A few areas of tactical interest from the upcoming Manchester Derby.
1) Midfield battle
Ferguson's preferred centre-midfield partnership at the moment seems to be Scholes and Carrick. On paper this seems to been a partnership geared towards keeping possession rather than defending. However, both Carrick and Scholes have defended reasonably well this season. Carrick is United's second most successful tackler with an average of 2.9 per game, and Scholes is fifth averaging 2.4. Carrick also averages 2.6 interceptions per game, the best in the United team.
Nevertheless, it is certainly a passing orientated midfield: Carrick and Scholes are also United top passers, averaging 73.1 and 66.9 successful passes per match. The contrast with City's midfield is notable: Toure and Barry/De Jong are a more physical and energetic partnership. It will be interesting to see whether Ferguson plays Jones as a third midfielder (as he did recently against Blackburn) to add an energetic and more physically robust edge to United's midfield. Carrick and Scholes both have different passing roles for United. Scholes plays shorted passes in order to recycle possession and keep the ball, whereas Carrick often plays longer diagonal passes out to the flanks:
It is possible that City will use Toure's energy to close down Carrick and force him into inaccurate long passes and prevent United from dominating possession. In last year's FA Cp Semi-Final between the two teams, it was Toure pressuring Carrick into a sloppy pass that lead to the solitary goal in the match. It is likely that City will press United's midfield high up the pitch again.
2) Striking partnerships
The effectiveness of each teams striking partnerships could also be decisive.
Aguero - Tevez
The impact of Tevez's return to the City team has not only been his direct contribution, but his partnership with Aguero. Since Tevez returned against Chelsea Aguero has scored 6 Premier League goals in 5 games, compared to 2 goals in the 5 games before that. They have generally synced well as a duo, with Tevez dropping deep and Aguero running in behind the opposition defence. The screenshot below is from the recent Wolves game, showing Tevez (blue dot) with the ball in a deep position with Aguero running in behind (blue arrow). Situations like this give Tevez two options: to play the through ball (black broken line) or run into the space (blue circle) created by Aguero's run pulling the defenders deep and take a shot at goal.
This screenshot below demonstrates well Tevez (blue circle) playing in between Wolves' defence and midfield. The Wolves defenders were hesitant to push up and close Tevez down as that would have left space for Aguero to exploit. In the end they were stuck in two minds and Aguero was able to run onto a through ball from Barry.
Nullifying the threat of Tevez between the lines would be another reason Ferguson may consider playing Jones in a holding midfield role. At the very least one of Carrick or Scholes will needto drop deeper when United are not in possession.
Welbeck - Rooney
Despite only combining once this season for a goal (one assisting the other), Rooney and Welbeck are United's regular striking duo and have scored 35 goals in the Premier League between them. They have a similar understanding to Aguero and Tevez, in that Rooney often plays deeper and Welbeck closer to opposition defenders. Rooney therefore tends to make more passes in the final third and act more as a play-maker, whereas Welbeck is good at simple one-touch lay offs:
United also use Welbeck's pace in behind, and so a lot of the passes he receives are often longer:
Welbeck and Rooney are also good at syncing their movement so as not get in each other's way, which also makes it harder for other teams to defend against, as they are unsure which player to track. The screenshot below is from Rooney's first goal against Everton, where he (red) ran towards the front post and Welbeck (white) the back post:
Both teams use their "wingers" differently: United with Valencia in particular, and City with Silva, Nasri et al. This hasn't seemed to have made a huge amount of difference in previous meetings this season, but could make a difference to how each team defends. It's hard to tell which team is the favourite: City are at home and have some new found momentum, whereas United have title-winning experience.