Thursday’s Manchester derby is arguably coming at the worst possible time for both clubs with injuries and fixture congestion creating significant difficulties both at Old Trafford and Eastlands.
With that being said, there is a lot on the line in Thursday’s rearranged fixture with the race for a top-four finish finely balanced between the two rivals and Liverpool following their surprise defeat to Crystal Palace on Sunday.
Jose Mourinho’s charges sit one point behind their city rivals and Pep Guardiola has the unenviable task of motivating his players once again following yet more tournament disappointment.
Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final defeat to Arsenal after extra-time ensured it would be the Spanish coach’s first season in management without a single trophy.
Injuries picked up by Fernandinho, David Silva and Sergio Aguero could also significantly weaken the Blues’ squad ahead of the match.
Momentum would be momentous
The winner will not only take an invaluable three points but the momentum such a victory could create would be astounding.
You only have to look to the back end of last season when a 1-0 victory from an ailing Manchester United side at the Etihad Stadium gave Louis van Gaal’s team a chance to qualify for the Champions League, although they would later miss out courtesy of goal difference.
The momentum swing would be similar this time around despite Jose Mourinho’s insistence that winning the Europa League is more important than merely finishing in fourth position.
United’s fate is in their own hands at the present moment given the fact they have two games in hand on Liverpool.
These matches in hand fall on Thursday and on an away trip to Southampton later in the season and two victories for Mourinho and co would give them a fantastic chance to secure Champions League football for next season.
City must stop the rut
Manchester City simply has to avoid a slide of results now.
They have no trophies left to contend for and defensively they have been very poor all season long.
Vincent Kompany’s return has been a well timed boost but he can still only do so much on his own without proper assistance from one of his partners.
The first encounter between the two sides was rather unusual.
Guardiola’s City started the game in an electric fashion and took a 2-0 lead which in truth could have been closer to 4-0.
United fashioned their way back into the match through a Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal and should have gained a point from that position given their chances in the second-half.
Don’t expect a repeat from their last encounter
It is difficult to see a repeat on Thursday with both teams depleted by fatigue and focused on achieving their minimum aim for the campaign.
There is also the fact that neither team needs to win, a draw for United puts them in a prime position to overtake Liverpool provided they win their game in hand, however United’s run of fixtures is hardly enviable with tough North London away trips in consecutive weeks against Arsenal and Tottenham.
A draw for the Blues is also positive as it keeps United one point behind them and sees them gain a point on Jurgen Klopp’s team.
Mourinho has to plan for the Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo too and he is losing players at an alarming rate.
He has challenged Chris Smalling and Phil Jones to be brave and return early from their injury lay-offs and it is certain that if either plays on Thursday they won’t be fully fit.
This is something the lightning quick pair of Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling could well exploit.
An always intriguing fixture
Manchester derby matches will always demand interest and Thursday will be no exception.
If anything the race for the top-four has taken on a newfound importance in recent years.
With last year’s title race decided early the sole focus was on which Manchester club would take the final qualification spot.
There are three teams involved this term and possibly even four if Arsenal can take the momentum from their cup win into the Premier League and Thursday’s match has the potential to blow the race for Champions League qualification wide open.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
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