Manchester United will take to Old Trafford against neighbours City tonight knowing that preventing a heavy defeat would represent success.
For the first time in decades United enter the derby with little chance of winning.
Their last Premier League game at Old Trafford was a humiliation as they were blown away by fierce rivals Liverpool and manager David Moyes cannot afford such a heavy defeat against City.
City thrashed United at The Etihad earlier this season and come into the game having scored 76 Premier League goals this campaign – 28 more than United have managed in the league.
The blue half of Manchester have enjoyed a very different Premier League season to United, where Manuel Pellegrini’s men sit 12 points clear having played two fewer games.
It is the attacking power of the Blues that United will fear and City’s demolition of bottom club Fulham on Saturday will have done nothing to allay those fears.
If Pellegrini’s side turn up and play to anything like their potential they will beat United convincingly and that says everything about the state of play at Old Trafford.
United will feel that with an in-form Rooney, combined with Danny Welbeck and Juan Mata, they have the fire power to cause City problems at the back.
It is the other end of the pitch where Moyes’ men surrender the advantage, with their shaky and injury-hit defence faced with the potency of City’s attackers.
At West Ham on Saturday, Moyes was forced to play with impetuous defender Phil Jones and midfielder Michael Carrick in central defence.
While that worked fine against the Hammers uncultured attacking play, it is unlikely to be a pairing that will be able to withstand the forces of the likes of Alvaro Negredo, David Silva and Yaya Toure.
Toure is the man United have to stop but in their clashes with City over recent years, the Ivorian has dominated the Red Devils in midfield.
At the Etihad earlier this season, Moyes tasked Marouane Fellaini with stopping Toure, which resulted in the Belgian and his afro chasing the ball for 90 minutes.
Moyes needs to find a better way of getting a grip with the midfield or their bitter rivals will rip his side to shreds once again.
The United boss says his side will enter the derby full of confidence off the back of wins over Olympiakos and West Ham.
While United were impressive in those victories, City are a different kettle of fish and will provide a much sterner test of whether United have indeed turned a corner this season.
What is certain is that the fragile United confidence cannot survive a battering.
When City hammered United 6-1 at Old Trafford in 2011, Sir Alex Ferguson was able to brush it off without a hint of a threat to his reputation or position as manager.
Given the woeful first season in charge Moyes has endured, he would not be able to brush off a similar scoreline.
That is why this derby must be a case of damage limitation for United, who will need to focus on restricting the deficit, rather than thinking about winning the game.
With Van Persie unavailable, United have lost a significant chunk of their goal threat, as have City with the absence of Sergio Aguero.
United do have the in-form Rooney to call upon, following his Beckhamesque stunner against West Ham on Saturday – a game which saw the best performance from Mata in a United shirt.
Moyes will have few concerns about their ability to score goals, but keeping the back door shut against City looks a nigh impossible task.
In Rafael and Patrice Evra, United possess two susceptible full backs and with Nemanja Vidic suspended and injury doubts over Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling, Jones and Carrick could be partnered again.
City will exploit the obvious weaknesses of that back four where West Ham were unable to, so Moyes will have to focus on closing the game up to ensure that the scoreline does not become an embarrassment for his side.
United fans will go into this game fearing the worst while City will relish the opportunity to take on Moyes’ struggling defence.
If United avoid a heavy defeat, Moyes must count that as success, as his side are so drastically inferior to City in all departments.
The reality is that United cannot expect to be taking anything from this derby even on their own patch, which is an indication of just how much Manchester United have declined this season under David Moyes.
Main image courtesy of Carl Recine/Action Images, with thanks.