Manchester United v Manchester City: 25th March 2014
Manchester United v Manchester City tonight and United’s recent return to form, courtesy of back-to-back victories against Olympiakos and West Ham United, will be tested by the visit of their local neighbours.
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Manuel Pellegrini has said victory on Tuesday at Old Trafford in the derby will put chasers Manchester City firmly back in the Premier League title race.
City’s top scorer, Sergio Aguero, injured his hamstring in the Champions League defeat by Barcelona last week and Pellegrini had already revealed he had “no chance” of facing the club’s local rivals.
The players are very motivated to try and win the title.
He will be joined on the sidelines for the short trip across the city to take on David Moyes’ Manchester United by Serbia defender Matija Nastasic because of a knee injury.
Third-placed City are six points adrift of leaders Chelsea but have three games in hand on the west Londoners, with Liverpool sandwiched in-between the two clubs on 65 points.
The champions have recovered from a home defeat by fierce rivals Liverpool by beating Olympiacos and West Ham in the Champions League and Premier League respectively, but trail Arsenal in fourth place by 11 points.
Pellegrini said the special nature of this hotly-contested derby meant United’s problems this season would be of no concern.
He said: “United have had a difficult season, but they’re a very good team. We’re sure we must have a very good game if we want to win.”
The Chilean added victory against their neighbours would send out a statement in the title race, but said his players had to focused.
He added: “The players are very motivated to try and win the title. Our target is to add three points, but we don’t just need to win tomorrow, but the next games and until the end of the season.”
David Moyes has made a pretty woeful impression at Manchester United this season but one similarity he may have learned from Sir Alex Ferguson is the ability to finish the season with a relentless winning push.
United, who have taken just 21 points from a possible 42 at Old Trafford this season, have won three of their last four league games and Moyes will have his eyes on catching Tottenham in fifth place.
They head into this high-stakes clash – weirdly – as the underdogs and with the pressure off their shoulders.
Robin van Persie is missing for the hosts with an ankle injury but skipper Nemanja Vidic is expected to return to the side having served a one-game ban following his sending off against Liverpool.
The champions are hoping to atone for a 4-1 drubbing at the Etihad Stadium earlier this season and trail Arsenal in the final Champions League place by 11 points.
We are not as far away as many people would have us.
The devastating recent defeat by Liverpool – United’s ninth so far this season – marked a low point in Moyes’s tenure and the Scot said his players had to start taking points off the title chasers and top-four contenders to get back to being talked about as a major force.
“We want to try and perform better in the bigger games than what we have done,” said the United boss. “We want to win them all, but it is important for us to show the level of what we have got. We have got the level, we are not as far away as many people would have us.”
Wins against Olympiacos and West Ham – helped by a Wayne Rooney wonder-goal – have restored confidence ahead of the visit of the club’s big-spending neighbours and Moyes said he understood the significance of the fixture for United supporters.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men need the win to close the gap on leaders Chelsea and Moyes said he was confident his players would rise to the derby occasion.
He added: “We will do everything we possibly can. We try to win every game. It’s not any different but obviously it means a lot more to the supporters. Recently I think all the players have stepped up to the plate.”
Referring to Rooney’s strike at the Boleyn Ground in a 2-0 win on Saturday, the former Everton manager said: “His form throughout the season has been very good and his goal capped it off. He showed it in a way that maybe everyone expects in that he can do what others aren’t capable of. More important for me is how well he has been playing.”
The Citizens will obviously take plenty of confidence from the 4-1 beating they dished out to United at the Etihad Stadium earlier this season and the fact they have won four of the last five Premier League meetings between the two.
Matija Nastasic is unavailable but skipper Vincent Kompany returns after completing a suspension.
Against Fulham, it was hard to be inspired despite the 5-0 scoreline where for 60 minutes they looked lethargic, leggy and very much missing Sergio Aguero, who will be on the sidelines for this clash too.
Ever since they lost 1-0 at home to Chelsea at the start of February, it seems as though the squad have lost a little bit of the swagger that was presence in the early part of the season.
Interestingly, every game United have won in the Premier League under Moyes in 2014 has been to nil – that bet can be backed at 6.00 here.
For perhaps the first time this season, there is little pressure on Moyes to take all three points. Fans and pundits alike are expecting City to brush United aside. This releasing of expectations, may also just release the shackles in terms of the way Moyes sets his side up.
At Everton, Moyes was always at his brilliant best when the underdog and with confidence now higher within his squad, there looks a chance that United may just play with a bit more freedom.
If this happens, then the both teams to score wager looks a very backable price even at 1.62.
Further hope is provided by the fact that 11 of the last 13 Manchester derbies at Old Trafford have seen both teams find the back of the onion bag.