MANCHESTER, March 24- Encouraged by a tentative upturn in fortunes, Manchester United will be aiming to derail Manchester City’s Premier League title surge when the sides meet at Old Trafford in Tuesday’s derby.
United gave their flatlining season an injection of life by beating Olympiakos last week to reach the Champions League quarter-finals and followed up by winning 2-0 at West Ham United in the league on Saturday.
Wayne Rooney scored both goals at West Ham — the first an astonishing lob from near the halfway line — and he says that the 3-0 win over Olympiakos has helped to lift the mood around the club.
“I thought we played some really good stuff, moved the ball well and counter-attacked really well, so we’re really pleased with the win,” he said of the success at Upton Park.
“The Olympiakos game gave us a big lift in confidence and belief as well in ourselves.
“This was a good result for us going into the derby, so we’re looking forward to an exciting game and hopefully we’ll get a good result.”
United are 11 points adrift of the Champions League qualifying places, but the consolation of a Europa League berth remains well within their reach.
The prospect of a Champions League quarter-final against holders Bayern Munich, meanwhile, has added spice to a season that had appeared to be drifting into oblivion.
Rooney’s form over the campaign’s closing weeks will be vital, with strike partner Robin van Persie having been ruled out for up to six weeks after spraining his knee against Olympiakos.
The England striker’s performance against West Ham suggested he is ready to step in for Van Persie at the tip of the United attack, but he was keen to highlight the contribution of attacking midfielder Juan Mata.
The Spaniard played alongside Shinji Kagawa in support of Rooney, who is hopeful that the configuration will bear further fruit in the weeks ahead.
“I think it is the first time we’ve probably both played in a more advanced role, together with him up behind,” Rooney said of Mata.
“It worked well. Obviously Juan is a very talented footballer, got a good footballing brain and when he gets in positions, you know as a forward you can make runs and he can see you.”
– Chelsea in City’s sights –
Manuel Pellegrini’s City remain the side most likely to depose Chelsea at the top of the table and the trip to Old Trafford is the first of their three games in hand on Jose Mourinho’s side.
City’s 5-0 demolition of Fulham on Saturday left them six points behind the London club in third place, with Liverpool two points above them having played two games more.
The League Cup winners therefore remain in control of their own destiny and goalkeeper Joe Hart says the players are not afraid to admit that the title is within their grasp.
“The fans, players, and staff — everyone needs to pull each other through if we want to get over the line first,” he said.
“I do think we have the squad to win the league. We can’t get too wrapped up in the away games we still have to play.
“We still have the chance to do something really special and do something this club hasn’t done for 44 years by winning two trophies in one season.
“So we need to press on and try and create a bit of history.”
United hope that Rio Ferdinand will be fit to face City after a back problem forced him to miss the trip to his former club West Ham, obliging Michael Carrick to fill in as an auxiliary centre-back.
City remain without leading scorer Sergio Aguero due to a hamstring complaint, but captain Vincent Kompany is back in contention after missing the Fulham game through suspension.
City have won on their last two visits to Old Trafford and inflicted a demoralising 4-1 defeat upon United when the teams last met at the Etihad Stadium in September.