But it is United who go into Sunday’s derby as favourites, full of confidence. City’s title defence has been a shambles. Sportsmail asked United’s former captain Bryan Robson, City legend Dennis Tueart and our resident experts Jamie Redknapp and Martin Keown how Manchester has been turned on its head.
Why has the pendulum swung back in United’s favour?
Jamie Redknapp: After losing to Arsenal in the FA Cup, I couldn’t see United going anywhere. Things changed at Liverpool. They gained confidence and now they aren’t just winning, they’re playing well. With City, there is a mental issue and they have lost three away games on the bounce. That’s not good enough.
Martin Keown: It looked like City had conquered this rivalry. Not anymore. When I saw them lose the Community Shield I already had my suspicions. True champions forget the past and go for the next challenge. City seemed complacent. For United, Louis van Gaal’s experiments are finally producing results.
Byan Robson: City’s slip surprises me. The initial dip coincided with Yaya Toure going off to the Africa Cup of Nations. Prior to that City were dominating defences. United took time to settle in to Van Gaal’s ways but they’ve timed it well.
Dennis Tueart: United’s absence from cup competitions and Europe has allowed Van Gaal to spend hours on training. City have lost confidence and I am not sure the players are comfortable with the system.
What has happened to Vincent Kompany?
Tueart: One of the challenges Sir Alex Ferguson always met at United was to have a settled spine. City haven’t had that this season and Kompany has suffered. He hasn’t had a regular partner and the two guys playing immediately in front of him are always changing too. That has unsettled him and he has responded by trying to do too much. Kompany is a terrific player and I am sure he will recover. But he needs to concentrate on his own play and hope others follow his lead.
Robson: You can’t be outstanding every year. Last year people were even questioning whether Lionel Messi was on the slide. Kompany’s still a top defender but he’s had some injuries and as you get older you have to learn to look after your body differently. The criticism can affect you. We’re not all as thick skinned as we like to make out and it’s a first for him to be examined this way.
Redknapp: Last season he was colossal but this has been his worst in a City shirt. He’s struggled with injuries and it looks like he doesn’t trust his body. Every decision he makes seems to be the wrong one.
Keown: His recovery from injury took longer than he might have expected and he looked uncoordinated when he returned.
Is Van Gaal brilliant or lucky?
Keown: It has been a combination of both. Injuries forced him to play Wayne Rooney up front and it took him a long time to ditch the back three and go for the four the fans wanted. But he has made far better use of David Moyes’ signings.
Robson: Look at his record, that’s not luck. He has unswerving confidence in himself. I’ve witnessed at first hand the way he tells players bluntly what he wants. It’s not meant in a rude way but it helps. As a player if you’re told sharply what’s required there’s no grey area, you prefer that. He’s made subtle changes, like Juan Mata no longer being exposed for pace due to where he plays.
Tueart: Napoleon said he would rather have lucky generals than good ones and with Van Gaal I think there has been a bit of both. In a way things have fallen nicely for him in that injuries to people like Angel di Maria and Robin van Persie have forced his hand in terms of including Mata and Marouane Fellaini in recent games. However, you don’t beat Liverpool at Anfield by being lucky.
Redknapp: People are excited by what he’s done but this is exactly where United should be. I’ll reserve judgment because he has always said he needed time. Tactically at Liverpool he was spot on and he is showing his qualities but it’s funny that has happened now players are in their right position.
If you were Aguero and De Gea, would you leave in the summer?
Robson: If you’re Spanish it must be very difficult to ignore Real Madrid when they are chasing you but David de Gea must realise he could have everything he wants at United. For Sergio Aguero, he knows at City he is the main man and that he is loved but that wouldn’t be the case with Real Madrid or Barcelona.
Redknapp: I’m his biggest fan but I get the feeling there’s something up with Aguero. He’s playing like an individual and not showing the team ethic we normally see. If a player does not want to be somewhere, it’s hard to keep them. With De Gea, it would be a dream to play for Real Madrid. If a deal involved Gareth Bale going the other way, I’d snap your hand off.
