Ander Herrera says Champions League place is at stake in Manchester derby

Ed Aarons
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Ander Herrera helped Manchester United to an important 2-0 win at Burnley on Sunday.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Andrew Yates/Reuters</span>
Ander Herrera helped Manchester United to an important 2-0 win at Burnley on Sunday. Photograph: Andrew Yates/Reuters

Ander Herrera believes the Manchester derby on Thursday will be the biggest match of their season, with United and City separated by only a point in the Premier League table as they chase Champions League qualification for next season.

United go into the game at the Etihad Stadium on the back of three successive Premier League victories that have revived their hopes of finishing in the top four. Having starred in the 2-0 win against the leaders, Chelsea, last week, the Spain midfielder Herrera played a pivotal role in the 2-0 victory against Burnley at Turf Moor and he admitted the meeting with Pep Guardiola’s side could be make or break for both teams.

“It is going to be the game of the season. We are one point behind them. If we win, we have the chance to finish in the top four. If they win it is going to be very difficult,” he said. “Both teams are in a good moment so, if one of us wins the game, we are not going to lose a lot of games, or make mistakes after that. Us or them. It is going to be key.

“We are in a very good moment, a very good run and we respect them but we are doing a lot of good things and we have to show it on Thursday.”

United go into the derby without the striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and defender Marcos Rojo after both sustained knee injuries in the Europa League quarter‑final win against Anderlecht last week. That competition could still provide an entry route into the Champions League for Mourinho’s side, although they will have to get past Celta Vigo in the semi-finals without their top scorer.

The Sweden striker has yet to discover for how long he will be out of action but vowed that the suspected anterior ligament damage he sustained would not end his career. “I will go through this like everything else and come back even stronger,” he wrote on Instagram. “ So far I played with one leg so it shouldn’t be any problem. One thing is for sure, I decide when it’s time to stop and nothing else. Giving up is not an option. See you soon.”

Herrera, who joined United in 2014, was part of the Athletic Bilbao side that lost to Sevilla in the 2012 final and he is hopeful of laying that ghost to rest this time around. He said: “The Europa League is a competition that makes me very excited because I lost the final three or four years ago and I want to take that knife from my back. So hopefully we can fight for that title as well but I know Celta Vigo very well. They are a very difficult team.”

Meanwhile the City midfielder Yaya Touré has hit out at the officials in their 2-1 defeat against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday. The referee, Craig Pawson, disallowed a goal from Sergio Agüero after ruling that the ball had gone out of play in the build-up, only for replays to show that the whole ball had not crossed the line.

“I think the referees have to stop this. I am very disappointed,” Touré said. “It is not the first time; there have been a couple of times. If we have to talk about referees, people are going to say ‘We complain’ but, when we see the highlights, for me it is very disappointing. Maybe on Thursday we are going to have a better referee or maybe play without a referee – I’d prefer that.”

City have won only two of their past six Premier League matches since beating Sunderland at the start of March and now look under serious threat of failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 2011. Touré admitted it is vital they bounce back from the disappointment of losing to Arsenal at Wembley, starting with United.

“We have to recover and be ready. If we win, we will forget this game but, if we lose, then it will be more difficult,” he said. “We need to be in the Champions League. City have qualified for the Champions League for six years now and Thursday is very important. It’s a special game.”

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