Focus: The two players who could decide Manchester bragging rights

Ander Herrera and Raheem Sterling have both emerged as effective playmakers for their respective sides in recent weeks, as Alex Keble notes ahead of the Manchester derby...

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Considering both managers favour low-tempo possession football, the Manchester derby will most likely be a tense and congested affair.

As such, two playmakers who have recently come to the fore in recent matches – Raheem Sterling and Ander Herrera – could play a key role.

There are few defensive weaknesses in either team, but both have struggled in defensive midfield. At Manchester United, Bastian Schweinsteiger has shown signs of struggle alongside central midfield partner Morgan Schneiderlin. Similarly, Yaya Toure’s continued ambling for City is creating holes in the middle and a large gap between defence and midfield. United were torn apart by Sadio Mane against Southampton, Mesut Ozil at Arsenal and Andre Ayew at Swansea. Similarly, Manchester City’s last two defeats were defined by the ease with which Son Heung-min and Dimitri Payet burst through the centre for Spurs and West Ham respectively. Herrera and Sterling may be able to float into these pockets and provide the kind of camouflaged moments of inspiration that are required in tightly wound derbies.

Sadio Mane (left) and Mesut Ozil (right) were highly influential against Man United

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Son on the counter (left) and Payet (right) were similarly pivotal in Man City’s last two defeats

At times this season, Sterling’s reputation has meant he's been stifled on the left flank, where it is easier for opponents to double up and prevent him from cutting inside. Moved to a No.10 position against Bournemouth, the England man was free to find his own space and bagged a hat-trick.

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For United, Herrera’s quick-tempo, one-touch passing against Everton helped re-energise his team's attacks by speeding up their predictable patterns (93% pass accuracy, 0 unsuccessful touches); it speaks volumes that the usually excellent James McCarthy failed to make a single interception at Goodison Park.

Herrera’s passing against Everton (left) and Sterling’s attacking dashboard against Bournemouth (right)

In new roles, Herrera and Sterling could take their opponents by surprise on Sunday; in a match likely to be defined by fine margins, one of these two could make the difference.

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