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This afternoon nothing matters except pride – and that's why it'll be a Man United derby win

Kevin Moran


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Bruno Fernandes is having a positive impact at Old Trafford

Bruno Fernandes is having a positive impact at Old Trafford

PA

Bruno Fernandes is having a positive impact at Old Trafford

Ever since the massive Abu Dhabi investment in Manchester City a decade ago, the Manchester derby at this point in the season has been a huge game.

The Premier League title has been on the line for one of the teams – and sometimes for both of them.

This afternoon at Old Trafford nothing matters except pride – and that's why I think Manchester United will win the game as the Red Devils belatedly find their feet this season.

Three months ago, United's campaign was a mess.

This morning they are in the last eight of the FA Cup and the last 16 of the Europa League – that's two avenues to silverware.

The Europa League is also a path to next season’s Champions League, which could also be secured by finishing fourth, or even fifth, in the final Premier League table.

Fifth might do, ironically, because of City's proposed UEFA ban.

No matter how it all pans out, what we can say for certain now is that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is putting his stamp on the side.

We are seeing United 'pressing' teams really hard to try and get the ball back.

Gone are the Jose Mourinho days of lots of defensive midfielders clogging the route to the opposition's goal.

Now, United's players are being asked to get the ball back quickly, by harrying opponents.

Solskjaer also has the team 'transitioning' much quicker and more effectively.

The club's return of goals from their midfielders has been awful for the last few seasons. It is beginning to improve at last as the players in that area are now encouraged to support the strikers.

Another area where Solskjaer's influence is obvious is in the acquisition of Bruno Fernandes. He is giving United that bit of bite in the gap between midfield and attack.

He's making things happen in an area of the pitch where nothing much happened for United for a long time.

And all these good vibes are coming along for United as they play away without the one player who was seen as irreplaceable three months ago – Marcus Rashford.

In the absence of the injured striker, Anthony Martial is scoring a few, Fernandes and Idion Oghalo are chipping in, and those goals from midfielders are helping to solve what appeared, at the time Rashford got hurt, to be a massive issue.

Another thing different today will be that United’s players will face a rare home game where the opposition have more of the ball.

No team is better at keeping the ball than Pep Guardiola's crew. And the only way to save yourself an afternoon’s chasing is to win the ball back quickly and then hold it yourself.

United may have those two cups to think about, but this game matters too much to take any risks with your playing strength. This is about United going for a win that would certainly lift the whole club – players, management and supporters.

So Harry Maguire will come back at centre-half and give the team defensive strength.

United’s fans will demand a big performance from their heroes today – and I think they will get it.

Manchester City have been sublime at times this season.

But I just wonder is the pursuit of three cups, and their vain chasing of Liverpool in the Premier League, now catching up on them. Even on a squad as deep and gifted as that of the Sky Blues.

I mean, they went to Madrid 11 days ago and played superbly to win. Then they had a Carabao Cup final last Sunday and an FA Cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday.

Now there’s the Manchester derby, then a Premier League back match to be fitted in against Arsenal on Wednesday.

While there also looms the second leg of the Real Madrid Champions League tie in ten days' time.

It’s an incredible programme and it must be casting a shadow over the players.

Did they even get a chance to have a good celebration after winning the Carabao Cup last Sunday? I somehow doubt it!

Guardiola is so fortunate to have players like David Silva, Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus whom he can rotate in and out of the team.

They don’t have to play every match – and the team doesn't notice the change in personnel when one or two of them is given an evening off.

But I just believe the burden of games is mounting up for City.

And today might be a game too far for them against a very motivated Manchester United.

Online Editors