Manchester United visit neighbours City on Thursday (8pm kick-off) knowing that victory would take them into the Premier League’s top four.
Jose Mourinho’s men eased past Burnley 2-0 on Sunday to extend their unbeaten league run to 23 matches, and indeed keep the pressure on those sides above them in the Champions League qualification places.
One of which is Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, who saw their FA Cup adventure come to an end with a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal on Sunday, a result which will see former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss Guardiola endure his first trophyless season in management.
And defeat to United on Thursday would see the Citizens fall outside of the top four, thus throwing their chances of playing in Europe’s elite competition into jeopardy given there’s only five games after the derby remaining in the campaign.
For Mourinho’s Red Devils, they still have the Europa League title to play for as well, given they are in the last four, and although there is much football to be played between now and the end of the season, it hasn’t stopped speculation building about who Mourinho may look to sign in the summer.
And one man they’ve been linked with in recent days is Real Madrid attacker James Rodriguez, who made a name for himself on the world stage with Colombia in the 2014 World Cup.
The 25-year-old has struggled for gametime under Zinedine Zidane this season, making just nine La Liga starts, and as a result is reportedly ready to leave the Bernabeu in favour of a move to Old Trafford.
And that is news that will delight United fans as Rodriguez is exactly what Mourinho needs ahead of next season.
Ultimately, United’s biggest issue this season has been their lack of a killer instinct.
It’s not through the lack of trying though – they have managed 538 shots in the Premier League this season which is the third most behind Liverpool and Tottenham, but with just 50 goals this term, their conversion rate is the worse of any side in the top eight of the league (9%).
And when Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the club’s top-scorer this season with 28 in all competitions, and 18 clear of the next best Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, they have also been too reliant on the 35-year-old as well.
And this has all blown up to see Mourinho’s men draw nine of their 17 home league games this season, of which the vast majority are games they could and perhaps should have won if they had that killer instinct, that extra bit of quality and composure in the final third.
Rodriguez could bring that.
Although he has only managed nine La Liga starts and a further eight substitute appearances, he has made an impact when on the pitch more often than not, with four goals and six assists in that time, equating to a contribution every 85 minutes.
And with 17 goals in his first season in the Spanish capital, Rodriguez clearly knows where the back of the net is, but he also has the creative nous that could unlock the defensive units that have done so well at Old Trafford this season.
Ibrahimovic is second in their assists charts this term to further underline his significance to this team (he’s only one behind Ander Herrera), and given that the Swedish star might not even be at the club next season, Mourinho will surely be thinking about who could come in, as next season has to be the one for him and this United team.
The Red Devils have failed to sustain a title challenge this season and could miss out on a top four finish, and although the League Cup success was a timely one and mirrors Mourinho’s first season in charge of Chelsea, the United faithful will be hoping for more next time around.
And that means that signings like Rodriguez need to come through the door, as United have ultimately been too wasteful and not clinical enough in the final third this season to get near the teams at the top of the Premier League.
The Colombian captain has the flair, vision, and composure in the final third to both be a goal-scorer and a goal-creator at Old Trafford, so it’s a move that Mourinho simply must get done this summer.