Alvaro Negredo v Phil Jones
Manchester United were without four centre-backs for their 2-0 victory at West Ham on Saturday, meaning that Michael Carrick was forced to deputise in defence, with Marouane Fellaini dropping back to help against Andy Carroll. More crucial, however, was that the only fit centre-back, Phil Jones, performed extremely well – his second consecutive fine display, having excelled against Olympiakos in midweek. Jones's best position has been debated lengthily since his move to Old Trafford in 2011, but it always appeared most likely he would become a centre-back – now, with others unavailable and Nemanja Vidic departing in the summer, he must prove it. Vidic should return after suspension, but he has been in poor form recently, and Jones might be the man to stop Alvaro Negredo. If he does, David Moyes will be encouraged to build next season's defence around Jones.
Mata finding space
Robin van Persie's absence allowed Juan Mata to play in his favoured No10 role at Upton Park, with Wayne Rooney pushed forward as the main striker. Rooney grabbed the headlines with his superb 45-yard volley, but Moyes was full of praise for his entire attack, and especially Mata and Shinji Kagawa. They repeatedly combined in the first half, showing great understanding on their first start together. Van Persie hit a hat-trick against Olympiakos before being injured, but his absence may bring the best out in Mata. Yaya Touré and Fernandinho have a fine partnership, but neither is naturally a holding midfielder and they often concede too much space – Mata can exploit that, and play clever through-balls to teammates breaking behind City's defence.
Pace in behind City's defence
Martín Demichelis and Vincent Kompany have been sent off in recent weeks for denying clear goalscoring opportunities – both were individual errors, but a red-card offence in this situation is far more likely when a team is defending high up the pitch, as Manuel Pellegrini requests. Demichelis and Kompany are much more comfortable defending deeper. The positional play and movement of Rooney, therefore, will be very interesting. When playing as the main striker against City in the past, he has tended to drop deep away from goal, bringing Kompany up the pitch – but it might be worth him varying his positioning, and running in behind too. A deceptively quick player, Rooney, could cause serious problems – and Moyes also has the options of Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández, should he want more outright pace.
City overloading the flanks
The key feature of City's 6-1 victory at Old Trafford in 2011-12 was the way David Silva and James Milner constantly made diagonal runs across the pitch, helping to overload Manchester United's full-backs. Pellegrini used both players and another drifter, Samir Nasri, in the 5-0 win over Fulham on Saturday. Milner generally stayed on the right, but Silva and Nasri had more positional freedom. United's full-backs have looked nervous in recent weeks – Patrice Evra constantly appears out of position, while Rafael was very fortunate not to be dismissed against Liverpool last weekend. City's band of rotating attacking midfielders will ask them serious questions, and while they are not predominantly a crossing side, they are excellent at playing cut-backs to Negredo from wide positions, and the Spaniard is clever at making near-post runs and finishing first-time.
Stopping Yaya Touré
Touré has often been a dominant force in this fixture, most obviously with his winner in the 2011 FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. Whereas opponents have generally been fixated on stopping his powerful forward runs from midfield, this season he has become an incredibly effective goalscoring midfielder, both from free-kicks and from excellent long-range strikes in open play. His superb curler against Fulham on Saturday, which completed his first career hat-trick, underlined the threat. United often appear too open in the centre of midfield, and neither press intelligently as a unit, nor drop back into a compact, deep shape. Against West Ham, Darren Fletcher was forced to cover a huge amount of space – United will need Carrick back in his natural defensive midfield role. He may not be a powerful tackler, but he takes up the right positions.