Prediction and Preview Premier League: Manchester United vs Manchester City Apr 12, 2015

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Manchester United host rivals Manchester City on Sunday afternoon knowing that victory will extend their advantage over their opponents to four points.

At one point City looked like they would challenge Chelsea for the Premier League title, but anything but a win at Old Trafford will leave them realistically fighting for second spot.

Two months ago, finishing in a top-four position would have been considered an excellent achievement for Manchester United, but five successive wins have put them into a position where they can mount a bid for second.

For the second season running, United have been going through a transitional period but ahead of the final seven games of the campaign, there are signs that Louis van Gaal has finally found the right balance with his selection.

They still have some way to go to become the finished article, but the defence is more disciplined, there is a stronger feel to the midfield and Wayne Rooney has added goals to an attack that failed to fire in his absence.

The 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur impressed many observers, but it was the manner of United's 2-1 win away at Liverpool that indicated that they had turned a corner.

That was just their fifth away success, but it's been a different story at Old Trafford where 13 victories have been recorded in 16 matches, the best in the top flight this year.

They haven't been free-scoring by any means, but United rarely score fewer than two goals at the Theatre of Dreams and it's a trend that puts pressure on the opposition to push men forward, thus leaving more gaps in defence.

City will also be wary of slipping four points behind United in the table, and that factor could play into the home team's hands if City don't approach the match in the right frame of mind.

Over the past six weeks, Manchester City have moved from nearest challengers to leaders Chelsea to needing to find a consistent run of form just to remain in the hunt for third place.

Manuel Pellegrini's team should have enough to remain ahead of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, who are desperately chasing fourth spot, but after the jubilation of winning the title last year, a strong end to the campaign is required if the Chilean is going to take charge of the club for a third year.

Their failure to record three wins in a row in 2015 has played a huge part in their fall down the standings, but their recent away form has undone the previous work completed at the Etihad Stadium.

City will claim that they were unlucky to lose to both Burnley and Crystal Palace. They were denied a clear penalty in the closing stages at Turf Moor and they had chances to win the game twice over at Selhurst Park, but these remain games that they would have won comfortably this time last year.

Pellegrini's biggest worry is the form of striker Sergio Aguero who hasn't scored in 556 minutes, with his last top-flight goal coming back on February 21.

However, the Argentine remains a certain starter due to his pace and trickery in the final third, while Yaya Toure proved his worth on Easter Monday with a stunning effort from the edge of the box.

Improvements are required in defence though, with the backline looking susceptible on each occasion they come under sustained pressure from the opposition, which is something they are expected to face on Sunday afternoon.

Man United head into the game without the services of striker Robin van Persie, who continues to recover from an ankle injury picked up against Swansea City in February.

Left-back Luke Shaw has also been ruled out, but Van Gaal has hinted that he is prepared to make alterations to his team, despite recording five wins in succession.

Record signing Angel di Maria is one player who has been restricted to substitute appearances of late, but he could be in contention for a start on Sunday.

City may have to make do without captain Vincent Kompany, who is struggling with a hamstring injury picked up on Easter Monday.

Wilfried Bony is a definite absentee with knee and ankle injuries, while Samir Nasri could replace Jesus Navas on the right flank.

Pellegrini must also decide whether to persist with two strikers, with Edin Dzeko potentially dropping out in favour of James Milner.

Manchester United possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Rojo, Blind; Carrick, Herrera; Mata, Fellaini, Young; Rooney

Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Hart, Sagna, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Nasri, Fernandinho, Toure, Milner, Silva, Aguero

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