Keown: No, it would be wrong for both to leave. Manchester United is an institution and De Gea can play a huge part in any future success. With Aguero I’d be very surprised if he leaves. He is a fantastic professional and the club is building for the future.
Tueart: They both want Champions League football, of course, so their clubs have to ensure they have that next season. I never thought I would be wondering about whether City will be in it, I must admit!
Should City stick with Manuel Pellegrini?
Redknapp: It might be harsh and the owners don’t want a reputation for hiring and firing but I don’t think they’ll keep him. The problem is who can replace him?
Tueart: I would hope so but he needs to improve. I am concerned about the system. All the European clubs play 4-3-3 when they have the ball and 4-5-1 when they don’t. But with Pellegrini playing 4-4-2 City tend to get overrun in midfield. He seems unwilling to change. Against Palace on Monday, City had 74 per cent of possession but lost 2-1. Having the ball is no good if it’s in the wrong areas.
Robson: Definitely. He has shown he can win trophies, the Champions League will be a concern but he probably only needs to change three players. The key for supporting him is City’s scouting system and making sure they identify the right players to buy in the summer.
Keown: There is a loyalty at that club and it would go against their philosophy to sack him. Yes, they sacked Roberto Mancini but he was an abrasive character. Pellegrini is a better fit.
Who is the best player in either squad?
Keown: It’s a difficult one but I’d go for Aguero over Rooney. Both are match-winners but Aguero needs two defenders to stop him. If it’s a one-on-one, it’s game over.
Robson: Michael Carrick is probably the unsung hero but Wayne Rooney is United’s star. He’s a special talent who can change a game and lift the team with one movement. For City, Yaya Toure is still the man that makes them tick. If he wants to play then City are difficult to stop.
Tueart: David Silva and Wayne Rooney. They are both players who put their shift in, create chances and score goals. I thought Rooney’s attitude earlier in the season when he played in midfield was excellent. While Van Gaal was trying to find solutions, Rooney’s approach was: ‘Just give me the shirt, tell me where to play and I will go and do it’. That kind of approach is priceless.
Redknapp: Even though he’s not at his best right now, it still has to be Aguero. Silva and Rooney are fantastic but Aguero is devastating.
Who has made worse signings?
Robson: Players from both squads have struggled with the expectation and the scrutiny. Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra struggled when they joined United but they became seasoned players. Fellaini needed a year of adjustment and he was already in the Premier League. Falcao needs more games. For Di Maria, Eliaquim Mangala and Fernando it’s too early to judge.
Tueart: They are probably both on a par here! Players like Di Maria, Falcao, Mangala and Fernando really have not come in and done well. It is harder to get the right players and tricky to get people to live in Manchester, sadly.
Redknapp: United’s were marginally better. Di Maria made a fine start and though he’s faded, few of City’s players have shone at all. I never thought I’d say it but Chelsea lead the way right now. They sell high and invest wisely.
Keown: Neither manager will have endeared themselves to the money men but I think City did a better job, particularly with Frank Lampard and Bacary Sagna on frees. Though they did waste a lot of money on Mangala when Micah Richards could have been given a chance.
Who will win the match?
Redknapp: United, 2-1. The momentum has shifted and all the belief is with them. City’s confidence is low and they are struggling on the road. I don’t see them turning it round.
Keown: United. Van Gaal has finally worked out his system and selections. This is a game to focus City minds but they could have done with it a few weeks ago.
Robson: City have handed out some tonkings over recent years but United will make a closer fight of it this time. I’m going to sit on the fence and say it will be a draw.
Tueart: Team selection will be crucial. City have discovered how to win at Old Trafford in recent times and that will help them. If they play their best — and it’s a big if — I fancy them to edge it.– Daily Mail
Original source: United should end derby jinx