Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini fended off questions about his future after his side’s dismal 4-2 derby defeat at Old Trafford.
After being joint top of the table in January, City now find themselves in fourth position, 12 points off the summit, having played one more match than leaders Chelsea.
Pellegrini’s team are now four points behind United and just five ahead of fifth-placed Southampton with six matches remaining.
Sources said Pellegrini’s position was not under immediate threat last week following the 2-1 defeat by Crystal Palace, but the inept performance at Old Trafford is hardly likely to improve his long-term job prospects at the club.
Pellegrini dodged questions about his future after the defeat on Sunday.
“I am not talking about my position,” he said. “It is not important.”
He did admit the blame should lie with him, though.
“I always think it is my responsibility, always,” he added.
City never looked like recovering once Ashley Young had equalised Sergio Aguero’s opener.
Before half-time, the Blues were 2-1 down thanks to Marouane Fellaini’s header and Juan Mata added a third after the restart before Chris Smalling scored United’s final goal in the 73rd minute. Aguero’s second came too late to inspire City to mount a comeback, and Pellegrini’s opposite number, Louis van Gaal was full of joy after the match.
When asked whether he regarded United as the best team in Manchester, Van Gaal said: ‘’We are at this moment four points ahead, so that is a fact.”
Van Gaal has presided over a remarkable turnaround at Old Trafford.
After the 1-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium in November, United were tenth in the standings, having won three of their opening ten games.
Now Van Gaal’s team are almost certain to qualify for the Champions League. They are nine points ahead of Southampton with six matches to go and just one shy of second-placed Arsenal.
The fans who previously booed his team were belting his name out at Old Trafford on Sunday and he was looking forward to toasting the biggest victory of his United career at his favourite Chinese restaurant in Manchester.
“I can go to Mr Wing’s [restaurant] tonight, because you can do that when you win,” Van Gaal said.
“When you lose, the fans say what is Mr Louis doing because he loses and goes out to the best restaurant.
“This afternoon is maybe the best feeling [since coming to United].
“It was not the best performance, because we started very badly, but we regained our confidence, scored the goals and the second half was fantastic.
“At the start of the season it was not fantastic to be a United man and the fans still have supported us.
“This week they can go on the streets, heads up and say: ‘We are the better team because goal average [over the two derbies] is in our favour’.’’ The only downside from the afternoon was that United finished the game with ten men because Michael Carrick came off injured after Van Gaal had made all three substitutions.
The problem does not seem too serious, though.
‘’It was a little bit stupid of me [not to substitute Carrick],” Van Gaal said.
‘’He was wise to step off but we have to wait and see tomorrow. He had a stiff calf.”