Manchester City deserve to be derby favourites, says United boss
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 Sir Alex Ferguson's valedictory title-winning season have United been able to hold a candle to City, who were 22 points better than them in their title-winning campaign of two years ago and boasted a nine-point, four-place superiority last season.
Van Gaal, whose side will move ahead of City with a win, said: "It's not important who is the favourite. (But) 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's predecessor David Moyes described Liverpool as 'favourites' before the Merseyside club's 3-0 win at United in 2013, leading the then Reds manager Brendan Rodgers to say he had been surprised.
"I would never say that at Liverpool - even if I was bottom of the league," Rodgers remarked.
Though the Dutchman genuinely considers such semantics to be a superficial irrelevance, the mere assertion that City would arrive at Old Trafford as favourites says much about the size of the 64-year-old's task in rediscovering lost pride in the city. 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. When you compare (us) to Manchester City, we are two points behind. I think we have to wait and see if we can develop as a team.
"We have new players in our squad. We have more young players than last year. We have to develop ourselves and we can only say at the end of the season if we have minimised the gap between ourselves and our competitors."
When asked if United could prove they were genuine title contenders with a win, Van Gaal said: "I don't think that is a big question now.
"When we win (against) Manchester City we are first in the table (if Arsenal drop points to Everton) but that doesn't mean we are the champions.
"The champions are only in May. It's a big step when we win that's true but you also have to continue. That's also a big question.''
Rival boss Manuel Pellegrini rejected Van Gaal's suggestion that City had an edge because of the greater exertions of their midweek trip to play CSKA Moscow, while City played at home.
He said: "I don't think we have an advantage. Maybe if the derby was tomorrow (Saturday) and not Sunday it would be a small advantage, but I don't think United will have any problem to recover from Wednesday to Sunday."
Wayne Rooney, the record scorer in this fixture, turns 30 today.
The United and England captain said on Tuesday that he has "a lot of years" left in the game.
"That is dependent of the player,'' Van Gaal said when asked how long he thought Rooney could play on for.
"You cannot predict that. How he lives as a profession, how strong he is, how ambitious he is, it's always dependent on a lot of factors. So we will have to see.''
Van Gaal believes all his players - not just Rooney - will be highly motivated for tomorrow's match.
He added: "All the great players love such a challenge, not only Wayne, but also the other big players we have and that also counts for the big players of Manchester City. They love these matches.''