. The Belgian star will have his hands full with a fired up Marcus Rashford though. The local lad scored the winner at the Eithad last season and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic out injured the 19-year-old has stepped up big in recent weeks. Kompany will look to step high and intercept balls into Rashford early but we all now have deceptively strong Rashford is and if he can turn Kompany early then there’s no way City’s skipper will catch him in a straight race.
Kevin De Bruyne vs. Ander Herrera
In the 2-1 win for City at United back in September (man, that seems like a long time ago) Kevin de Bruyne tore United’s midfield apart. In the first half of that game he scored the opener and his shot off the post fell to Kelechi Iheanacho for City’s second as Guardiola deployed KDB in a slightly unfamiliar central role. He was much more attacking at Old Trafford and kept winning the ball back in key area in front of United’s defense. Ander Herrera started that game on the bench that day and Mourinho brought him on at half time to quell the threat of KDB, which he did. Guardiola may play De Bruyne deeper, as he did against Arsenal at the Emirates recently, but the Belgian will have to get by Herrera. The Spaniard has been a terrier in Mourinho’s midfield and is having a fine season. Herrera did a wonderful man-marking job on Eden Hazard last weekend and after shaking off an injury, don’t be surprised if Mourinho puts him up against De Bruyne.
Sergio Aguero vs. Eric Bailly
Guardiola had an injury concern about Aguero but the Argentine is fit and ready and that’s bad news for United. He took his goal superbly well in the FA Cup semifinal to Arsenal at the weekend and Aguero is now second all-time in City’s goalscorers, scoring in his last five PL games on the troy. Eric Bailly has been been forced to play a lot of games this season, when fit, and he went the full 120 minutes against Anderlecht last Thursday and then the full 90 against Burnley on Sunday although he was limping at the end of the latter. With Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo out through injury, Bailly will have to play again (Daley Blind will likely partner him) and his battle with Aguero will be crucial. Aguero has eight goals in 10 appearances against United but they’ve managed to keep him quiet in the past two outings.
Watford looks set to appoint Javi Gracia to its managerial position, hours after firing Marco Silva and blaming Everton for the manager.
[ MORE: Watford fires Silva, blames Everton ]
Gracia led Malaga to eighth and ninth place finishes in La Liga between 2014-16 before spending last season at Rubin Kazan.
Gracia, 47, has led promotion campaigns in Spain and has plenty of experience with perceived smaller clubs battling the drop zone.
Watford will hope the Hornets don’t reach that point, still five points clear of the drop after flirting with the Top Seven for the first quarter of the Premier League season.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has agreed to join Arsenal from Manchester United, clearing the path for Alexis Sanchez to join the Old Trafford set.
[ MORE: 2 Robbies on the deal ]
The BBC is reporting that both players will undergo medicals at their proposed new clubs on Sunday ahead of a straight swap deal.
Sanchez, 29, has scored 80 goals for Arsenal since arriving before the 2014-15 campaign, including 30 last season.
Mkhitaryan turns 30 this summer, and has struggled at Manchester United since posting five assists in his first three matches of the season.
[ MORE: Watford sacks Silva ]
He was, however, a combination of Sanchez and Mesut Ozil in his final season at Borussia Dortmund, scoring 23 goals with 32 assists.
This could be win-win, as Mkhitaryan at his best is a like-for-like replacement for Mesut Ozil should the German leave in the summer and Sanchez is a more proven PL commodity (though his attitude should be a major question for the United room).
Watford has fired Marco Silva as manager, and it’s blaming Everton.
The Hornets are 1W-2D-8L in their last 11 Premier League matches after Saturday’s 2-0 loss at Leicester City, and have won just three in the league since the Toffees sacked Ronald Koeman on Oct. 23.
[ REPORT: Stoke to add hometown Harrison from NYCFC ]
Watford sat fifth in the table at that point, and has dropped to 10th. That’s five points clear of the drop zone and eight points back of eighth.
Silva was chased hard by Everton, and Watford rejected all advances for the Portuguese boss. The Toffees ended up hiring Sam Allardyce in a move which has also gone south.
Here’s the guts of Watford’s released statement:
The Club is convinced the appointment of Silva was the right one and had it not been for the unwarranted approach by a Premier League rival for his services we would have continued to prosper under his leadership.
The catalyst for this decision is that unwarranted approach, something which the Board believes has seen a significant deterioration in both focus and results to the point where the long-term future of Watford FC has been jeopardised.
Watford will appoint its ninth manager since the start of the 2012-13 season. It faces Southampton in the FA Cup on Saturday before a midweek league visit to fellow relegation struggler Stoke City on Jan. 31.
Silva is the eighth manager fired since the beginning of the Premier League season, joining Frank De Boer, Craig Shakespeare, Ronald Koeman, Slaven Bilic, Tony Pulis, Paul Clement, and Mark Hughes.
All of Saturday’s action from around Mexico’s top flight…
Pachuca 3-1 Lobos BUAP
A strong first-half push from the hosts was all Pachuca needed on Saturday night to earn their first victory of the 2018 Clausura season. Angel Sagal brought the home side in front after just 10 minutes off of a near-post header, before Pachuca’s lead soon doubled 14 minutes later from the penalty spot when strike Franco Jara converted on the dead-ball attempt.
Just prior to halftime, Pachuca was out to a 3-0 advantage when 20-year-old outside back Erick Aguirre tallied his first goal for the club.
Last-place side Lobos got on the board three minutes into the second stanza via a finish from Heriberto Olvera, however, it wasn’t enough to provide anything more than a consolation for the visiting side.
Necaxa 1-3 Chivas Guadalajara
Mexican international Alan Pulido made it a dream start for the visitors from Guadalajara at the Estadio Victoria, however, that lead was cancelled out in first-half stoppage time after Carlos Gonzalez leveled the match up at 1-1.
The difference proved to be with 25 minutes left to play, when a goalkeeping error by Marcelo Barovero allowed Chivas to regain possession inside the Necaxa penalty area, before Ronaldo Cisneros tapped home the winner.
Then, a third goal came just prior to the end of regulation when Edwin Hernandez killed the game off for Matias Almeyda’s men, who also earned their first victory of the Clausura season.
Rest of Saturday’s Liga MX action
Cruz Azul 0-0 Club Leon
Queretaro 0-0 Tigres UANL
Monterrey 0-0 Club Tijuana
UNAM vs. Club America — 1 p.m. ET
Santos Laguna vs. Morelia — 7 p.m. ET