A year has made marked differences to both Newcastle United and Manchester City. The winter where 2011 turned into 2012 was a time for rising hope. Newcastle were playing the type of football their fans celebrate, and their players were being watched with covetous eyes. It was Mike Ashley's crazy plan but it might just have been working.
City were champions-elect, coming off the back of a free-scoring autumn, and hunkering down for a Christmas period that was not without error but by no means disastrous. They were still clearly the best team in the country. In mid-December of 2012, neither look as happy as they did back then.
Both have suffered losses of form, niggling injuries to key players and are rueing unsatisfactory transfer business. In different fashions, both have been harmed by European ventures. Newcastle may have qualified for the next stage of the Europa League but a squad short on personnel has been stretched to breaking point. City did not even qualify for the Europa League, having posted the worst ever performance of England's champions in the Champions League, and that failure has created visible cracks, one of which Roberto Mancini might be falling through if he cannot retain the Premier League title.
Mancini is not a man to hide his anxiety away. In last week's defeat to United, his touchline presence was often one of barely concealed rage. Mario Balotelli may have been the most obvious recipient of the Italian's growing impatience but he had already had a run-in with Carlos Tevez during the first half. Tevez's introduction almost reeled the derby back into Mancini's hands before it was lost to a bad combination of Joe Hart's wall-building and Samir Nasri's cowardice.
It made for the most calamitous week of Mancini's reign, but it is not an irretrievable situation. Having been eight points behind with a month of last season to go, a six-point deficit is hardly insurmountable. Spirits cannot be lower than when the title looked to be lost at a far later juncture. Then, Mancini, to the bemusement of many until his plan became clear, took the punishment himself by making a series of defeatist announcements that took the pressure off his own players and may perhaps have engineered complacency at Old Trafford.
The problem for Mancini is that few people are going to fall for that one again, and a far better path to redemption would be the winning of football matches. A trip to a Newcastle team bereft of confidence might be a good place to start. Newcastle were largely poor at Fulham, as too many of last season's top performers struggled.
Cheick Tiote's distribution was hugely awry and the midfielder, looking far short of the £20 million price tag once on his head, was targeted by Martin Jol, as Fulham controlled the midfield, and Dimitar Berbatov enjoyed a night of freedom.
Alan Pardew hardly spoke in post-match, although when he did it was with the comfortable air of a man with an eight-year contract to his name. There were guarded references to a need to add numbers to his squad, but Newcastle are having the type of campaign most predicted them to have last season, and much of their play has been penetrated by slackness.
Regeneration is required for both teams. Newcastle need to show off the type of form that had made life so difficult for big teams visiting St James' Park, though City won 2-0 last season in the penultimate game to set up the following week's coronation against Queens Park Rangers. At that point, both teams and their managers had plenty to look forward to. They will hope Saturday can provide a turning point to two seasons in danger of lurching badly.
Newcastle United player to watch - Fabricio Coloccini. At Craven Cottage, Coloccini led from the front in being denied two spectacular efforts on goal but was culpable in both Fulham strikes. Both were unfortunate and could be put down to the captain overcompensating for the shortcomings of others. He remains a fine captain and his forays to the front show what a fine overall footballer he is. If Newcastle are to take anything from the champions, then their leader needs to be faultless.
Manchester City player to watch - Carlos Tevez. From having a line-up of four strikers that were envied through the country, Mancini has given the air of a man rather dissatisfied with his striking options. It has not helped that he cannot get the failed move for Robin van Persie out of his hair. There is also the latest blow-up with Balotelli, and the fact that Edin Dzeko struggles to play his best from the start. It leaves Tevez to fall back on to try bring out the best from a curiously listless Sergio Aguero. The more long-serving - of a fashion - Argentine still has debit to make up to City. He has scored four goals in six matches against Newcastle when in City blue.
Key battle: Vurnon Anita v Yaya Toure. Back in May, Yaya Toure was the match-winner for City at Newcastle once Mancini had catapulted him from a mostly defensive detail into a free role. His strikes were both devastating, in terms of ending Newcastle’s hopes of the top four, and for Manchester United too. However, we are yet to see the same Yaya as last season. His energy seems lessened, his strength similarly so. Still, he should still have too much for Newcastle, where Tiote is ailing and Anita looks well short of being a stand-in for Yohan Cabaye on the evidence of Craven Cottage. The Dutchman, the summer’s most high-profile Toon signing, looks a poor match for Toure’s best, but can raise his standing with a good performance against last season’s key man.
Trivia: When Manchester City’s trophy drought was ended after 35 years with the FA Cup in 2011, their previous trophy had been the League Cup on February 28, 1976. A famous overhead kick by former Sunderland man Dennis Tueart won the day after the clubs had traded goals by Peter Barnes and Alan Gowling.
Stats: Newcastle have ten points fewer than they did at this point last season. Man City have eight points fewer than they did at this point in 2011-12. (Opta)
Odds: A victory for the Toon is on offer at odds of 5.50 at bet365. City are heavy favourites at 1.66 and the draw is 3.75.
Prediction: The team with the greater vulnerability to pay the price and Manchester City to win with ease.