It all comes down to this: Manchester City host Manchester United in a titanic clash that could decide the 2011-2012 Barclays Premier League title. United enter the Etihad holding a slim 3 point lead and if they can avenge the 6-1 thrashing they took at home in October, will likely win their 20th title. City led the league for most of the year until a late swoon but now have the horses and home field to get the job done. A win puts them on top by virtue of goal differential. Here’s the six men you must keep an eye on Monday afternoon.
Wayne Rooney, F, United
Manchester United’s leading scorer (34 overall, 26 in the BPL) has drifted back into more of a play-making role the past two seasons but he remains not only United’s MVP but England’s as well. One of a few players who can create goals on his own, his hunger and passion have sometimes gotten him into trouble with the refs, but you want him leading your line out. World class.
Sergio Aguero, F, City
The Argentine stepped into the void left by Carlos Tevez’s “vacation” and has delivered in a big way. With 29 goals (22 in the Prem) and seven assists, the Argentine has proved to be invaluable. Creative, incisive and difficult to strip, “Kun” is the heir apparent to Gabriel “Batigol” Batistuta’s legacy and is the man United have to try and contain.
Paul Scholes, MF, United
The “Ginger Prince” came out of retirement to help steer United’s midfield and for the most part, the 37-year old has been instrumental in the Red Devils’ revival. Clever, a skilled passer and an excellent conductor, Scholes has shown signs in recent games that time is finally catching up to him. That said, on his day, he remains one of the most gifted passers in the entire game and one of the toughest competitors. Don’t be shocked if he appears in an England stripe come June.
Carlos Tevez, F, City
Principle has given way to pragmatism and Tevez’s walkabout earlier this season — really an undeclared strike — has apparently been forgotten. There’s a reason for that: Tevez is scoring goals and he has a habit of racking them up against the team that once employed him. Funny thing is, the fact he got a six month break also means he’s on a set of the freshest legs in the league.
David de Gea, GK, United
The keeper has come a long way. A callow, scared kid that was unprepared for the pace of the Premier League when the season began, today De Gea is a solid shot stopper in United’s nets. He’s shown dramatic improvement in his positioning and distribution and he’s no longer trying to punch everything away. Some may disagree, but remember: he’s performed well in front of a decimated defense all year long. You try playing without Nemanja Vidic in front of you and see how you like it.
Vincent Kompany, D, City
City’s got a lot of great players. David Silva. Joe Hart. Yaya Toure. But for my money, the young Belgian is the player they simply cannot do without. Should have been on the shortlist for the PFA player of the year for his calm, silky defending. When he’s in the lineup, City are a very difficult team to break down. Without him, there are a lot of gaps. Kompany makes everyone else look that much better.