Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal piled the pressure on Manchester City ahead of Sunday’s derby by insisting the English Premier League leaders will be favoured to win the Old Trafford showdown.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side have scored 11 goals in winning their last two league matches, beating Newcastle United 6-1 and Bournemouth 5-1.
That has kept them two points clear of United, who lost the chance to claim top spot when they were beaten 3-0 at Arsenal three weeks ago. While both sides harbour genuine ambitions of replacing Chelsea as English champions, Van Gaal was happy to deflect all the attention on to City ahead of the season’s first Manchester derby.
“When you look at the facts, they are first and we are third. They are first so they are the favourites, I think,” van Gaal told reporters on Friday. “If we win, we are first in the table. That doesn’t mean we are the champions. That’s decided in May. It’s a big step when we win but still you have to continue.”
Van Gaal acknowledged that Sunday’s derby is bigger than the average United league match, but he is determined to ensure he does not get caught up in the emotion of the occasion.
“For me, it’s not an issue. I have to do my work. And I have to do it more rationally and not emotionally,” he said. “I think for the fans, it’s very emotional. I live in a little village and it is also the talk of the town there. But in Manchester, it’s more.”
Pellegrini has won three of his four derbies as City manager, two in his first season against a United side then led by David Moyes. Van Gaal, who suffered a 1-0 league defeat at Eastlands last November, has won the most recent meeting between the two teams, though, with a 4-2 victory at Old Trafford in April. The former Netherlands boss has rejected suggestions that that win was his finest moment since joining United in July 2014, saying that his team’s slow start that day disappointed him.
“No, it was certainly not my best moment, because we started badly in that match,” Van Gaal added. “Of course, we won but it cost us a lot of energy. We played better matches last year.”
United have arguably had a tougher week than City, having had to travel to Russia for a midweek UEFA Champions League draw against CSKA Moscow City were at home to Sevilla, winning 2-1 courtesy of a last-minute Kevin De Bruyne winner and Van Gaal hopes United’s long journey to Russia does not have a negative effect on Sunday.
“I hope that we have recovered. We have done everything to help the recovery of the players,” he said. “We stayed in a hotel the next day. We had a smooth flight, then we went to the training complex for recovery. We haven’t trained too much today. We have to recover because it is a match at a high level. We have to cope with that.”