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City v United: Expert View

KELECHI IHEANACHO: Wins the ball

KELECHI IHEANACHO: Wins the ball

Ahead of the Manchester derby on Thursday, Club journalist Rob Pollard spoke to ESPN's United correspondent Rob Dawson to get the inside track on the Old Trafford side.

Manchester United will arrive at the Etihad on Thursday just one point below Manchester City in the race for a top-four place having beaten Burnley 2-0 at Turf Moor at the weekend.

It could hardly be tighter, with Liverpool and Arsenal also in contention for the two other Champions League spots alongside Chelsea and Tottenham. A win against Jose Mourinho's side is vital. 

Earlier this week, I caught up with ESPN's Rob Dawson, who follows United closely, to see what he has made of their season so far. 

United are unbeaten in 23 Premier League games after their win over Burnley at the weekend. What have you made of their form this season and how much have they improved under Jose Mourinho?

They have become much harder to beat, which the long unbeaten run is proof of. They’re also a much more attacking team than last season, although you wouldn’t know it from looking at their goal return.

They’re balanced and organised - everything you would expect from a Mourinho team. It hasn’t quite happened this season but they don’t look that far away. Scoring goals has been the only issue.

Hi Rob, thanks for joining us. Let's start with the big selection issue. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is out, meaning Marcus Rashford is likely to start. He’s a really talented player who gives defenders a difficult time. What’s the best way to cope with him?

That’s a difficult one and lots of Premier League defenders haven’t had the answer, either. If defenders give him time to run at them, they’re in trouble. 

He can run in behind or come short and turn. His movement in the penalty area is phenomenal for someone so young. He's very hard to stop.

Michael Carrick is seen by many as steadying influence in the big games. Do you think he should play?

I think so. It’s a big game away from home and his experience is vital. He’s not a blood and thunder midfielder but he’s good on the ball and calm, and that can spread to the rest of the team in a game that will be played at a high tempo.

Who do you think will partner Eric Bailly at centre-half?

It will probably be Daley Blind unless Chris Smalling or Phil Jones make miraculous recoveries. That might worry some United fans but he was very good against Sergio Aguero in the derby at the Etihad Stadium at the end of last season.

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How has Paul Pogba performed in the big games this season and do you think he can go on and fulfil his undoubted potential?

It’s almost impossible to properly judge a player that young who has been transferred for such an enormous fee.

He has had quiet games but he’s been terrific in others. He’s always looked to get on the ball, his passing has been fantastic and he’s been unlucky with the number of times he’s hit the post or bar. It’s been a positive season.

How big a blow is Rojo’s injury? He’s looked much better this season than last.

Big, because he was playing well. He has looked comfortable next to Bailly and it’s a shame he won’t play again this season. It’s been his best since he joined.

United have a few injuries at the moment. How well-equipped is their squad to cope?

They’ve come at the wrong time. Not only have they had a few injuries, they’ve been playing two games a week for months because of the Europa League.

The squad is shrinking and the players who have stayed fit have had a massive workload. They’re still managing to pull off big results, though, like the win over Chelsea.

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United sit one point below City in the league. This is a huge game now. How do you see the race for the top four ending?

The derby is a big game and the winner will be in the box seat for a top four finish. United’s run-in is complicated with the Europa League semi-finals but United will fancy their chances of getting into the top four in the form they’re in.

READ: Fernandinho on Gabriel Jesus

Predicted team?

De Gea, Valencia, Darmian, Bailly, Blind, Carrick, Herrera, Pogba, Mkhitaryan, Lingard, Rashford.

Score predication?

1-0 United.

Rob Dawson is Manchester United correspondent for ESPN. You can follow him on Twitter: @RobDawsonESPN 

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