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Premier League - Football: Man City must respect dangerous rivals

With Liverpool breathing down their necks, Man City need now more than ever to put in a performance against rivals Man Utd when they meet on Sunday.

It appeared the title race was over a month ago, as City had opened up a 12-point lead over second-placed Liverpool, but fast-forward to this weekend and the battle to lift the trophy is very much back on.

Liverpool play host to West Ham on Saturday evening and if the Reds manage to get the better of the Hammers, they will cut the gap to the leaders to just three points.

There is still lots to play for this season and the Citizens, who are 1/4 to successfully defend their Premier League crown, face a test of their credentials at home to the Red Devils on Sunday.

City are 2/5 to record a crucial victory in their own backyard, while the draw is priced at 15/4 and United are 7/1 to triumph.

More Etihad joy for United?

City may be 19 points ahead of United in the table but a derby encounter always has the potential to throw up a strange result and the Red Devils have proven to be problematic opponents for the Citizens in recent years.

United have triumphed on their last three trips to the Etihad Stadium, winning 2-1 in December 2019, 1-0 in January 2020 in the EFL Cup and then 2-0 in this fixture last season. On all three of those occasions, the visitors were not fancied to get the win but they proved the doubters wrong.

A victory for Ralf Rangnick's men on Sunday would also extend the Red Devils' winning away run against City (league and cup combined) to four matches and it would be the first time this has happened since a four-game streak between 1993 and 2000.

Furthermore, the respective away side has won seven of the last nine Manchester derbies in all competitions and this should serve as a warning to City, who have also lost a key member of their side ahead of the contest.

Portuguese's absence huge

Centre-back Ruben Dias, who has been such an integral part of the first team since arriving from Benfica in 2020, picked up a hamstring injury in midweek and has been ruled out for between "four to six weeks".

The 24-year-old will be a big miss at the heart of defence and the responsibility of shutting out the opposition will now be bestowed upon John Stones and Aymeric Laporte, who have at least formed a solid partnership before.

An injury to either of those two could pose a big problem for Guardiola, however, with Nathan Ake also on the sidelines and the club don't have any other fit senior centre-backs in the squad.

Counter-attack must be stopped

City have been brilliant this season and they head into Sunday's contest having won six of their last seven matches across all competitions.

When you look at United, who have drawn four of their last six outings, it seems incomprehensible to suggest the Red Devils will be coming away from the Etihad with a positive result.

However, the Citizens' only loss during this seven-game stretch was a 3-2 defeat at home to Tottenham and it was evident just how much the home side struggled to defend the counter-attack in that game.

United certainly have the players to hit City on the break and Rangnick will have surely watched that match with interest, taking tips on how best to overcome Guardiola's side.

Attacking options for hosts

While losing Dias could affect City's ability to keep clean sheets, there is no doubting the attacking quality in the squad and one player in particular, Riyad Mahrez, has been stealing the show this season.

The Algeria international has scored eight league goals, only Raheem Sterling (10) has netted more for the club, while the former Leicester ace has been directly involved in nine goals in his last eight top-flight appearances (scoring six and assisting three).

Mahrez has proven to be a key player for Guardiola this term, at a time when his future was uncertain, and he can be backed at 21/20 to score anytime on Sunday.

Goal-shy Watford set for PL drop

In Sunday's 14:00 clash, relegation-threatened Watford welcome Arsenal to Vicarage Road and this could turn out to be another nail in the Hornets' coffin.

Despite bringing in experienced manager Roy Hodgson, there hasn't really been an increase in performance levels and they are particularly struggling in the final third.

Watford have scored just two goals in Hodgson's six matches in charge and their profligacy in front of goal has been further hampered by an injury to Ismaila Sarr.

The Senegal international, who is the joint-second top goalscorer in the league despite playing at AFCON, has picked up a hamstring issue and will be out "for the foreseeable future".

Where the goals will come from is a major issue for the Hornets and they are unlikely to get any change out of an Arsenal defence that has been thriving on the road of late.

Mikel Arteta's side have kept three clean sheets from their last four away games across all competitions and this solid backline should see them through on Sunday.

Arsenal are 6/4 to win to nil as they look to maintain their push for a top-four finish.

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