Danny Higginbotham previews Manchester derby

Sports Mole looks ahead to tomorrow's Manchester derby with former Manchester United defender Danny Higginbotham.

Tomorrow afternoon, rivals Manchester City and Manchester United will meet for the 168th time.

Champions City head into the clash without a win in three matches, while there have been signs of late that the United players have started to buy into Louis van Gaal's way of thinking.

Nevertheless, the hosts can take confidence from the fact that they have won four of the last five meetings between the two sides.

Here, Sports Mole has looked ahead to the contest with former United defender Danny Higginbotham.

Van Gaal has confirmed that having served his suspension, United captain Wayne Rooney is fit to start the match. How much of a boost is that and who should he replace in the team? Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj appear to be the leading candidates to drop out.

"It's great that his suspension has finished. He is a big-game player and he has done it over the years. When you have players like that in your team it picks everybody else up. In terms of where does he play, that is obviously up to Van Gaal. One thing that teams have shown that have played against Man City recently and done well, they have played with a 4-5-1 formation when defending and switched to 4-3-3 or 4-4-1-1 when attacking. If you look at Rooney and where he can play, I would imagine that Mata would be most at threat."

Wayne Rooney scores against Manchester City on February 12, 2011.© Getty Images

Would it be fair to say that Mata has struggled of late? There is a belief that for him to play well, he needs others around him to also shine.

"All of the players are getting used to the new philosophy of the football club. If you're asking me if it's a choice between Mata and Rooney, I would have Rooney. He's the captain of the club. He's a leader and has shown over the years in huge games - remember the goal that he scored in the derby a few years ago (pictured above) - that he delivers the goods. Van Gaal might decide that there is room for both of them [in the team] on Sunday."

Despite having not won the game, how much confidence will United have taken from the performance and the late goal that they scored against Chelsea?

"They will have taken a lot of confidence from it. People have criticised United celebrating because they've just got a draw against Chelsea. But, Chelsea are the best side in the Premier League and up until that point, United had been hit and miss, yet they matched Chelsea stride for stride during the game. To score that late goal showed that they can keep going. Yes, Chelsea had their dominant periods, but so did United. With United at the moment, they are still a team coming together and there are question marks over the defence, but going forward they are as good as anyone in the Premier League."

Van Gaal has been praised for the approach and tactics that he implemented during the Chelsea match. Do you expect him to stick to a similar plan against City?

"This season, we've seen United play with three at the back, a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 against Chelsea. You'd expect something similar [to the Chelsea match] against City, with Rooney coming into the team. It means that defensively you can revert to 4-5-1, which is the way forward against City. They love to play through the middle of the pitch, so the best thing to do is to congest it. You give them the width - like Newcastle did. City put in a lot of crosses, but Newcastle fancied themselves to deal with it, which they did brilliantly.

"There is more pressure in this game on City. They've not won any of their last three and after United they have a make or break Champions League game. A lot of people believe that United are going to get beat, but the pressure is really on the home side. City have some phenomenal players, there is no question about that, but they don't have a Plan B. That is criminal with the players that they have got. Players like Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero - they should have a Plan B and it should come from the manager.

Manchester City's Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini watches the action during the English Premier League football match between West Ham United and Manchester City at Upton Park in London on February 11, 2014© Getty Images

"It's no coincidence that since Manuel Pellegrini took charge of City [in 2013], City have been behind at half time 12 times and have only come back to win three matches - the other nine they lost. The managers that are constantly winning things and that are successful, if things aren't going right, they revert to their Plan B. City have the players to do that, but for whatever reasons, Pellegrini doesn't have one. He needs one because along with the likes of United, Chelsea and Liverpool, City are now a cup final for a lot of Premier League teams. The blueprint has been laid out by the likes of Stoke, West Ham and Newcastle and a lot of sides will follow it. They will allow City to have the ball in their own half and break quickly when they get it."

With all the attacking talent that both sides have, he's barely been mentioned, but could this be a big game for United full-back Rafael da Silva? After all, one of City's weakest areas is down the left-hand side and Rafael likes to get forward from right-back.

"I've spoken about that before, although not so much about Rafael. Aleksandar Kolarov loves to get forward because he's a great attacking left-back, but it leaves space behind him and Eliaquim Mangala doesn't seem to be to keen to come across to cover. It will be interesting to see if Mangala plays, or whether Martin Demichelis gets the nod. First and foremost for United's defence on Sunday, it's all about being very compact, then get forward when you can through Rafael and Luke Shaw. They have the pace to counter-attack through Angel di Maria and Adnan Januzaj. United have to be tight early on, though, because it's bound to be an electric atmosphere and they will need to quieten the fans down."

What have you made of Marouane Fellaini's mini-renaissance in a United shirt and how can he be effective in the derby?

"He certainly could be [effective]. I felt sorry for Fellaini last season because he was signed by David Moyes, who knew all about him from Everton. Yet, he was never really played in his best position. A lot of the times he was a central midfielder that would just sit there, whereas at Everton he played just behind the frontman. Against Chelsea, yes there was a defensive side about him, but he also got forward. That is a strength of his because he has physical attributes that can add something to United. What you would say about United at the moment is that they are not that physical, but he does give them that."

Sergio Aguero is clearly City's biggest threat, but how much will he miss the presence of injured playmaker David Silva?

"His absence is huge. The pair of them, along with Toure and Vincent Kompany are the most important players for City. You can see with Silva and Aguero, they are such good players that they read one another very well. There is no doubt [Silva] will be a big miss.

Manchester City's Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero celebrates scoring from a penalty with teammate Spanish midfielder David Silva during the UEFA Champions League football match between Manchester City and CSKA Moscow at The Etihad Stadium in Manchester,© Getty Images

"Do I think it will hurt Aguero in terms of what he brings to the team going forward? Not at all. He is one of the best centre-forwards in the Premier League. He's absolutely fantastic and it's up to United to stop him. Everything about him oozes class, but it cannot be denied that they are losing a lot with Silva not being there. He makes them tick, which might make Pellegrini have a rethink. He might change formation because of it."

You mentioned earlier that City sometimes struggle when having fallen behind. It's a bit of a cliche, but with that in mind, how important could the first goal be on Sunday?

"It's a difficult one to tell because you've seen City go ahead in games and then get pegged back. The emphasis is all on City, so United can afford to sit back and play on the counter-attack. City are the home team and they are doing better in the league. I wouldn't say that the first goal is going to be important because there is goals in both teams and both defences have conceded quite a few goals. It won't be a game of just one goal."

Despite their recent form, City are the favourites to win. Do you share that view, or can United claim all three points?

"If United can keep City out for the first half-hour, frustration will creep in. United can be devastating on the counter-attack, particularly with their pace and finishing ability. It's just whether they can keep their concentration and remain solid at the back. If they manage that, there is every chance that they can get something from the game. The back four has to be better than what it has been this season, though. City have some top players going forward. United need to keep the midfield and back four very close together when defending - you don't want to allow any spaces because the likes of Aguero wants to get in there. It's all about communication."

Who will win the Manchester derby?

Manchester City
Manchester United
Manchester City
Manchester United
Manchester United's English striker Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring the opening goal during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and West Ham United at Old Trafford in Manchester on September 27, 2014
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