Poll: Who needs to win the Manchester Derby more?
Sunday's Manchester Derby has a hell of a lot riding on it, for both teams. Kevin Palmer and Sean Nolan make the case for which team simply can't comprehend defeat at Old Trafford.
KEVIN PALMER - MANCHESTER UNITED
Only a few weeks have passed Louis van Gaal was being lambasted by his critics for being a tactical dinosaur who was halting progress at Manchester United and yet all of a sudden, he may be just a solitary victory away from successfully completing his first mission at Old Trafford.
Van Gaal’s critics has been waiting to pounce on a coach whose promotion of patient passing (and many were arguing dull) football was hard to embrace, with coach hailed as the Messiah of Old Trafford when he arrived last summer struggling to live up to his billing as the revolutionary fit to fill the void left by the departed Alex Ferguson.
A defeat at Swansea in February was the signal for Van Gaal’s critics-in-waiting to pounce and yet just when it seemed as if the coach who is not used to failure was about to stumble on the final leg of his coaching career, it has all clicked into place.
Victories against Tottenham and Liverpool and much improved United performances have edged Van Gaal’s team towards the top four finish he targeted all season and now, the talk is of a top two finish rather than a just a return to the Champions League.
While it is too early to suggest the United of old are back, the evidence of recent weeks suggests a pace and energy has finally been injected into Van Gaal’s team that has given them an X Factor that was lacking for much of this season, with the veteran tactician possibly just one victory away from hailing this campaign as a success.
Victory against Manchester City on Sunday will not only deliver a hammer blow to a neighbour whose empire has crumbled in alarming fashion, as a win in the 152nd Manchester league derby one of the final hurdles to him confirming his status as a manager who refuses to fail.
City are aiming to claim an unprecedented fifth successive league victory against United this weekend, but Van Gaal has clearly been thinking about his the emotions he will feel when he halts that winning run.
“I dream of winning this game,” he declares. “That is not a problem, every player shall dream of victory.
I have been thinking with my staff and my players already for many days about how we have to beat Manchester City. You are always [thinking] in that process of how to beat your next opponent.
“When you are walking the streets of Manchester everybody is talking about the derby and also the players. They understand the meaning of a Manchester United victory over Manchester City. They know and I know it, so it’s very important.
“You want to win because it is a big step in the table. When you win, third place is reachable and months ago nobody was thinking we could do it. Apart from me, of course. Third position in the table is also good because you have certainly qualified for the Champions League and we would do better than the goal we set in pre-season.”
It may have taken United fans a little longer than Van Gaal would have wanted to fall in love with his much talked about philosophy and vision for how the club will move forward, but everyone can see where he is headed now.
One more win, against a City team that appear to be there for the taking, will banish the doubts surrounding the Van Gaal era at Manchester United once and for all.
FACT: Manchester City have lost five of their last seven games in all competitions.
DID YOU KNOW: Manchester United had collected 51 points from 31 games under David Moyes’ guidance last season. They have 11 more than that under Louis van Gaal this time around.
FACT: City have not won a match away from home in any competition since beating Stoke in mid-February.
DID YOU KNOW: City’s top scorer Sergio Aguero has played 556 minutes since his last goal, but he has scored four times in his last three meetings with United.
FACT: United have won more home matches than any other side in the Premier League this season (13)
DID YOU KNOW: Ander Herrera and Juan Mata have scored 7 goals and created 4 assists in the 7 league games they’ve started together for United.
FACT: No team has beaten Manchester United five times in a row in the Premier League era, but City get a chance to do that on Sunday.
SEAN NOLAN - MANCHESTER CITY
Where do you start with the Manchester City implosion? Well, for starters, it is definitely an implosion. Manuel Pelligrini’s side have lost their last four away games in all competitions and they have won just 18 points since Christmas, from a possible 36.
From being the only side with a real shot at denying Chelsea the title, the Citizen’s have now slipped into fourth place, and a genuine fear that they could slip out of the top four.
That is the primary reason why they simply must beat Manchester United on Sunday. Another away defeat, another blank in the points for column, and Liverpool could be right on their tail with a win over Newcastle on Monday night.
Considering their record in Europe’s top competition, you could argue a year away would be no harm but for a club like City, they need the prestige that the Champions League brings.
With the age profile of their squad, Manchester City will need to spend big again this summer and while they are almost peerless in the wages they can offer, to attract the best talent they need to be able to offer them the biggest stage.
And as if that wasn’t enough to worry about, there is the creeping sense that the red half of Manchester might be about to reclaim their top billing.
Twelve months ago Manchester United were in turmoil, with David Moyes on the brink on the sack that would come less than a fortnight later. The club were staring at, and ultimately did, miss European competition altogether and it looked like the blue side of the city were about to dominate for a period, with their second league title in three seasons.
Instead, after a raft of big signings, and the installation of Louis van Gaal, United look to be on the way back. There are nowhere near the force they were under Alex Ferguson, but they are definitely in much-improved shape on last term.
Last season City stuffed United 7-1 on aggregate in the League and they also beat them 1-0 in the November meeting at the Etihad.
But less than six months later it appears the tide has turned. Defeat at Old Trafford would confirm that the Manchester City project, while far from fatally wounded, needs repair and that their oldest enemy may once again have the whip hand on them.
Okay, now we need you to decide, who needs it more?