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Derby cup tie is a chance to make real statement

More at stake for United and City than place in final


Winning run: Manchester United’s Eric Bailly celebrates at
the final whistle after the Premier League win over Aston
Villa at Old Trafford

Winning run: Manchester United’s Eric Bailly celebrates at the final whistle after the Premier League win over Aston Villa at Old Trafford

Winning run: Manchester United’s Eric Bailly celebrates at the final whistle after the Premier League win over Aston Villa at Old Trafford

The jury is still out on Manchester's top two sides as they prepare to go head-to-head at Old Trafford this evening - and the outcome could have a huge impact on the season.

A place in the League Cup final is the prize up for grabs in tonight's contest, but the bigger picture may be the mood that is created by the result.

Both Manchester United and local rivals City head into this game on a high after some good wins over the Christmas period and the one that books a place at Wembley tonight will get a further boost to their confidence levels.

The losers will come away wondering whether their upturn in fortunes over the last few weeks has been a mirage covering up their flaws, with the incentive for both sides clear for all to see.

With Liverpool in the midst of their biggest blip in over two years after back-to-back draws were followed by a defeat against Southampton on Monday night, Manchester United and their neighbours have a chance to take advantage.

Yet when I have watched these two sides in action this season, I've often come away feeling underwhelmed by what they have served up.

I'm yet to be convinced that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the manager who will bring the glory days back to United, but you have to give him credit for getting his side into a decent position this season in the Premier League and what I still call the League Cup.

Having watched the first half of United's game at West Ham last month, it would be a polite understatement to describe them as terrible.

Their players looked uninspired, didn't chase down any ball, barely put a forward move together of note and were lucky to be only 1-0 down at the break.

What Solskjaer has got are a handful of forward players who can win a game with some moments of magic and after he threw Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford on for the second half, the game was turned around.

We have seen that time and again with United. In Fernandes, Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani, they have attacking players with real quality.

When I look at the rest of their team, it looks pretty second rate, but top-class forwards can win you football matches and while I'm not convinced they will remain in the title race through to the end, those forward players are a real threat.

What of Manchester City? I'd say they are the primary challengers to Liverpool in the Premier League and they are capable of going on a ten-game winning run which might be enough to win a title race that has seen so many of the top teams dropping points consistently.

While I believe Pep Guardiola's side could go on a winning run, recent history tells us they will slip up sooner rather than later and it could easily be tonight at Old Trafford.

City will head into this game as firm favourites to win after they put Chelsea to the sword at Stamford Bridge last Sunday, but the hype around that performance has been misplaced.

City were decent, but Chelsea were so bad that it is hard to assess how good that performance was.

When you see Raheem Sterling being allowed to run half the length of the field before Kevin De Bruyne made it 3-0 for City before half-time, you appreciate the gulf in class between the two sides.

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard looks out of his depth in that job and it wouldn't surprise me if he sacked sooner rather than later, so let's see if City maintain their performance against better opposition.

City's defence will certainly be tested much more tonight at Old Trafford and recent history tells us they have not coped too well with United's forward line.

Guardiola's side are fantastic to watch when teams play into their hands, sit back and let them do what they do as well as any team in world football.

That's precisely what Chelsea did on Sunday, but United will make it tougher for them and we'll wait to see whether they can deal with it.

Ask me to pick a winner tonight and my advice would be to keep your money in your pocket and don't bother having a bet on this game as it's a complete toss-up.

Both sides have decidedly average defensive line-ups and it might well come down to which one cracks, as you can see goals flowing at both ends.

The fact that the League Cup semi-finals are being played over just one leg and with penalties after 90 minutes adds to the drama, so sit back on your sofa and lap up every second of it.

Everything else is in lockdown at the moment in Ireland the UK, but at least we still have football to keep us going at present.