When this fixture was announced at the start of the season, no-one could have predicted that it would hold this much significance going into the final straight of the Premier League campaign. United are just three points ahead of their neighbouring rivals, yet City have the superior goal difference. Whoever wins this match, assuming one team doesn't self implode, will surely be victorious in the race to be champions.
The advantage lies with City. Their home form going into this game is paramount to the rest of the Premier League. They have dropped just two points and conceded ten goals all season whilst playing at the Etihad (form similar to that of United when they won the title last season). In addition, they have averaged 2.5 goals every match at home this year, meaning the Red Devil's shaky defence is set to face a magnitude of pressure from the likes of Tevez and Aguero. The reverse fixture in October saw the red half of Manchester suffer arguably the most embarrassing result in the club's history, losing 6-1 in a confidence-crushing performance.
Mancini's men are unlikely to be under the same burden as United, who looked to be cruising to the title three games ago and now find themselves needing victory today to avert any anxieties about retaining the Premier League crown. However, they can rely on the form of Wayne Rooney to cause the Blues' defence some problems tonight. The England international has scored 13 goals this year, more than any other player in the league, and has netted consecutive braces in the last two games. No team also compares to United when it comes to playing on Monday night either. They have won each of the last eight games played on Monday, conceding no goals in the process (a record going back to the 2007/2008 season).
City have a full squad to pick from, meaning that his selection will not differ much from the side that defeated Wolves 2-0 in their last game. The ever controversial Mario Balotelli is now back in contention following his three match ban, but he is unlikely to break into the side due to the form of his Argentinian striking team mates. Mancini does have a dilemma about who to choose to play in the centre of the park, with De Jong, Barry and Yaya Toure at his disposal, who have all featured in the last two games. It is probable that Richards will return immediately to the starting line up having being injured for the last few games in replacement of Zabaleta
United are still without long term absentees Vidic and Anderson, whilst Nani is an injury doubt and Evans hasn't trained all week. But Sir Alex will have to have a serious think about his selection after conceding four at home to Everton during the last game. Rafael may be dropped to the bench as the manager looks to tighten up the defence, and may switch to a 4-5-1 formation as a result. This would mean Welbeck, who played exceptionally against the Toffees, would find his place in jeopardy. Giggs, Smalling and Young would therefore look set to come in.
Probable Line Ups:
United (4-5-1): De Gea, Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Scholes, Young, Rooney
City (4-2-3-1): Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Barry, Yaya Toure, Nasri, Tevez, Silva, Aguero
I've maintained that City will win this game from the previous article and rarely go back on my word (although I'm starting to regret being adamant about Newcastle getting fourth place). City will not be as rampant as they were in October, but they will certainly be able to expose United's defensive lapses that were evident in previous games. My guess is 2-1 win for City.