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City in a better place for Old Trafford battle

Pep has his men on a roll but Ole's new signing Fernandes can make difference

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Manchester City Pep Guardiola is happier with his team at present

Manchester City Pep Guardiola is happier with his team at present

PA

Bruno Fernandes is having a positive impact at Old Trafford

Bruno Fernandes is having a positive impact at Old Trafford

PA

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Manchester City Pep Guardiola is happier with his team at present

While the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) assesses Manchester City's appeal against the two-year Champions League ban imposed on the club by UEFA, manager Pep Guardiola has been illustrating why he's regarded by many as the best coach working in football at present.

He took City to the Bernabeu and delivered an audacious tactical masterclass which left Real Madrid reeling from a 2-1 defeat in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

City followed that with a dominant 2-1 EFL Cup final win against Aston Villa at Wembley which sees them hold on to the silverware for the third year in a row.

"Three times in a row is a big success," enthused Guardiola. "It's the consistency, incredible."

On Wednesday, Guardiola shuffled his pack for City's FA Cup tie with Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough and came away with a win that sees the club through to the last eight in the competition.

"This is our fourth game away in a row and we have another one at Old Trafford," said Pep after the match.

While he's conceded the league to Liverpool, Guardiola is determined to maintain a winning mentality at City and beating United at Old Trafford would offer more than just three points.

With three league matches to play (Man United, Arsenal and Burnley) before hosting Real Madrid on March 17, Guardiola will be anxious for City to hold on to their recent good form.

"We will go there to try and play well and try to win," he says blandly.

But he'll be fully alert to how the Manchester derby frequently defies logic, form and the odds in spectacular fashion with results that send can shockwaves through existing structures, causing pain and humiliation for coaches, players and supporters.

Sunday's match has the potential for just such a dramatic outcome.

While City appear to have recovered their form, with their previously suspect defence clicking into shape and denying Sheffied Wednesday a shot on target, Solskjaer is likely to field a side different to anything City have played in the past.

With playmaker Bruno Fernandes now fully integrated into the United team, Solskjaer believes he has the sort of talented 'risk-taker' fans expect to see at the heart of United's play.

"He wants to win and he knows we (work) together, everyone plays an important part," says Solskjaer. "He's been a positive boost. He won't let anyone down. Letting the team down is the same as letting himself down."

This will be the fourth time City and United have met this season.

In December, United shocked their neighbours with a 1-2 away win.

Extending the gap between Liverpool and City to 14 points, that defeat at the Ethiad was regarded as the final nail in the coffin for City's hopes of holding on to their league title.

The defeat stung Guardiola who faced some difficult questions afterwards.

Despite having watched Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's mercurial counter-attacking youngsters expose his side's defensive flaws, Pep's public statement was at odds with his downbeat demeanour.

"I congratulate my team," he said. "My players were fantastic, we are a fantastic team."

The derby win was crucial for Solskjaer who betrayed equal parts relief and pride when he greeted the victory saying: "We will remember this. We look like a Man United team. That's a big thing."

City went to Old Trafford early in January for the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final tie and opened up a 3-0 lead by half-time.

United fought back and scored once in the second half to keep the tie alive.

In the second leg, despite City's more proven quality and even without some of their big players, United engineered a 1-0 win but failed to stop City going through on aggregate.

The latest instalment of the Manchester derby puts bragging rights back in the melting pot.

Looking ahead to Sunday's league clash at Old Trafford after their win on Wednesday, Guardiola noted: "It's better to go there winning games."

For both coaches, the battle-lines are drawn.