Ander Herrera has billed Manchester United’s Premier League trip to Manchester City as a potential make-or-break “game of the season.”
Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have endured topsy-turvy first campaigns in the north west and are now vying it out for Champions League qualification.
Europa League glory would offer United a route back to the continent’s top table, but they are also fighting desperately for a top-four finish having narrowly missed out to City last term.
Premier League matters are all that Guardiola’s men have to focus on after Sunday’s chastening FA Cup semifinal defeat to Arsenal — a loss that could be compounded at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.
Fifth-placed United are within a point of City in fourth and Herrera is well aware how big this week’s meeting is.
“It is going to be the game of the season,” the Spanish midfielder said with relish. “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. It is the game of the season.
“Make or break? Probably. 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.
“I don’t know the ‘winner takes all’ expression but it is going to be a massive game.
“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.”
It certainly promises to be a fascinating encounter, with Mourinho choosing to make a string changes for the 2-0 win at Burnley in a bid to freshen up his squad with half an eye on Thursday.
The Portuguese boss is having to cope with a string of key injuries but is sure to have a plan up his sleeve for City, having recently beaten Chelsea.
Antonio Conte’s men failed to muster so much as a shot on target as United secured a win far more comprehensive than the 2-0 scoreline suggests, with Herrera producing a man-of-the-match display.
The dependable, ever-improving Spaniard scored one, assisted the other and marked star turn Eden Hazard out of the game at Old Trafford.
Asked if the Belgian was still in his pocket, Herrera laughed then said: “Hazard, for me, has been the best player of the season so far.
“It was not a very easy job for me but I think I did it right.
“Also the team was very compact so that made it more easy for me. But now I know everyone is talking about it, but I want to forget it.
“I want to think about today winning, hopefully Thursday the same and we have [the] Europa League [semifinal].
“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 the that title as well, but I know very good [semifinal opponents] Celta Vigo. They are a very difficult team.”