Few club managers have risen to the big occasion quite like Manchester United’s Louis van Gaal over the past few of decades, and after a creditable draw at home to Chelsea last week, 3/1 on the Red Devils beating struggling Manchester City at the Etihad doesn’t seem at all fanciful.
The Premier League champions are uneasy 17/20 favourites to claim bragging rights over their more medalled local rivals, but the record of the ‘Iron Tulip’ in big games suggests Manuel Pellegrini’s men will do well to snap a two-match losing streak.
Even during Van Gaal’s two-season spell with FC Bayern Munchen, which wasn’t deemed particularly successful, the Dutch coach dumped Juventus, Lyon and his current club out of Europe en route to a Champions League final loss against Inter in his first term in charge.
FCB won the domestic double that season, topping the Bundesliga five points ahead of Schalke, who Van Gaal’s boys beat at their Gelsenkirchen home with little more than six weeks left of the campaign, taking a firm foothold in the title race by doing so.
His second spell with Barcelona was famously fraught with difficulty, although the club set a record of ten Champions League wins in a row in 2002/03, before firing Van Gaal with the Catalans struggling in La Liga.
There were no such domestic issues during the 63-year-old’s first stint as Camp Nou chief, when Barca won successive La Liga titles and a Copa del Rey between 1997-2000, during which time their record against Real Madrid read three wins, two draws, one loss.
Of course, prior to that, Van Gaal had taken a young, home-grown Ajax side to a Champions League final win over the mighty Milan in 1995, although more relevant Oranje-based big-match form could be seen at the World Cup over the summer.
The Netherlands weren’t given a hope of excelling, with many expecting the two-time finalists to go out before the last 16, but a 5-1 opening-fixture victory over holders Spain proved the catalyst for Robin van Persie and co’s run all the way to the semi-finals, where they bowed out to Argentina.
It’s clear that the biggest stages football provides never faze Van Gaal; as much was evident last time out at Old Trafford, when the hosts claimed a point against the runaway Premier League leaders thanks to Van Persie’s last-minute heroics.
They may be facing the champions this weekend, but City have already lost twice at the Etihad this term and have failed to win any of their last three all-competition fixtures.
No doubt the ‘Iron Tulip’ is licking his lips at the prospect of taking them on in such form.