- Associated Press - Friday, April 10, 2015

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - It’s been more than a decade since a Manchester derby in the Premier League had so little relevance to the title race.

In February 2005, United won 2-0 at Etihad Stadium to reduce its gap to Chelsea to nine points. The London club ended up cantering to the championship by 12 points, beginning a stint of unprecedented success under Jose Mourinho.

United or City have won the title a combined seven times in the intervening nine years, establishing the city as the hotbed of English football, but a glance at the current Premier League standings shows that era of dominance is over.

When the Manchester clubs meet on Sunday, they will be in third and fourth place respectively, trailing in the wake of runaway leader Chelsea and also behind rejuvenated Arsenal. Chelsea, with just two losses all season, could clinch the title before May.

So, the match at Old Trafford takes place to a different backdrop than usual. Local bragging rights are at stake, as ever, as is securing places in the top four to confirm Champions League qualification next season.

But both teams will also be looking to make a statement - to each other and to the rest of the Premier League.

Less than a year after clinching a Premier League-League Cup double, City is being written off as a stale, ageing team in need of a revamp and possibly a new manager. The pressure is on Manuel Pellegrini for the first time since he took charge in the summer of 2013, as he heads toward a trophyless season.

“I am not talking about my future, because it is not important,” Pellegrini said Friday, fielding the latest question about his increasingly vulnerable position. “I am just thinking about the game against Man United.”

City has never had such a run of success against United and is looking for a record fifth straight league win over its greatest rival. Yet, an air of negativity surrounds the club.

Sergio Aguero, City’s top striker, hasn’t scored in six games. Defender Vincent Kompany, the captain, has had an error-prone season and may not even play because of injury. Wilfried Bony was signed for an initial 25 million pounds ($37 million) in January to spark City’s attack but has yet to make an impact. He is definitely out on Sunday because of ankle and knee injuries.

“We are not a disaster, we’re not a mess,” said Pellegrini, whose tactics have been questioned this season. “We are doing a lot of things well. We must improve because we are not having the results we need.”

United, meanwhile, goes into the match a point ahead of City after five straight league wins and with real momentum for the first time since Alex Ferguson quit as manager nearly two years ago.

After a turbulent start to his first season in charge, Louis van Gaal has found the right formula in his starting lineup and is showing that he could be the man to bring the good times back to 20-time champions. Performances are starting to match the good results that have flowed since losing 1-0 to City in November, with United losing just two of 21 league games since.

“If we win, third place is then reasonable - a month ago, nobody was thinking that, besides me,” Van Gaal said Friday. “You are certainly qualified for the Champions League and we have done better than the goal (that was set) in pre-season.”

Wayne Rooney has scored six times in eight games since returning to his favored position up front, while midfielders Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata are making the most of prolonged runs in the team to demonstrate why United spent nearly $100 million on them last season.

United’s injury problems have even eased, with a happy Van Gaal saying: “I don’t have injured players any more - it’s the first time I’ve said that this year.”

Striker Robin van Persie is back in training after being sidelined with an ankle injury since February, but isn’t deemed fit enough by Van Gaal to feature Sunday in the 169th derby.

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