"Manchester United have more confidence than Manchester City now" - Van Gaal

Louis van Gaal couldn’t let the moment pass. Manchester United had just rattled off their 13th home win of the season and the Dutchman wanted to crank up the pressure.

A comfortable victory over Aston Villa, inspired by two goals from the excellent Ander Herrera and crowned by Wayne Rooney’s magnificent strike, had seen United leap above Manchester City in the table for the first time since November 23, 2013.

When you think on January 10 this year the gap between the two clubs was 10 points, the turnaround has been remarkable. But now, as they head into their latest local squabble, there is mounting confidence around Old Trafford that United will not surrender their position.

Is it feasible for City to finish fourth? They face Crystal Palace on Monday evening and Van Gaal believes dropping down two positions will creep into the psychology of Manuel Pellegrini’s squad. Even if City win at Selhurst Park, how will they handle the furnace that awaits this Sunday?
‘It plays a part in the spirit of the players — of our opponents but also our players,’ said Van Gaal. ‘We have more confidence now and when (if) they lose a point against Crystal Palace, then it is also sitting in their minds.

‘I don’t know the individual players of Manchester City so well, so I cannot judge them. But we have a lot of confidence and we haven’t lost so many times at home. The next game is going to be the decisive game.’
Van Gaal is aware recent history spells doom for United. They have lost seven of the last nine Manchester derbies, including each of the last four. Remarkably, they have not beaten City at home since Rooney scored that breath-taking bicycle kick in February 2011.

City, few would dispute, have the better squad but, regardless of what happens in south London, will they be able to hold United’s momentum? Can they match their spirit? Big games are bringing the best out of Van Gaal’s men and they are clearly relishing the opportunity that awaits.
‘It was another Manchester United, I believe,’ said Van Gaal, when asked how he reflected on the 1-0 defeat he suffered at the Etihad Stadium in November. ‘We have developed the team. That was more in the start of the process and now we are in the end of the process.

‘So I think also the confidence of our players is very high at the moment but also our performances shows that so it’s not the same Manchester United. It’s like the game against Liverpool and the game (coming up) against Chelsea — you have to win these kinds of matches.’
By Dominic King/SportsMail