By Richard Martin
MANCHESTER (Reuters) - Manchester United were outclassed by Manchester City in the last local derby but the mood could not be more different as they prepare to host their city rivals in the Premier League on Saturday in the middle of a remarkable run of form.
League leaders Arsenal, meanwhile, face another test of their credentials in a derby of their own away to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday on a weekend where local rivalries could have a huge say in the title race.
Arsenal lead the standings on 44 points after 17 games, five ahead of second-placed City. United are fourth on 35 points while Tottenham, who have played one game more, are fifth on 33.
Since being thrashed 6-3 by City on Oct. 2, United have won 15 out of 18 matches in all competitions while losing only once, while they are on a run of eight consecutive victories.
Their resurgence has been led by in-form striker Marcus Rashford, who has scored seven goals in his last six matches, and midfielder Casemiro.
The Brazilian was surprisingly left out of the line-up for the last derby but has started all 10 of United's league games since then and has added some much-needed stability, as well as aggression, to Erik ten Hag's midfield.
He has made more tackles than any player in the league's top six this season, according to statistics website FBref.com, and has contributed three assists in two goals despite being the team's most defensive midfielder.
TEN HAG'S INFLUENCE
Another key influence in United's turnaround is coach Erik ten Hag, who has been firm with players on team discipline, dropping Rashford to the bench when he turned up late to a team meeting and banishing the now departed Cristiano Ronaldo from the squad for leaving a match early.
"Nobody is bigger than the team, everybody has to contribute to the team. That’s not about 11 players but the whole squad. It’s the team around the team," Ten Hag told radio station Talksport this week.
"Everyone has one aim and they’re contributing to that and working hard for that with togetherness. When we keep this going, we can achieve a lot.”
City have rarely reached the heights of that sparkling performance in October and are in stuttering form ahead of the derby, dropping points twice in their last four league matches while they slumped to a surprise 2-0 defeat at Southampton in the League Cup on Wednesday.
Coach Pep Guardiola was scathing of his team after the result, declaring: "I know my players well and today was not even close to what we are."
Arsenal's five-game winning streak in the league was halted by a frustrating 0-0 draw at home to Newcastle United and they will face another gruelling match at Tottenham, where they have not won in the league since March 2014.
There is a high-stakes match at the bottom of the table when Everton, in 18th, host bottom club Southampton in another crucial match for under-pressure coach Frank Lampard.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)