Having been dumped out of the FA Cup in the third round by League One leaders Leeds United and considering the club's latest financial revelations, tonight's Carling Cup semi-final first leg could define Manchester United's season.
Despite dispatching Burnley 3-0 on Saturday, United continue to stall. While they have been plagued by injuries, Sir Alex Ferguson could never have anticipated suffering seven losses by mid-January.
- Gareth Burton: Is cup football dying
They had never lost at that stage of the FA Cup or been knocked out by a lower-division side during Fergie's 23-year reign – and no-one would have felt the defeat quite like the manager.
But when an animal is wounded it poses the most danger. Time and again Fergie's men answer their critics and tonight's encounter gives the wily Scot another chance to defy his doubters.
So what can we expect at Eastlands?
Fergie is unlikely to name anything but a full-strength side in the hope his team can take a positive result back to Old Trafford. Rarely does the 68-year-old make the same mistake twice and knowing the importance of this tie, it would come as a surprise if his youngsters took to the field as they did against Leeds.
While United stutter, their closest rivals City, push for supremacy in Manchester. Roberto Mancini has had five games in charge since replacing Mark Hughes – winning four before losing to Everton at the weekend.
The rivalry between the two clubs has never been so intense. And the Carlos Tevez saga has only added extra spice to an already fiery affair. The Argentine has been central to City's change in fortune and Ferguson's recent refusal to admit any regret over selling his former striker has only heightened the anticipation.
If the game is any comparison to the 4-3 thriller at Old Trafford in September, then a cup classic awaits.
City are without injured duo Roque Santa Cruz and Patrick Viera though the latter could recover in time for the return leg.
Stephen Ireland may be named on the bench after overcoming a hamstring strain.
Darren Fletcher returns from suspension to bolster the United midfied while Dimitar Berbatov is expected to shake off a dead leg he picked up against Burnley.
Nemanja Vidic has a slim chance of making his comeback after missing three games with a nerve problem in his leg.
by Tom Walker