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Sunday 26 January 2020

More than local bragging rights at stake

Ole desperate to maintain United momentum as Pep needs City to chase down leaders Pool

THUMBS UP: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has eased the pressure on his position but his side face Man City tomorrow
THUMBS UP: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has eased the pressure on his position but his side face Man City tomorrow

Tomorrow's match between the two big Manchester clubs is a local derby. Not a clásico.

Despite their wealth, their star-studded squads and their illustrious histories, both clubs have been less than convincing this season.

Tomorrow's match is no longer the fixture that, as Wayne Rooney once put it, decides "who the real kings of Manchester are."

With their regal status currently diminished, United's woes are greater and more profound than the problems besetting their rivals. But, with three wins in their last five games, City know they need to improve if they're to deny Liverpool a first League crown in 30 years.

Pep Guardiola will be aware that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team is the only one to have taken points off Liverpool this season, which they did in October when, coming off a 1-0 defeat by Newcastle, they held Jurgen Klopp's side to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.

Six league titles have been contested since Man United last reigned supreme and City have won three of those.

Over

Maintaining a pokerface, the City boss insists this season's title race is already over, claiming: "Nobody gives us a chance. Like everyone says, we are out, we have no chance."

AMBITION: Pep Guardiola is looking for three titles in a row
AMBITION: Pep Guardiola is looking for three titles in a row

But, as he chimes his "game by game" mantra, nobody doubts his ambition is still to deliver three-in-a-row league titles with City as he did with Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

Winning by three goals against Burnley on Tuesday, City displayed a return to form.

Afterwards, Guardiola said: "We are thinking about the next game. We have four days (to prepare). Tomorrow we watch United's game against Tottenham and see the way we can do it."

Wednesday night's visit to Old Trafford by Spurs was a pointed reminder of the incestuous weave that binds much of Premier League football.

Having sacked their manager Mauricio Pochettino, after four successive top-four finishes and a Champions League final place last season, Spurs are being managed by Jose Mourinho, who was fired by Man United on December 18 last year.

Before Wednesday's match questions were being raised about the suitability of Jose's replacement at Old Trafford, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

While the former United striker is both a legend and popular with the fans, a cursory glance at the stats appears to show a club marooned in the doldrums.

When Murinho was sacked, after 17 games last season, Man United were in sixth in the league with 26 points.

Even more disturbing for club supporters then was the fact that United were 19 points behind the league leaders Liverpool and 11 points off a top four place.

If, following three consecutive wins as their new boss, Mourinho were to have masterminded a Spurs' win at Old Trafford, the heat would have been turned up on Solskjaer, who's had an erratic spell since he was confirmed as full-time manager in March.

But against Spurs, Man United delivered their most purposeful performance of the season

The three points earned were, as Solskjaer admitted, "massive", but the manager also pointed to another important factor, saying: "We've made decisions that we had to and we've started the rebuilding. I can't think short term when I'm trying to do that. When we turn the corner and win three or four games on the run, they will get that Man Utd feeling again."

Mojo

With just five wins in 15 league games, Solskjaer couldn't think of a better Christmas gift than to see his side find their mojo ahead of the Festive season.

As he ponders what will be the 179th Manchester derby tomorrow, Guardiola will know this will be a different Man United from the two league encounters last season when he won 3-1 at home, when Mourinho was United manager, and in April, when City won 0-2 at Old Trafford where Solskjaer was in charge.

While both City and United have lacked consistency of late, both sides have players who can influence a game, as Marcus Rashford did against Spurs and Brazil's Gabriel Jesus did with his two-goal showing for City against Burnley.

Over their last five league matches, City have earned 10 points, United eight. United's away record shows just one win so far this season, against Norwich in October.

City need to stay in touch and not allow Liverpool extend their 11 point gap.

United simply want to create momentum and show that, contrary to Alan Hansen's dogma, you can win things with kids.

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