It’s the juggernaut tie which is grabbing the attention of football fans worldwide: the Manchester derby arrives in Eastlands on Monday.
Manchester United and Manchester City go head-to-head for bragging rights, victory and, perhaps, the Premier League title.
The highly-charged build-up has seen fans pay up to £1,300 for a ticket and police attempt to defuse the tension.
And as the years tick by, derbies will only get bigger according football writer Gary James, author of Manchester – A Football History and Manchester – The City Years.
“The Manchester derby, throughout history, has rarely seen the two teams battling it out at the top. It happened briefly in the 50s and 60s but it’s not really happened consistently – now it’s all changed.
“Every year it seems that the derby goes to another level.
“A couple of seasons ago the League Cup clash between the two was deemed the most important derby and then last year’s FA Cup semi-final was declared the biggest ever.
“It’s growing and growing and it’s great that both teams are challenging for the biggest trophy in the country. But the derby will only continue as both teams play in top competitions in England and Europe.”
The Manchester derby has survived rivalries between City and Arsenal and United and Wolves in the 50s, but this time the two are fighting it out for success, rather than failure.
Mr James added: “I think the history in 1963 and in 1974’s game, which more-or-less decided who got relegated, were deemed important because of struggles rather than success.
“But for both sets of fans [Monday’s game] is very important for bragging rights, however it’s dangerous for everyone to think that it’s just about that game.
“It’d be great for City to win, considering they haven’t been able to challenge for the title for decades, but there’s tough ties in the North East for both teams which could heavily affect the title race.”
The closest that Manchester City have come to winning the league since 1968 is when they lost by one point to Liverpool in 1977. Since then rivals Manchester United have dominated the Premier League in the 1990s and 2000s while Liverpool led the way in the 1970s and 1980s.
But Mr James said that the club will be able to build upon their season no matter what the result is on Monday, and that the impact it will have on the city as a whole is tremendous.
“This is the start for City. They will just keep on building and Manchester’s top two teams will become the biggest in the world so it’s great not just for fans but for Mancunians throughout the city. It’s the football capital of the world.”
Despite second-placed City almost facing a 10 point chase to United after a late defeat at Arsenal, their players have shown tremendous spirit, diligence and determination and now face the chance to go top if they win on Monday.
Fans have praised the reaction from their players, despite a defeated Roberto Mancini declaring that the title was United’s.
“After the Arsenal game Mancini, and indeed many fans, felt downbeat as it all seemed lost. But now they’ve come back and it’s another lesson learned for the club.
“The setbacks weren’t great and would have been an opportunity for the club to panic but Mancini remains a hero for what he’s done and fans should persist. Ferguson took a while to win many fans over even after winning a couple of trophies.”
The steamrolling effect that Liverpool and United have used to dominate the past four decades is something that City may be looking to utilise if they ultimately win the Premier League.
Mr James added: “It took Ferguson a while to win silverware but once he did they couldn’t be stopped. It’s similar to the way Liverpool were in the 70s and 80s. It could be that the next team to get into that mentality is City.
“The Champions League will be better next season. The fact that Bayern Munich are now in the final and Napoli had extremely strong run, is very encouraging to know that City came up against the best. And you learn from the best.”
In the run up to Monday’s match there’s been an engaging battle of mind games between Mancini and Ferguson as post-match interview and media conferences have been heavily scrutinised.
Each has shifted the attention off of their players to the others’ in order to deflect the pressure piled upon them, but Mr James said that each boss is experienced enough to not crumble.
“The mind games are fantastic for the media but each manager has enough understanding to block it out – unless you’re Kevin Keegan. Whether it will ultimately affect the club, who knows?
“It’s great to see Manchester in the news all the time, even if it’s because the two teams irritate each other through their fantastic rivalry.
“Ferguson always used to talk about Liverpool as their main rivals but now it’s clear that his attention his turned to the Blues as they look to knock United off of their perch.”
United’s noisy neighbours are run by owners who seem to be in it for the long run – their recent Southeast Asia tour and the success of their American one last summer will help to expand their international fan base.
The abuse City fans attack United’s with about their international fan base may be about pride and home grown passion, but to be the biggest in the world, it’s something that may have to change.
Forbes magazine recently listed United as the wealthiest sports team in the world, topping the table at £1.4billion, and City may find success on the back of their counterparts’ popularity abroad.
“When many people think of Manchester, the first thing they probably think of is Manchester United. But City are trying to leave a legacy each place they go to and the owners, as businessmen, have stood by the club’s ethics of reaching out to the community.
“Soon more people will be aware of the blue half of the world’s football capital.”
Mr James added: “A lot of people probably thought the owners would come in and spend a bit of money but the aim is much different. It’s long term. And for football teams, there’s very few that do this.”
For Monday, the excitement, anticipation, heartbreak and glory will continue to grow. But win or lose, Manchester City will remain as title contenders and the Red Devils could see their noisy neighbours pinch their crown – if only in the next few years.
MM will be bringing you all the action during Monday’s derby from 7.30pm with a live blog throughout.
Gary James’ terrific book Manchester A Football History, which explores the city’s history of football clubs throughout all the leagues, is on sale now.
Manchester The City Years is soon to be released and you can find further information about both books and many others of Gary’s here.