As much as Sir Alex Ferguson and his team would like to play down the significance of an all-Manchester Carling Cup semi-final, there is more at stake than a place at Wembley.
Derby-day winner: Michael Owen scored a injury-time goal as United beat City in a 4-3 thriller earlier this season
The evidence of a power shift in Manchester is already there in black and white. While City's accounts show their Sheik owner can write off a staggering £305million without a second thought, United creak under the weight of a £700m debt.
Tonight, at Eastlands, the Carling Cup holders put their trophy onthe line against a team who have even greater ambitions to take theirPremier League title as well.
With the game coming too early for Rio Ferdinand's return andDimitar Berbatov doubtful with a dead leg despite reassurances he doesnot yet need a knee operation, Ferguson has promised to keep faith withsome of the young players who got United this far. He will put out a'strongish' team.
More than 5,000 United fans will be there tonight hoping to see Cityput in their place again, but they can expect a hostile reception.
City defender Vincent Kompany said: 'We are definitely as excited asour fans, but one thing they can do for us is make the place a Bluehell. If they do that, we will take care of the rest. We will be supermotivated.'
While Ferguson refuses to flatter City with a full-strength side,his captain Gary Neville insists United will not lower themselves tolet a local squabble cloud their thoughts.
'I don't see the game as an opportunity to reassert our dominance over City,' said Neville.
'We're quite comfortable with where we are. We are second in theleague, we're in the Carling Cup semi-final and we're in the secondphase of the Champions League, so we've nothing to prove.
Blue hell! Kompany wants the City fans to act as the twelfth man at Eastlands
'People might perceive that something is going on in Manchesterbetween the two clubs but we can't afford to get involved in that.
'We've had battles with our rivals like Leeds and Liverpool overthe years for the top honours and we just concentrate on our ownperformance. There is no way we can start to concern ourselves withother teams.'
New City boss Roberto Mancini certainly believes that winning theclub's first trophy in 34 years, albeit this one, could be thespringboard to much greater things.
'When you start to win trophies, you change the mentality of a club,' said Mancini.
'Winning the Carling Cup has to be the start and then in the future we can improve.
'It's not important if United have economic problems and City havemoney. If we draw 0-0 and 1-1 away, that will be OK for me. I don'tknow if Sir Alex is OK but I am.'
Welcome to Manchester: United old boy Carlos Tevez is set to come up against his old club
When Mancini sat at home in Bologna watching United's dramatic 4-3win in the Old Trafford derby in September, little did he know he wouldbe coming up against Ferguson four months later.
Carlos Tevez dominated the build-up to that game and the strikerwhose goal against Arsenal in the last round began a scoring streak of11 in 10 games will take centre stage again.
Tevez's performances in a City shirt have led to questions overFerguson's decision to let him leave in the summer, but Neville isconvinced his manager made the right call.
He said: 'I can't disagree with his decision on Tevez. He was a goodplayer for us, but if the financial demands are too big then that'sjust the way it goes. Other good players have left this club in thepast.
Jumping for joy: Fergie reacts after Owen's winner in September
'Over a period of 20 years he may have got one or two wrong - and Ithink he has admitted that - but he knows what he's doing and heunderstands when a player's time is up. We have the best manager in theworld at putting teams together.'
Although City are almost certain to start with Tevez despite aslight hamstring strain, they will not risk United's old nemesisPatrick Vieira.
Roque Santa Cruz is out for a month with the calf injury heaggravated at Everton on Saturday, when Mancini suffered his firstdefeat in charge.
Santa Cruz's replacement, Robinho, was then humiliatingly substituted himself,raising more questions over the Brazilian's attitude, but Mancini wastypically relaxed over the issue, saying: 'I would like Robinho toalways play well but it's not possible. It's important against Unitedthat he thinks positively.'
Nor is the Italian fazed by the prospect of taking on Ferguson,judging by his response when asked if he would be getting together withhis opposite number after the game.
'Does Sir Alex like pizza?' asked Mancini. 'I'll bring the pizza if he brings the wine.'
Maybe they can be good neighbours after all.
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