Manchester Derby: Champions League spot hangs in balance as neighbors clash

With just nine games left in the season, both Manchester City and Manchester United are feeling the pressure of earning a spot in next year’s Champions League.

City is in fourth place on 51 points, 12 points back from Leicester City with a game in hand while United is four points adrift of their “noisy neighbors” in sixth place.

One could argue, based on the table, that the match is a must-not-lose for the blue half of Manchester and a must-win for the Red Devils in terms of their hopes of reaching the Champions League next season.

How/when to watch: Sunday, noon on NBC

Man in the middle: Michael Oliver

By the numbers: This is the 171st edition of the Manchester Derby. Manchester United has 70 wins, Manchester City has 49 victories and 51 matches have ended in a draw.

Injury report: Manchester City — Vincent Kompany is out for about a month after limping off against Dynamo Kiev Tuesday with a calf injury. His fellow center back, Nicolas Otamendi, is expected to be available after coming off injured in the same match. Kevin de Bruyne, Fabian Delph and Samir Nasri are all still out for City.

Manchester United — The Red Devils’ injury woes are well documented this season. Wayne Rooney, Phil Jones and Ashley Young are not yet ready for match action, but Ander Herrera and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson could be available for manager Louis van Gaal

They said it, part one: “I think that a derby is always dangerous regardless of the position of both teams — if it’s in the Premier League it’s doubly dangerous. It’s hard because they have good players — United have a very good squad, it doesn’t matter which play or in which way they play, they’re always a dangerous team.

“It’s a target (to finish above United) but it’s not the most important thing, the most important thing is to finish first, then you’re above all other teams. It’s a special game and I know the players treat it that way for the fans.” Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini told the team’s website

They said it, part two: “I hope City is the catalyst. We have to beat City and we have a chance to still qualify (for Champions League).” — Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal told Sky Sports

Analysis: Things aren’t exactly rosy for Manchester United right now. After being bounced from the Europa League by Liverpool on Thursday, the team must find a way to earn points in the Manchester Derby in order to keep any realistic hopes of qualifying for the Champions League alive.

David de Gea has been brilliant in goal for the Red Devils, and he’ll likely need to be again in this one. Sergio Aguero missed the first meeting between these two clubs earlier this season, and with 16 goals this season, he’ll be looking to close the three-goal gap between him and the top of the Premier League’s Golden Boot race.

There are rumblings that Louis van Gaal has lost the locker room, and this game should be a good indicator of whether or not that’s truly the case. It’s do-or-die for the Red Devils, and I’d be surprised if they didn’t play like it.

Prediction: A hard-fought, bone crunching 1-1 draw.

About Randy Capps

South Carolina native, Fulham apologist, writer and sports fanatic.