City, United set for massive Manchester derby
Manchester, England (Sports Network) - They don't come much bigger than this.
The two biggest English Premier League heavyweights will square off at the Etihad on Sunday as second-place Manchester City hosts first-place Manchester United.
The Red Devils come into the clash with a three-point lead, meaning that they can be knocked off their perch at the top of the table due to goal differential should the Citizens claim the victory.
It certainly looks as if it will be another two-horse race to the title, like last year, as City finds itself seven points clear of third-place Chelsea.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson affirmed that notion on Friday.
"I think the two sides have that gap over Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham," he said at Friday's pre-match press conference. "It will be difficult to think the two of us will collapse. I think it will be between the two of us."
Sunday's result is not the be-all and end-all of the Premier League title race though. United lost both league derbies to City last term but still managed to finish level with the Citizens on 89 points. It was the goal differential, particularly a 6-1 loss to City at Old Trafford, that cost United the title last term.
"It won't mean a great deal because there's such a long way to go until the end of the season," Ferguson added. "You can never be sure and you can lose to anyone. That's the kind of league we're in. It's a tough league.
"The derbies had a big impact [last season], particularly that 6-1 defeat, on goal difference. That's what cost us."
City comes into the clash with its unbeaten record in tact, winning nine of its 15 league contests and drawing six. The Citizens are the only unbeaten team remaining in England across any flight of competition.
The argument could be made that the match is more important to City than United. Michael Carrick was quick to downplay the predictable hype surrounding the derby.
"We want to be top of the league, but at this stage does it mean a lot? I'm not too sure how much it really means," Carrick told MUTV last week. "It's a one-off game regardless of who's top of the league. It's nice because we want to be top and we go there in good shape, so we go there full of confidence and looking forward to the game.
"It's a big game, of course it is and we know that, but it's important not to get too carried away with it as players because we want to go there and put in a good performance, get a good result and keep our position in the league."
Chelsea can place additional pressure on the Manchester clubs by taking maximum points from its match on Saturday. The Blues, who are winless in their last seven league games, will head to the Stadium of Light to take on a Sunderland side that sits just one point clear of the relegation zone.
Also on Saturday, Arsenal squares off with fourth-place West Bromwich at the Emirates, Aston Villa takes on Stoke City at Villa Park, Southampton faces Reading in a relegation six-pointer at St. Mary's, Swansea City welcomes Norwich City to the Liberty Stadium and QPR heads to the DW Stadium to face a Wigan side that has dropped two straight.
In addition to the Manchester derby, Sunday's action will see Everton take on Tottenham at Goodison Park and Liverpool heading to Upton Park to face West Ham.
Monday's Premier League action will see Newcastle attempt to build upon its three-nil victory over Wigan last time out. The win snapped a four-game slide for the Magpies and they will look to extend that run with a positive result against Fulham at Craven Cottage.