Manch­ester derby pro­vides United with op­por­tu­nity to halt City march

Le­ices­ter City man­ager Puel hails club’s spirit af­ter emo­tional week

The Jerusalem Post - - SPORTS - • By SI­MON EVANS

MANCH­ESTER (Reuters) – The rise of Manch­ester City in the past decade has raised the ques­tion of whether the Manch­ester derby has fi­nally re­placed United’s clash with Liver­pool as the pre-em­i­nent derby in English foot­ball’s North­West heart­land.

While there are no short­age of United fans who, for ei­ther his­toric rea­sons or a sense of in­ter-city com­pe­ti­tion, still say that Liver­pool is the ul­ti­mate grudge match, there is no doubt the Manch­ester derby has grown in stature and rel­e­vance.

Sun­day’s game at the Eti­had Sta­dium will cer­tainly have the real edge of a derby al­though, as has been the case for sev­eral sea­sons, City will start it from a po­si­tion of su­pe­ri­or­ity.

Pep Guardi­ola’s side look down from their perch on a United team stuck in sev­enth place – and that hurts ev­ery­one con­nected with the Old Traf­ford club.

Few of United’s faith­ful truly be­lieve Jose Mour­inho’s team have a re­al­is­tic chance of fin­ish­ing above Guardi­ola’s cham­pi­ons in May, but a win on Sun­day would re­store some lost pride.

That was the case in April, when Paul Pogba scored twice as United came back from two goals down at the break to win 3-2 and deprive City of the sat­is­fac­tion of clinch­ing the ti­tle on their home turf against their neigh­bors.

City’s loud cel­e­bra­tions of their 2-1 win at Old Traf­ford last De­cem­ber had ran­kled with Mour­inho and his play­ers, and they showed that in the tense at­mos­phere of a derby they were ca­pa­ble of lift­ing their game and rat­tling City.

They will need to be fir­ing on all cylin­ders to stop Guardi­ola’s side who have scored 11 goals in their past two home games in the Pre­mier League – putting five past Burnley and hit­ting Southamp­ton for six.

City are un­beaten in the league with nine wins from 11 games while United have won just six and lost three and al­ready trail their neigh­bors by nine points.

Liver­pool, smart­ing from their Cham­pi­ons League loss to Red Star Bel­grade on Tues­day, host bot­tom club Ful­ham while sec­ond-placed Chelsea, also two points be­hind City, have a tougher task at home to Ever­ton. Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur, in fourth place, will look for their sev­enth away win so far this sea­son when they travel to Crys­tal Palace on Satur­day .

Also, Le­ices­ter City man­ager Claude Puel is count­ing on team spirit and to­geth­er­ness to get his side through what prom­ises to be an emo­tional Pre­mier League home game against Burnley on Satur­day.

The match is the first at the King Power Sta­dium since Le­ices­ter’s owner Vichai Sri­vad­dhanaprabha was killed in a he­li­copter crash near the sta­dium on Oc­to­ber 27.

The squad flew to Thai­land for the bil­lion­aire’s funeral ear­lier this week and Puel said his play­ers had found it hard to pre­pare for the game.

“We didn’t have a lot of train­ing ses­sions. We did a lit­tle ses­sion on Wed­nes­day, a light ses­sion af­ter the jour­ney. We trained to­day and there is an­other light ses­sion on Fri­day,” the man­ager said Thurs­day.

“It’s not easy to pre­pare [for] this game. The emo­tion, no con­sis­tency in train­ing ses­sions. I think our to­geth­er­ness gives us a good en­ergy and fan­tas­tic strength. Our spirit, pos­i­tive at­ti­tude and all the sup­port from our fans will be im­por­tant.”

(Mas­simo Pinca/Reuters)

MANCH­ESTER UNITED’S Juan Mata cel­e­brates scor­ing the team’s first goal in Wed­nes­day’s Cham­pi­ons League match against Ju­ven­tus.

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