By the time Manchester United take the field on Sunday, all of their major rivals will have finished work for the weekend. A place in the top four could be in sight for the first time this season. Standing in their way will be a Cardiff side who have beaten Manchester City and Swansea this term, but have discontent simmering beneath the surface.
United manager David Moyes will be facing a team containing a player both he and United have tried to sign in the past, Craig Bellamy. "When I was leaving Newcastle, Moyes came down to see me at Celtic Manor and tried to sign me for Everton. He made me feel the most wanted man on earth," said Bellamy this week.
Perhaps even more surprising was Bellamy's claim that Sir Alex Ferguson had tried to pick up the Welshman from Manchester City in 2010. "City said 'no' point blank. After Carlos Tevez had moved in the opposite direction the year before, I didn't expect anything to come of it."
Either of those two managers would have offered Bellamy the stability his peripatetic career has lacked. Although it hard to see how United fans would have warmed to an ex-Liverpool and City player, his quality as a footballer is supreme -- and he could still damage this weekend.
United's good run of form, unbeaten in nine, has calmed down Moyes and left him confident enough to talk about team-building and the dim and distant future. "It has to be a continual building process," the manager said on Friday. "You couldn't change it all around in any one [transfer] window anyway. It takes maybe two, three or four windows to do that." Those demanding a superstar midfielder in January may be disappointed.
In the opposite dugout, Malky Mackay will be happy if he is still there when January arrives. Considering the alleged level of interference he has put up with from the club's owner, Vincent Tan, he must look at Moyes' problems as luxuries.
Whereas United's manager can project ahead to "the top end of the Premier League in four or five years," in the past four years, Cardiff have transformed themselves completely. The change in the club's strip has been followed by a series of incongruous decisions, including the removal of Mackay's own staff by the owner.
In contrast, Moyes is given a reasonably free rein at United, his toughest critics, quite rightly, are the supporters. Nonetheless, with results starting to pick up, the Scot should be allowed to pick his own team now without hearing grumbles from the crowd.
Shinji Kagawa played twice for Japan during the international break and faced the longest trip back of any United player. Similarly, Nani was involved in Portugal's stressful two-legged epic against Sweden and might be due a rest. Moyes will have assessed them in training on Friday to decide whether or not they were ready. If neither is deemed sharp enough, Ashley Young could find himself in the team.
Surprisingly, Chicharito Hernandez was not involved in Mexico's 9-1 aggregate skewering of New Zealand. Considering Rooney's indifferent displays for England, the Mexican should be due a start for United.
<You can follow Mark Payne on Twitter @MarkJPayne.