Manchester City-Manchester United Preview

The Theatre of Dreams has sparked many a United run to titles and glory. Yet heading into Sunday’s 170th edition of the Manchester derby, it has been City who have stolen the spotlight from their storied archrivals in Old Trafford in making history of their own.

Though United (6-1-2) ended a three-match home losing streak to City (7-0-2) with a 4-2 victory April 5, the noisy neighbours in blue finished higher in the table above their red counterparts last season, as the Citizens were runners-up and United placed fourth. Two of those three victories at Old Trafford – a 6-1 demolition in 2011-12 that equals the largest margin of victory in the 134-year rivalry and a 3-0 romp in 2013-14 that completed a double – helped City to their two Premier League titles in franchise history.

In between, United sent off Sir Alex Ferguson in style by winning their 13th, despite a 2-1 home loss in the derby.

A third title in five years appears to be for the taking for front-runners City given defending champions Chelsea’s struggles coupled with the match-to-match inconsistency of United and fellow perennials Arsenal as they handle domestic and Champions League duties. The Citizens – no strangers themselves to spotty European play – have looked in imperious form domestically, blasting Newcastle and Bournemouth by a combined 11-2 scoreline before rallying past Sevilla for a 2-1 victory in Champions League play at home Wednesday.

Kevin De Bruyne’s goal in second-half stoppage time provided the three points in City’s Group D match that lifted them into second place, one point behind Juventus. De Bruyne, signed from Wolfsburg for £55 million pounds, has scored five goals in nine matches across all competitions since joining Manchester City.

"We bought Kevin because we knew (he) is a very creative player who can score and create goals," manager Manuel Pellegrini said, "and in that respect, he was the perfect player to bring to our club."

With United bogeyman Sergio Aguero – he’s scored six goals in his last four matches versus the Red Devils and eight in eight matches lifetime – sidelined by a knee injury, Pellegrini will again lean on the Belgian. For his part, De Bruyne has shown versatility, working in tandem with Raheem Sterling and operating alone up front like he did in the final quarter-hour against Sevilla.

He expects City to maintain their aggressive style as they go crosstown and seek their fourth win in five matches at Old Trafford.

"I think we just have to go there and play our own game and not change a thing," De Bruyne told the team’s official website. "We are an attacking team so I don’t think we should change our way of playing for anyone."

While De Bruyne is ready to lead the line and add to City’s league-high haul of 24 goals, Pellegrini has a choice to make on his back line with captain Vincent Kompany likely healthy enough to be included in his first XI. City have used Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala in central defence the last three matches, righting themselves after giving up six goals in losses to West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur, and Kompany made a brief appearance as a substitute late Wednesday.

The red side of Manchester also has reason for optimism – a win could put United atop the table depending on Arsenal’s result Saturday versus Everton. Louis van Gaal’s side, though, failed to build on their impressive 3-0 victory at Goodison Park on Oct. 17, scraping out a point in a 1-1 draw at CSKA Moscow on Wednesday in Group B play.

Anthony Martial was responsible for both goals. His handball resulted in an unsuccessful penalty that created a sequence ending with Seydou Doumbia’s 15th-minute goal for Moscow, and the French teenager netted the equaliser in the 65th minute with a diving header on a cross from Antonio Valencia.

"Anthony Martial is also a human being and he reacts. It is a stupid reaction, but sometimes things will happen," van Gaal said. "It’s a pity, but you know, he was not affected also in halftime, so I was very happy with his performance."

Martial, an expensive acquisition in his own right as United paid out £36 million to Monaco in a deal that could eventually reach £58 million, has proven worth every pence thus far – also with five goals in nine matches.

As Martial makes United’s future their present, veteran striker Wayne Rooney looks to add to his 11 goals versus City – the most of any player in the derby that started in 1881. Rooney, whose two goals in league play have come in his last three matches, has four goals in 11 games across all competitions at Old Trafford against the Citizens, the last a match-winner on Feb. 12, 2011.