It is now the most intensely awaited derby game in British football. Success and money have made that so. Manchester's two football teams are the best in England though the nation is licking its wounds and contemplating its navel after a week of Champions League reverses.
Both United and City suffered 1-0 defeats in midweek that have been treated with a typically Mancunian shrugging of the shoulders. United may have been already through but being beaten by CFR Cluj is still something of an embarrassment.
City's performance at Borussia Dortmund was even more shameful. It certainly belied Roberto Mancini's stated pre-match aim of playing in the Europa League. The second 45 minutes were lax, aimless and led some commentators to accuse them of throwing the game. They may not now face the inconvenience of the Thursday-Sunday routine that the lesser European competition brings but have made it difficult for themselves in the murky world of UEFA co-efficients. It may be true to say they were handed the toughest group from the group-stage draw, but the lack of a single win is still a hugely damning statistic.
England's champions must now set their sights on reclaiming their domestic title. Indeed, their manager's employment prospects will rest on that if indeed that should prove enough to ward off his paymasters' trigger fingers. The Abu Dhabi contingent clearly think on a far more long-term basis than Roman Abramovich but have the same Catalan coach in mind as the Russian.
To ward off Pep Guardiola, Mancini could do with restaging the two victories that secured his place in City fans' hearts. If the 6-1 win at Old Trafford last season was a freakish result, their 1-0 win at Eastlands was perhaps even more comprehensive. City's victory, and henceforth primacy in the Premier League, was won by an iron control that strangled United into an impotence that had them fighting over second-ball scraps as time ticked towards the inevitability of a City victory.
It was the type of performance that can induce an inferiority complex in a rival. City, so long United's mocked rivals, have more money, the title and a strength in midfield that those who follow 'Big Red' can do nothing but envy. Yet the champions do not look the team they were last season. There is an air of ennui about the club and its players. The 'project' was completed; what now for City? More of the same will have to do. Perhaps repeated Euro failure has been more of a blow than is admitted, and then there is the idea that success can make a team complacent.
Complacency is a state of being that Ferguson has fought through his entire managerial career. The avenging win is another key tenet of his success. He has been given the once over a few times by his rivals but does not often let them get the better of him the next time. Arsenal, three times, in 1998, 2002, and 2004, had the better of United, only for them to be hit back. In 1999, United won a Treble, with league and cup at Arsenal's expense. In 2003, a winning run cracked Arsenal's title-chasing resolve. And in 2004, United denied Arsene Wenger a 50-game unbeaten run.
The same happened to Chelsea in the winter of 2005 too, via a Darren Fletcher goal, and United could now do with ending City's unbeaten league run. Though they are three points clear, United have lost three more games than City when six is largely agreed to be the most a title-winning team can afford.
Despite their so-far unblemished record, City have often looked just as ropey as United usually have this year. The questions raised about the quality of this season's Premier League are borne out by its top two teams.
They may be the best, but that does not look quite so high an accolade as in those three years from 2007-9 that England provided 3 from 4 Champions League semi-finalists. For the moment, civic pride and the destiny of the Premier League title will have to suffice as the spoils.
Manchester City player to watch - Sergio Aguero
He is the man who broke hopeful United hearts in the 13 seconds that followed their win at Sunderland on May 13. He is also the only striker that can call himself first-choice in Mancini's revolving door of forwards, though his form has not been as incandescent as it was a year ago. Aguero has shown his ability to score goals on the biggest occasions and United will fear that.
Manchester United player to watch - David De Gea
Alex Stepney, United's goalkeeper in their 1968 European Cup team, has called for De Gea to play in this fixture and it is difficult to argue with his logic. For all De Gea's problems with the crossed ball, he would still struggle to put in as weak a performance under set-pieces as Anders Lindegaard did at Reading. If De Gea does not start the derby then the question of his United future might begin to be raised.
Key battle: Vincent Kompany v Robin van Persie
Last season's leading men will be at the core. They were the two best players of the 2011-12 Premier League season. The favouring of attacking players in end-of-season award schemes meant that the Dutchman won both Player of the Year awards. On reflection, that looks an unfair oversight. Van Persie's goals took Arsenal into the Champions League but Kompany's leadership and masterful defending were the bedrock of City's title. The Belgian also scored the goal that beat United in the second derby meeting of the season.
Van Persie was the player that Mancini wanted most in the summer, give or take Daniele De Rossi, and he has continued his Arsenal form at United. Kompany has not been quite as good as last year, though City's defence has conceded the fewest goals of any team in the Premier League this season.
Stats: United are just three games short of equalling Bolton's Premier League record of no draws in their opening 18 games (set last season).
Trivia: The first City manager faced by Sir Alex Ferguson was Jimmy Frizzell, in a January 1987 FA Cup third round tie. United won 1-0 through a Norman Whiteside winner at Old Trafford. Frizzell was sacked at the end of the season as City were relegated to the Second Division.
Odds: City are a shade over odds-on at 2.20, and United are 3.20 to win at bet365. The draw is 3.50.
Prediction: United to claim their first draw and City to maintain their unbeaten record.