Manchester United host Manchester City on Saturday in one of the most eagerly anticipated derbies in recent memory.

With Erik ten Hag’s side in strong form and rapidly climbing up the Premier League table, there is a growing feeling that they could soon be competing with City at the top of the division.

But Pep Guardiola’s team remain the favourites and have their sights set on another title having closed the gap to leaders Arsenal to five points.

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In the build-up to the Manchester derby, which you can watch live on BT Sport, we spoke to former United defender Rio Ferdinand.

The mood has been lifted around Old Trafford of late after a run of 14 wins and just one defeat since the 6-3 loss at the Etihad back in October.

And Ferdinand believes Ten Hag’s discipline has played a big part in the club’s transformation in fortunes.

“I think Ten Hag’s earned the respect of the players more because they can see his intentions,” Ferdinand said.

Erik ten Hag

“They can see what he wants now and there seems to be a lot of clarity. Discipline seems to be one of the essential factors that he’s hinging his tenure on, and if that’s not right you don’t fit in.

“Things like making the players do a 12k run after losing to Brentford, I don’t know if they’re gimmicks or not, but those short-term things don’t mean anything to me if the long-term consistency isn’t there. 

“He’s gone after big names at the top like Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho and come out unscathed, but it’s a message he’s sending to people at the top and it’s going to be the same for everyone underneath. That’s a key factor for me.

“Ten Hag looks like a bit of a perfectionist. Pep’s like that, you can see - they can win 4-0 and he’s not happy with something. That just keeps the culture and the levels of consistency high.”

Despite the improvement, United are not, in Ferdinand’s view, ready to be discussed as potential title contenders.

“They shouldn’t be talked about like that because of what’s gone on in the last few years. To change that you’ve got to win something or you’ve got to be right at the front of the pack. 

“There’s no need to talk about United like that and I don’t think the manager would want to be talked about like that either. 

“They’ve still got so much to prove - they’ve not proved they can go on a 15-game unbeaten run but City have, Liverpool have. United aren’t in that realm yet.”

Erik ten Hag

Asked what the Red Devils need to do to reach those levels, he added: “Recruitment’s massive. It was interesting to hear the manager talk about that and how recruitment in years gone by hasn’t been good enough. 

“If they can get that right in this window and more importantly in the summer, and get two or three who have the same impact Martinez and Casemiro have had, United will close the gap. I don’t know if they’ll catch anyone but they’ll make strides again. 

“Ten Hag’s shown that he’s improving players, he’s shown that he’s raising the standards on a day-to-day basis, but you also need the players to come in and hit the ground running.

“If they don’t get Mbappe, which I don’t think they will, that doesn’t mean they can’t compete. They’ve done that for the last 10 years, made massive statement signings that haven’t worked. It’s about who’s the right fit for this club and this manager.”


In the short-term, much of United’s focus will be on stopping Erling Haaland, who netted a hat-trick in the last Manchester derby.

“I think Ben Godfrey showed there is a way to nullify him a bit but he scored in that game [against Everton],” Ferdinand said. 

“But there’s a way to take him out of his comfort zone. I said after six or seven games, no one’s got in his face yet, no one’s laid a glove on him, no one’s smashed him. Godfrey’s probably been the closest to doing that but Haaland loves it to be fair. 

“You’ve got to ask different questions of him and not give him free rein.”

Erling Haaland

When asked who he would pick from City’s team to play for United, Ferdinand opted for Haaland, but highlighted the importance of playing as a unit to get a result against Guardiola’s team.

“It’s not like that for United,” he said. “They can’t say if one player turns up we’ll be alright. 

“Casemiro’s arguably the most important player this season. If he doesn’t turn up United will probably lose, but even if he does turn up they might not win. 

“All of them need to turn up to win against City because no doubt they’ll be looking to come to Old Trafford and win.”