There is little doubt that the significance of Manchester derbies is growing by the game. With City's influence in the title race and hunt for trophies growing, the outcome of the games now has a bearing on more than just bragging rights; tomorrow, whilst in no way deciding the destination of the title, could play a part in shaping how the final quarter of the 2010/11 season pans out.
In the lead up to tomorrow's game, the meeting earlier in the season has been revisited to provide clues as to how Roberto Mancini may approach the game: will he be satisfied with a draw, or go to Old Trafford with a positive mindset?
Typically Mancini has approaches games against the sides around City with caution, happy with a point and get the wins elsewhere. What has been forgotten though when discussing the goalless draw at Eastlands is that whilst City offered up the draw, United were more than happy to take it. Although they were the visiting side, as much as City were guilty of a lack of ambition, United did not stretch the game either.
With results last weekend offering City an opportunity to get back into the title race there is the suggestion that this will mean we will see a more adventurous outlook. I disagree. A defeat now is more damaging than it would have been if we had been eight points, not five, behind. Whilst a sizeable gap, it is by no means insurmountable and Mancini will be careful not to want to lose ground. Equally, I think this means that United too would be happy with the point, particularly with one eye on forthcoming fixtures against Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea to contend with.
As a result, a cagey affair is the most likely, particularly if there isn't an early goal to shake up the game. City have started games well in the main this season, but United have not conceded a home goal in the first half since April 2010.
Given their propensity to draw away games this season, you imagine that United's home record is a good one, but 37 points from 39 is very impressive - although worth bearing in mind City's away haul of 22 points this season is second only to Arsenal.
I don't see a reprise of last weeks formation that saw Aleksandar Kolarov pushed further forward and Mancini's favoured 4-5-1 will surely be on display. Nigel de Jong is reported as being doubtful and he will be a huge loss. If he is needed to be replaced, the hope is that Pablo Zabaleta or Gareth Barry fulfills the role as opposed to Patrick Vieira.
The two keys in terms of City getting the points from an attacking standpoint are clearly David Silva and Carlos Tevez. Silva is in an impressive patch of form and will be a key cog in terms of City creating on the break. The battle in midfield will be a tough one - and may result in Alex Ferguson sacrificing a striker to match City - and with Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong (hopefully passed fit) and Yaya Toure to attempt to control possession, it could be Silva who provides that moment that could be the differential.
Without Rio Ferdinand, United's defence does not have the same stature to it (despite the presence of the dominant figure of Vidic) and if, as expected, Tevez plays centrally, he will test United's defence with the way he is able to move and drag players out of position. Whilst Edin Dzeko will likely start on the bench, do not be surprised if he is utilised at some point during the game.
Prediction? It would be a surprise if it were anything but a tight game, and as stated earlier, both sides I'm sure would take a draw and that is how I expect it to play out - with City grabbing an equaliser late on.