Few will have expected that for the second Manchester derby of the season pride would be the only thing at stake. It was a very different story almost exactly a year ago when a 1-0 win for Manchester City took them above rivals Manchester United to the top of the Premier League table and ultimately onto their first title in 44 years.
City have failed to build on that success, though, and, inspired by the disappointment of relinquishing the title to their “noisy neighbors,” United have stormed to the verge of a 20th championship with a 15 point lead.
A win would take Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to potentially within a game of getting their hands on the trophy, but the bigger incentive may be getting revenge for a humiliating 6-1 defeat to City in the corresponding fixture last season.
United have endured disappointments in recent weeks as they exited the Champions League to Real Madrid and the FA Cup courtesy of Chelsea. Ferguson, though, believes that the Premier League title is the one that really matters this season.
“I was asked about only winning one trophy. I think that's a strange question in the context of the kind of competition we have as we're up against teams from London -- Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea -- plus Liverpool and Everton,” he said, according to Manchester United’s official website.
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"They're massive challenges every year [for both Manchester clubs]. For every one of those teams, the supporters want to win one trophy. I think we can win the one that really does matter to the fans in particular.”
Ferguson’s opposite number, meanwhile, is under no illusions where he believes the title was won and lost. Roberto Mancini has repeatedly lamented City’s failure to make quality additions to his squad last summer, with particular frustration reserved for having missed out on Robin van Persie to Manchester United.
"We would probably be at the top ... probably also in a Champions League quarterfinal [if we had signed better players]," Manicni said, according to Reuters.
"We had a chance to get three or four players that would have improved our team but now it is finished with."
Mancini has no new injury worries to contend with, while Matija Nastasic has recovered from injury.
United’s own Serbian central defender, Nemanja Vidic, is struggling with a thigh injury, while Jonny Evans is also fighting to be fit for Monday’s clash. Wayne Rooney is expected to be fit.
Manchester United (probable)
G: De Gea
D: Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra
M: Carrick, Cleverley
Valencia, Kagawa, Rooney
F: Van Persie
Manchester City (probable)
D: Zabaleta. Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy
M: Toure, Barry
Nasri, Tevez, Silva
Prediction: Since exiting the Champions League a month ago, United have been far from impressive, despite continuing their march toward the title with narrow victories over Reading and Sunderland. Van Persie’s recent struggles in front of goal have continued, while Ferguson has gotten very little return from their three wingers -- Nani, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young.
If United continue in that vein and City replicate their encouraging performance in beating Newcastle 4-0 then the blue half of Manchester are likely to be celebrating on Monday evening.
But Ferguson is an expert at inspiring his side and will be desperate to hammer home the all-but certain reclaiming of their title with a victory over their closest rivals.
With little to lose, Mancini may take off the shackles often placed on his players away from home at the big teams and an entertaining clash could be in store, with a share of the points a strong possibility.
Manchester United 2-2 Manchester City
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN, with a live stream available on ESPN3.