MANCHESTER, England, April 26 (Reuters) - If the first Manchester derby of the season was excessively dominated by the focus on a fascinating coaching rivalry, Thursday’s encounter is strictly business.
This time, few care about the Pep Guardiola-Jose Mourinho head-to-head records or their previous meetings in Spain’s La Liga.
The stakes are high - City are fourth in the Premier League, just a point ahead of United after the same number of games.
Both clubs are desperate to ensure a top-four finish and Champions League football next season and Thursday’s clash at the Etihad Stadium will be decisive in that contest.
Still, given their stature in the game, it is impossible for the two coaches to be completely out of the picture.
Guardiola’s first campaign at Manchester City risks ending in the worst Premier League finish for the club in seven seasons. City have not ended a campaign out of the top four since coming fifth in 2011 under Roberto Mancini.
Sunday’s extra-time defeat by Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final saw the last chance of silverware disappear after City’s loss to Monaco in the Champions League last 16.
Former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach Guardiola has never endured a trophy-less season as a coach and, while City’s hierarchy will write this year off as a transitional phase, there will still be some surprise that he has achieved less than his predecessor Manuel Pellegrini.
United, who lost 2-1 in the first league meeting with City, have steadily progressed under Mourinho.
They have already lifted the League Cup and are 23 league games unbeaten while having a chance of more silverware - and a Champions League place - through the Europa League where they face Celta Vigo in the semi-finals.
While United have lost top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic and key defender Marcos Rojo to long-term knee injuries, there is a real mood of optimism at Old Trafford.
“It’s going to be the game of the season,” said United’s Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera.
“We are in a very good moment, on 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,” he said.
The long season fighting on several fronts has taken its toll on both teams however.
As well as Ibrahimovic and Rojo, Mourinho, who has been rotating his squad, must wait to see if Paul Pogba is fit after he was substituted late in Sunday’s 2-0 win at Burnley.
Central defenders Phil Jones and Chris Smalling and midfielder Juan Mata are also on the injured list.
For City, leading scorer Sergio Aguero and playmaker David Silva are battling to be fit while Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus could return after a long-term injury. (Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris)