Louis van Gaal takes his Manchester United side to the Etihad Stadium to face local rivals Manchester City in a game the Dutchman must win if he is to gain some much needed credibility.
After a disappointing defeat to United’s bitterest of rivals Liverpool in the Europa League van Gaal finds himself under intense pressure to reach the top four this campaign.
With the Red Devils currently sixth in the Premier League table and four points behind Sunday’s opponents, van Gaal will know that United cannot pass up the opportunity to let City move further ahead of United.
Van Gaal’s men have lost two of their last six Premier League games, both disappointing defeats to Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion respectively. The victories came against Stoke City, Arsenal and Watford, and they recorded a 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
The Reds have struggled for consistent form this season and have hit continuous highs and lows throughout van Gaal’s reign at Old Trafford, though a win on City’s home turf could help the Dutchman improve his image at the Theatre of Dreams.
Ahead of the tie van Gaal said: “I hope City is the catalyst. We have to beat City and we have a chance to still qualify (for the Champions League.)"
City come into the game in unpredictable form themselves after two consecutive 0-0 draws with Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League and Norwich City in the League. Though they did recently beat relegation certainties Aston Villa 4-0 at home and lost to Liverpool 3-0 at Anfield.
In Manuel Pellegrini’s final season as City boss the Chilean will be desperate to win his last encounter against United.
The City boss has lost just once to the Red Devils, the defeat came last season as the Blues collapsed to a 4-2 defeat at Old Trafford.
Ahead of the tie the City manager said: “A derby is always dangerous. It does not matter what position the teams are in…
“The more points you lose it’s more difficult, but you must have the mentality to win the next game, and after that you will see which team has the most points.”
The last time the two sides last met back in October they played out an uninspiring 0-0 draw at Old Trafford in a result which put City top of the table at the time, and left United in fourth place; how van Gaal wishes his side were in that position now.
United have lost four of their last six Manchester Derbies and will be looking for a similar result to the 4-2 victory that saw the Reds impress with goals from Ashley Young, Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata and Chris Smalling. A time when it seemed van Gaal was getting everything right in Manchester.
United midfielder Ander Herrera looks set to miss out with a with a groin problem. Ashley Young and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson could make their returns after recovering from injury.
As for City they will be without their talismanic captain Vincent Kompany after he was once again struck by a calf injury against Kiev in midweek. Fellow central defender Nicolas Otamendi will face a late fitness check after he suffered a dead leg.