Sir Alex Ferguson’s side make the short trip across town for the 156th Manchester derby safe in the knowledge that his side’s dominance of both domestic and local football matters is at stake. While nobody in the United camp is giving up on the title just yet, local pride dictates that fourth-placed City will do everything to end the Reds hopes today.
The stakes are hardly any smaller for City, with a place in the Champions League next season essential to the Blues’ ability to attract the players the club’s limitless wealth can afford.
Indeed, Ferguson rates the match as the most highly anticipated Manchester derby in his 23 years at the club.
“There is a definite emphasis on this game that has never been there before in my time at United,” said the United manager.
“It is the first time we have played City when they have a chance of actually achieving something. The neutrals would say that scenario is fantastic and it makes the game even more fascinating.
“City’s form over the past few weeks has been excellent. Five goals against Birmingham last week – nobody has done that to them this season.
“It is a different derby because of what both clubs can achieve out of it – and what both can lose. This fixture must be an accident because you couldn’t have planned it.
“It is the most pivotal week of the season for us, Chelsea, Spurs and City and the scenarios are fantastic.”
It’s a match United must win, with Chelsea four points ahead of Ferguson’s side. Victory for United will draw the reds to within a point with just three games to go.
Chelsea visit Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday and must also travel to Anfield, with Ferguson realistically needing the Londoners to lose both matches.
“We hope Chelsea lose because it will put us back in it,” Ferguson added.
“It is not going to be easy for us because Chelsea can afford a draw but it all makes for an interesting and exciting day.”
Ferguson hopes to include Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand. The injured trio have trained this week, although Rooney’s injured ankle is now less worrying than injuries to Ferdinand and Giggs according to the Scot.
United also includes Owen Hargreaves in the matchday squad. The Canadian-born midfielder hasn’t turned out for the Reds in more than 18 months but is now considered ready for a place on the bench despite only one reserve team appearance in that time.
United’s limp performance against Blackburn Rovers last weekend means Ferguson will make changes for the Eastlands match, with Paul Scholes, Dimitar Berbatov and Gary Neville most at risk.
John O’Shea will continue his recovery from long-term injury and may start at right-back.
But Ferguson realises that challenge from City extends further than Saturday’s lunch-time kick off, with the Eastlands club set to spend huge sums of Abu Dhabi money in the summer.
The Blues’ challenge is to reach fourth this season but Ferguson recognises the club’s long-term oil-fueled ambition is to win the Premier League title.
“City would still have the small problem of United, Chelsea, Arsenal and, possibly, Liverpool, who have been disappointing this season, to overcome, but they will be revved up to do better,” added Ferguson, who called City small minded earlier this season.
“But the great thing about City is that they have an amazing amount of buying power. They can go and buy another team and you can be rest assured they will be buying.”
The great thing about football is that only 11 can take the field on Saturday. With United having already knocked City out of the Carling Cup and scored an injury-time winner at Old Trafford in September local bragging rights remain firmly in the Reds’ camp.