Manchester United vs Manchester City | Sunday 12 April | Old Trafford | 17:00
To Win (90mins)
Manchester United 15/10
Manchester City 17/10
Louis van Gaal's Manchester United are on a roll after brushing aside Aston Villa 3-1 to make it five straight wins in the league. Five games ago, the Red Devils were holding onto fourth place and eight points behind Manchester City who were second. For United fans to see themselves above their ‘noisy neighbours’ is something they have been wanting to see ever since Sir Alex Ferguson retired three seasons ago. United will head into this game with much more confidence than they have for the past four meetings and that could prove the difference for them. A United side, reduced to ten men for a little over half the match, were beaten 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium in the first week of November, with the comprehensive nature of City's victory confirming the scale of the task Van Gaal faced as he looked to rebuild a side that appeared to be a long way behind their neighbours. Yet five months on and United head into their next meeting with stuttering City at Old Trafford as favourites to secure a victory, with Van Gaal suggesting his side are unrecognizable from the model he was working with in the first half of the season. "It was another Manchester United [last November], I believe," he told reporters. "That was more in the start of the process and now we are in the end of the process. Now we have developed the team. I think also the confidence of our players is very high at the moment but also our performances show that, so it's not the same Manchester United."
Robin van Persie is not expected to be fit in time to feature in this titanic clash. The striker, 31, has been out since February after injuring his ankle in the defeat at Swansea. That has left Wayne Rooney to lead the frontline ahead of the under-firing Radamel Falcao, and he has done so expertly. The United captain scored in between Ander Herrera’s strikes against Villa and what a goal it was. He touched down substitute Angel di Maria's cross with his left foot and then made a sharp turn before smashing the ball home first time with his right. It was his 14th goal for the season and certainly his best.
Beaten 2-1 by Crystal Palace on Monday night, Manchester City find themselves fourth in the Premier League. Realistically their title hopes are over and they are now in a three-way battle for second place. So poor is their current form - three defeats in five matches - that City have suddenly found themselves as the team Liverpool and Tottenham will be eyeing up as they attempt to steal fourth spot and, unthinkably, deny them a Champions League place. Far from being anointed the top team in the country, their quest now is to be the best in Manchester. They head into Sunday’s derby with United above them, which is a rarity in Manuel Pellegrini’s reign, but results like this suggest his tenure is nearing its end. His side are relapsing and regressing, conjuring only four wins in their last fourteen attempts. City’s away form has been the Achilles heel in their recent slump as all of their last four travels against Liverpool, Barcelona, Burnley and Palace were lost and if the road to Old Trafford is short, the journey is daunting nonetheless.
Pellegrini’s obstinate faith in the 4-4-2 formation has been a cause of past defeats. Pellegrini’s decision should be simple: he must play 4-2-3-1 against United. Edin Dzeko was a controversial choice in defeats to Barcelona and Liverpool while new signing Wilfried Bony has struggled to fit in. Dzeko was utterly abysmal against Palace and his tally stands at just two goals in his last 22 games. Their sole goal in those fixtures came from Yaya Toure who although has had a bad season for his standards remains capable of conjuring special moments. Only David Silva of the supposed superstars can reflect with satisfaction on his own year. Sergio Aguero has been firing blanks of late and will need to rise to an occasion of this magnitude if City are to come away with the much needed three points. The pace and movement of Aguero can cause the best defenders problems, and the United defence know they’ll have to be on top form to stop the Argentine in this one.
VERDICT: Draw 23/10
Manchester United’s recent performances which have contributed to five wins in succession have been assured and composed. In contrast, City have been dreadful in recent travels and its difficult seeing them leaving the Theatre of Dreams with maximum points. On the other hand, for Manchester United to cause City a second back-to-back defeat, they will need to improve even further. City will not make it easy for them and I can see these two cancelling each other out. The draw is long overdue in this fixture with the last one coming in 2010, twelve meetings ago.