Sir Alex Ferguson still expects the Manchester derby to play a part in deciding the Premier League title despite the contrast in form between United and City.
The champions moved five points ahead of their local rivals thanks to Monday’s 2-0 victory over Blackburn and have won their last seven league matches, while City have won only one of their last four games.
United could be eight points clear by the time City kick off at Arsenal on Sunday, and it is conceivable they could have a 20th top-flight title wrapped up when they face City at the Etihad on April 30.
“Derby games are always important, and it could be even more important this year,” said Ferguson. “It’s bound to have an impact on the eventual winner, albeit that we’re going into it with a nice healthy lead.”
United have made a habit over the years of finding their best form during the title run-in, and Ferguson highlighted the performances of defender Jonny Evans as a key factor.
When captain Nemanja Vidic suffered a serious knee injury in December, ruling him out for the rest of the season, it seemed like it might be a terminal blow to the champions’ title hopes.
But 25-year-old Northern Ireland international Evans has stepped into the breach and formed an impressive partnership with Rio Ferdinand.
Meanwhile, Ferguson revealed he will take his strongest available squad over to Northern Ireland for the testimonial of former United goalkeeper Harry Gregg at Windsor Park on May 15.
United will take on an Irish League XI to honour the 79-year-old, a hero of the Munich disaster.
Ferguson added: “For Manchester United to honour a player who, apart from (saving) his peers from the Munich air disaster, you’ve got to remember the career he had here – it’s absolutely apt that we send our best squad.”