Column Rio Ferdinand: United are not yet title contenders

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

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

But Pep Guardiola’s side remain favorites and aim for another title, closing the gap on leaders Arsenal to five points.

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

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

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

“I think Ten Hag has earned more respect from the players because I can see his intentions,” Ferdinand said.

Erik ten Haag

“Now I can see what he wants and there seems to be a lot of clarity. Discipline seems to be one of the key factors on which his tenure depends, and if that’s not right, you don’t fit.

“Things like making players run 12km 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 went after big names at the top like Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho and came out unscathed, but that’s the message he’s sending to the people at the top and it will be the same for everyone below. That is the key factor for me.

“Ten Hag seems a bit of a perfectionist. Pep is like that, you see – I can win 4-0 and he is not satisfied with something. It just keeps the culture and the level of consistency high.”

Despite the improvement, United are not, in Ferdinand’s opinion, ready to discuss potential title contenders.

“They shouldn’t be talked about like that because of what happened in recent years. To change that, you have to win something or you have to be at the head of the pack.

“There is 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 still have so much to prove – they haven’t proven they can go 15 games without defeat, but City have, Liverpool have. United are not in that area yet.”

Erik ten Haag

Asked what the Red Devils need to do to reach those levels, he added: “Recruitment is huge. It was interesting to hear the manager talk about it and how recruitment in previous years was not good enough.

“If they can achieve that at the moment and more importantly in the summer, and get two or three who have the same effect as Martinez and Casemiro, United will close the gap. I don’t know if he will catch anyone, but he will take steps again.

“Ten Hag has shown that he is improving the players, he has shown that he is raising the standards day in and day out, but it is also necessary for the players to come in and get on the pitch.

“If they don’t get Mbappe, which I don’t think they will, that doesn’t mean they can’t compete. They have been doing this for the last 10 years, they have given mass signatures of declarations that have not worked. It’s about who is right for this club and this manager.”


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

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

“But there’s a way to get him out of his comfort zone. I said after six or seven games, no one has gotten in his face yet, no one has put a glove on him, no one has broken him. Godfrey was probably the closest to it, but Haaland likes to be fair.

“You have to ask him different questions and not give him free reign.”

Erling Haaland

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

“It’s not like that for United,” he said. “I can’t say if one player shows up we will be fine.

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

“They all have to turn up for the win against City because they will no doubt want to come to Old Trafford and win.”

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