Ryan Giggs believes Manchester United's experience as regular title winners can be made to count in the critical derby at the Etihad Stadium on Monday night as the champions attempt to deliver "a statement" to their closest rivals.
The midfielder, a veteran of 12 league titles with United who was absent when Roberto Mancini's team won 6-1 at Old Trafford in October, conceded that the holders had been forced to cling to City's coat tails through the first half of the campaign. United have been resurgent since early January, winning 12 of their past 15 Premier League games even if recent blips against Wigan Athletic and Everton have extended the title race into this derby.
"City will be looking at it and fancying themselves to win the game, just like ourselves, because they're a good team and they're at home," Giggs said. "But we're Man United, we're the champions and we'll try to go out there and put a statement out that we deserve to win this league. It's a bit frustrating [that points have been dropped in recent weeks] but there's nothing we can do about it now. It's still in our hands and if we win we'll be in a brilliant position. It could have been better but it's not and we realise that.
"There is no mistaking that this is a massive game and the biggest in recent times. We realise it's a big game but as a player you're used to it and, as a United player, we're definitely used to it. You've got to block out the hype and what's being said and predictions – that's been going on all the way through the season. We just have to make sure we're ready.
"City are a good side. They were on fire pre-Christmas and we were just trying to hang on, really. We managed to do that and we've come into form in the second half of the season. It's come down to this now – we're neck and neck and it's about whoever puts in the performance on Monday. We have got that experience when it comes to winning titles but City have got experienced players who have maybe won titles with other clubs. We just need to make sure we use the experience we've got and make sure it works for us."
The defeat to Wigan and the subsequent 4-4 draw with Everton at Old Trafford served to check United's momentum, with City recovering their poise to win their last three games impressively and trim the champions' advantage at the top to three points in the process. They go into the derby knowing victory is imperative. The need is not quite so pressing on United and a draw would still leave Sir Alex Ferguson's team in a strong position with two games to go.
"But we've got to go out there to try and win," Giggs said. "Obviously, if there's a few minutes to go and it's all square we won't be pushing six or seven players forward and we'll probably try to get the draw. But really we've got to go to try and win it because if we just try to defend against a very good team we might come unstuck. So we'll go for it and try to win but obviously the scenarios are more in our favour than City.
"We've had reminders throughout the season where we've lost games or put in poor performances and we've always reacted. Hopefully that's the case this time after the disappointment against Everton. We've reacted well all season and that's one of the reasons we're still up there. We've got good memories of the last time we played at their place [in the FA Cup]. We'll take the experience we got from that game into this one."