Van Gaal causes stir by insisting City are favourites for Old Trafford derby
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has made the remarkable claim that his side's local neighbours are the favourites to win tomorrow's Old Trafford derby, declaring that his players will need to finish ahead of Manchester City this season before claiming to have narrowed the quality gap.
Not since Alex Ferguson's triumphant valedictory season in 2012-13 have United been able to hold a candle to City, who were 22 points better than them in their title-winning campaign of two seasons ago and boasted a nine-point, two-place superiority last season.
Van Gaal, whose side would move ahead of City with victory tomorrow, said: "It's not important who is the favourite. (But) when you look at the facts, they are first and we are third, so they are the favourites I think."
Van Gaal's predecessor David Moyes was subjected to widespread derision when he described Liverpool as "favourites" before the Merseyside club's 3-0 win at United last year.
Van Gaal's assertion that City will arrive at Old Trafford as favourites says much about the size of the 64-year-old's task in rediscovering lost pride. United have won only three of the past 10 Premier League Manchester derbies and have lost three of the last five at home.
When asked if United had narrowed the gap on City during his season and a quarter in charge, Van Gaal avoided the question.
"I'm happy that we are more balanced in our selection," he said. "Whether we can compete? We have to wait and see. We have to see if we can develop as a team. We have new players. We have more young players than last year. We have to develop and we can only say at the end of the season if we have minimised the gap."
City manager Manuel Pellegrini rejected Van Gaal's suggestion that City had an edge because of the greater exertions of United's midweek trip to CSKA Moscow, while City played at home.
"I don't think we have an advantage. I don't think United will have any problem to recover."
He also denied "punishing" Vincent Kompany, who is in strong contention to return after two weeks as substitute, for playing 57 minutes of Belgium's win over Israel despite missing the previous five City games with a calf strain.
Van Gaal, who is without Ashley Young but can call upon Ander Herrera despite the knock he got in Moscow, said that while Anthony Martial's performances had been in line with United's expectations, his consistency had "surprised" him.