Red half of Manchester hopeful of restoring old supremacy over rivals

Van Gaal’s side determined to leave City in scrap for top-four with Old Trafford victory

Wayne Rooney scores a memorable goal from an overhead kick during the Manchester derby at Old Trafford in February, 2011. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Wayne Rooney scores a memorable goal from an overhead kick during the Manchester derby at Old Trafford in February, 2011. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

 

This was not in the Sheikh Mansour masterplan when he bought Manchester City in 2008. At least, not so soon. A £1bn-plus investment in the club had yielded two of the last three Premier League titles and City were looking forward to dominating English football – and their neighbours – for the foreseeable future.

Yet on Sunday afternoon at Old Trafford Manchester United can throw down a significant marker. Beyond bragging rights, a victory for the first time in five meetings between the clubs will plant a red flag back in the blue zone of Manchester, and force City to accept that following the aftershocks of Alex Ferguson’s retirement two seasons ago their fierce rivals are resurgent under Louis van Gaal.

Defining phase

The last time the 20-times champions headed the current ones was on November 23rd 2013, when the Reds were sixth and the Sky Blues ninth.

Wayne Rooney, the United captain and record scorer in the fixture with 11 goals, has already described Sunday’s encounter as a “massive game of pride”. But there is more at stake. This is a local squabble that could define the wider future for each club. A 50th City victory would take Pellegrini’s men above Van Gaal’s, two points clear, and halt any talk for the moment of the tide starting to turn United’s way again. Yet if the home side triumph a view will form that the noisy neighbours may have to accept gazing up at United once more. City would trail by four points and will be in a dogfight for a top-four finish.

Pellegrini’s side have lost their strut just as United have rediscovered their swagger. Monday night’s 2-1 reverse at Crystal Palace was City’s third defeat in five Premier League games and this dismal run has left them nine points behind Chelsea. United, meanwhile, are playing their finest football since that 2012-13 campaign. On Sunday Van Gaal’s team will go hunting for a sixth successive league victory. Defeat City and then Chelsea next weekend and this will match the seven consecutive wins last recorded under Ferguson in spring 2013. There is a recognition of what is at stake.

Major test

“But you’ve got to say that they have been improving and the performances against Tottenham, Liverpool and Aston Villa have been very impressive. Now you’re going to play against two of the best teams in the division. Can you prove that you’ve gone even one step further than what anyone would have thought?”

The winning run has featured wins against Sunderland, Newcastle United, Tottenham, Liverpool and Aston Villa. Suddenly United are the blur of pace and menace that marked out the vintage Ferguson sides. As Robson mentions, the significant displays were the victories over Tottenham and Liverpool, two rivals for a Champions League berth who were given a footballing lesson.

The Van Gaal philosophy is at last making sense. Against Villa last weekend, Herrera confirmed his renaissance under the Dutchman who signed him by scoring two fine goals – either side of a sparkling Rooney volley – just as Mata did previously, when registering twice at Anfield.

Mata pointed to the fact the team’s ability to move the ball around quickly had been key. “The team performed at a very high level, we fought from the very first minute,” he said. “We tried to use both wings and circulate the ball fast, and that’s how we scored. The team is improving.”

Robson compares the Van Gaal mode of play to that of Ferguson. “It is such an improvement – the performances have been really good because of the attacking flair.”

Four years have passed since United last beat City before their own crowd in the league. That was in February 2011 when Rooney’s spectacular 78th-minute overhead kick won the match in memorable fashion.

Power shift

“It might be a bit early for that,” Macken says. “Over the last five or six games they’ve done very well. But up to that it was a bit indifferent so maybe it’s too soon. The performance level has increased – that’s the first thing they had to do. And when you get that after five or six games you start seeing a little bit more confidence going to the players.

“That’s what you can see now with Manchester United – they don’t really fear any teams again.” Guardian Service

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.