Key battles in the Manchester Derby

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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Paul Pogba‘s suspension has changed the dynamic of Sunday’s huge Manchester Derby at Old Trafford.

The tantalizing concept of a duel between Pogba and Kevin De Bruyne has been stripped from the Top Two tilt, leaving Jose Mourinho likely to resort to defensive-first tactics in a bid to close the table gap to five points by handing Man City its first league loss of the season.

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It was never going to be easy, and City was able to rest many of its top players at midweek while United mathematically needed its result to clinch a spot in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds.

Sergio Aguero and/or Gabriel Jesus vs. United’s center backs

There’s a question whether City’s all-time leading scorer will play against Manchester United, though his days of dominating the derby go back in time. Aguero scored six goals in four Manchester Derbies culminating with a brace to finish the 2014-15 season, but an injury, a suspension, and two shutouts mean he hasn’t scored against United since then. United has allowed a Premier League best nine goals this season, one fewer than second-best City.

Romelu Lukaku versus himself

Manchester United’s eight-goal striker has not been able to escape criticism of his record against the top teams in Europe, and Sunday provides a huge chance to shut up his critics. Sure he scored against Real Madrid in the Super Cup, but he’s been kept off the score sheet this season against Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool (He posted a critical assist against Spurs).

It seems odd to say, but City could provide some comfort to Lukaku. The 24-year-old Belgian scored against City twice last season for Everton in a 1-1 draw at City and a 4-0 win at Goodison Park.

Dominant De Gea versus everyone but Ederson

Manchester United’s incredible Spanish keeper conspired with a trio of Arsenal defensive flubs to pick up a 3-1 win over the Gunners last weekend, but De Gea was the primary reason for the win (including a remarkable double save). De Gea allowed a pair of goals to City at Old Trafford last season before posting a clean sheet at the Etihad Stadium, and he’ll be dealing with Leroy Sane… and Kevin De Bruyne… and Raheem Sterling… and on… and on…. and on.

Bonus: What happens out wide?

Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have been very good for Mourinho, and have plenty of derby experience. Kyle Walker is no shrinking violet, either, and the battles to send in crosses could make as much of a difference as the incisive ideas in the middle of the park.