Manchester — Louis van Gaal was careful to downplay talk of
a permanent power shift in Manchester after United's 4-2 victory over City in
the most recent derby game.
Old Trafford was rocking that evening in April. After four
straight losses to its neighbor, United finally owned local bragging rights.
City was on a downward spiral — behind its neighbor in the standings, its title
defense in tatters and with manager Manuel Pellegrini's job under serious
But Van Gaal wasn't getting carried away, and he was right.
Since that painful loss six months ago, the blue half of
Manchester has recovered to remain the dominant force in the city — as they
have been since the end of Alex Ferguson's 26-year tenure at United in 2013.
City won six straight games after that derby to finish the
Premier League nine points above United and in second place.
After two months of this season, City is in first place, the
top scorer in the division and the favorite to capture the title for the third
time in five years.
Also read: De Bruyne slots last minute winner
The derby mauling in April seems a distant memory now as
City heads back to Old Trafford on Sunday for the 161st Manchester derby, the
headline game in the 10th round of Premier League fixtures.
The momentum seems to be with Pellegrini's men, who have won
their last two league games 6-1 and 5-1. City also had the advantage of playing
at home in the Champions League on Wednesday — beating Sevilla 2-1 — while
United had to travel back from a game in Moscow on the same night.
However, United is at home — where it is unbeaten this
season and has won seven of eight games — and has the incentive of potentially
going top of the league with a win. United is third, tied for points with
second-place Arsenal but behind on goal difference.
'PERFECT' DE BRUYNE
The absence of striker Sergio Aguero and playmaker David
Silva, who were injured during the recent international break, has robbed City
of its two most influential attacking players for the derby. But in Kevin
Bruyne, City has one of the most in-form players in the league, proving so far
that he's worth the 55 million pounds ($85 million) the club spent to make him
its record signing.
Pellegrini even called him the "perfect" signing
after De Bruyne scored an injury-time winner against Sevilla on Wednesday.
De Bruyne has been rotating, with great effect, with Raheem
Sterling for central or left-wing roles in City's attack in recent games. He is
hard to pick up and his eye for a pass is arguably as good as Silva's.
Pellegrini's biggest call this weekend is whether to recall
captain Vincent Kompany, or retain the center-back partnership of Nicolas
Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala.
United must make a 1,600-mile journey back from Moscow on
Thursday after the 1-1 draw with CSKA in the Champions League, putting the team
at a disadvantage ahead of the derby, according to Van Gaal.
"Manchester City don't have the travel we have so they
have more rest," Van Gaal said. "There is nothing you can do. They
have the benefit."
United is in mixed form heading into the weekend, having
lost 3-0 to Arsenal and won 3-0 at Everton in its last two Premier League
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