Manchester City-Manchester United Preview
By JEFF FLETCHER
STATS European Editor
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is expecting a tough match against Manchester City at Old Trafford on Monday but is confident his title-chasing side will come out on top against their fierce local rivals.
Runaway Premier League leaders United are 15 points ahead of defending champions City and victory in the Manchester derby would more or less guarantee a record 20th English top-flight league title for the Red Devils.
"We have to get used to playing Manchester City in big games and that's the case again," Ferguson told the Manchester United website. "The important thing is to win Monday's game.
"It'll be a big game for City. They'll want to come and derail us for a spell. We're at home and our consistency is there for all to see. I expect us to perform really well on Monday."
Ferguson's side have suffered a couple of setbacks in recent weeks - they were knocked-out of the Champions League by Real Madrid in March and lost an FA Cup quarter-final replay 1-0 at Chelsea last Monday - but their form in the Premier League has been merciless.
United (25-2-3) are unbeaten in 18 league matches - with 16 wins and two draws in the run. They have also kept cleans in their last six league outings.
The Red Devils have scored at least once in their last 61 home Premier League games, dating back to a 1-0 loss to Aston Villa in December 2009.
One concern for United has been a lack of goals in recent matches from star striker Robin van Persie. The Netherlands international, who has scored 23 times for the Red Devils this season, has gone nine games without a goal. His last goal for United came in the 2-0 Premier League win over Everton on February 10. However, Ferguson expects van Persie will soon rediscover his goal-scoring touch.
"He doesn't need a rest that's for sure, he's a strong lad with great physique," said Ferguson. "The goals will come, all strikers have dry spells and you hope it ends quickly, it's part of being a striker."
Manchester City (18-8-4) bounced back from a 2-0 defeat at Everton a fortnight ago by thrashing Newcastle United 4-0 at home last weekend, but their recent away form has been disappointing, with just won win in five road matches.
City midfielder James Milner admits reluctantly that the title is likely to be won by United but he is determined to secure a victory on Monday night for the sake of his club's supporters.
"It will be a great match, it's always great playing against Manchester United and we're desperate to beat them," the England international told the Manchester City website. "We'll go out there and play as well as we can and hopefully if we play to the best of our ability I'm sure that will be good enough to get us a win and give our fans something to shout about.
"It's looking unlikely that we will retain our title which is very disappointing, but it changes nothing. You're representing Manchester City every time you step out on that field and wearing the shirt, so you go out and give 100 per cent and try to win every game."
United striker Wayne Rooney and full-back Rafael are both fit to face City after recovering from groin injuries, while defenders Nemanja Vidic (back) and Jonny Evans (hamstring) are both doubtful. City midfielder David Silva and Samir Nasri are both fully fit after suffering knocks against Newcastle.
Van Persie's last-gasp goal held off a City comeback and led United to a 3-2 win at the Etihad Stadium in December. Rooney scored twice in the opening half hour to put United seemingly on their way, but Yaya Toure replied on the hour mark to halve the deficit. And it looked like City had salvaged a point when Pablo Zabaleta netted four minutes from time, but van Persie won it with a deflected free kick two minutes into stoppage time.
This is the 164th Manchester derby, with United holding a strong advantage - winning 68 times to City's 45. There have been 50 draws.
The first goal at Old Trafford on Monday could be more important than usual, as both United and City have not lost a Premier League match this season in which they have opened the scoring.
Updated April 7, 2013