Manchester United travel to the Etihad to face cross-town rivals Manchester City in the 164th derby between the two clubs and, as ever, there is more than points at stake. For the purposes of record, United lead the Premier League coming into this game, with 36 points from 15 games. Roberto Mancini's title-winning side are three points behind but boast an unbeaten record this season - the Premier League champions have yet to lose a game, while the Red Devils have already lost three times.
Where to Watch Live
Kick-off is scheduled for 1.30pm GMT on Sunday 9 December.
Television - Live coverage starts at 1pm GMT on Sky Sports 1, Sky Sports 1 HD and Sky 3D. Catch highlights of all the action on Match of the Day 2, on BBC One and BBC One HD, at 10.30pm GMT.
Internet - Join IBTimes UK for a live blog on the match, as it happens. Check back here for links to the live coverage.
The hosts for this edition of the Manchester derby are rather strangely placed. City were poor - there is really no other word for it - in the Champions League this season and are quite deservedly out of all European competition after Eredivisie champions Ajax claimed third place in Group D and entry into the UEFA Europa League.
Exit, for the second consecutive season, from the group stages, is unlikely to have pleased the club's owners, with ex-United defender Gary Neville suggesting the pressure to retain the Premier League title will intensify on Mancini. And he is probably correct. The former Inter Milan manager was quoted by the Mirror as claiming the club's priority was always the Premier League but considering the amount of investment at the Etihad, the returns from European competition are, so far, unsatisfactory.
But while City have misfired in Europe, they remain unbeaten in the domestic league. The two Manchester clubs have opened a comfortable gap to third-placed Chelsea, who travel to the Stadium of Light for their weekend game still adjusting to the Rafa Benitez effect.
Mancini's team lost 1-0 in the midweek Champions League fixture at Dortmund in Germany and recorded a 1-1 home draw against Everton last weekend. The good news for the Italian is the side is reasonably competent defensively, with only three goals conceded in the last five games (two clean sheets). The bad news is his expensively assembled strike force has scored only four goals in the same period.
"It's always the case that you can have one striker in a difficult spell during the season. Usually, when you have four strikers, two or three of them are not scoring but one is. But at the moment we have four strikers who can't score. This can change maybe on Sunday and after that it will be OK. But we need to work more," he stressed.
United were beaten 0-1 at home by Romanian club CFR Cluj in their last game, a midweek Champions League group stage fixture. However, don't expect that result to have an effect on the Red Devils' performance on Sunday. Sir Alex Ferguson's side were already through to the tournament's knock-out stages, as group winners.
There was plenty of motivation for the visitors to secure a win, as they were fighting Turkish side Galatasaray to join the Premier League club in the next round. As it turned out, even a win couldn't help Ion Andone's side, for Galatasaray registered an away win at Portuguese side Braga to edge past on a better head-to-head record.
On paper then, the defeat means United have lost three of the last six games. The other defeats came at Carrow Road and at Galatasaray in the Champions League (again, though, the result was irrelevant because United were already through).
Realistically, United have lost only once in the last five truly competitive fixtures, which makes much better reading for a fan. However, the silver lining comes with a few problems - defensive ones.
There was a run of matches between September and early November when United were leaking goals at an alarming rate. Starting with the surprising 2-3 home defeat to Tottenham and running to a win, by a similar score, at Villa Park, Ferguson and his men conceded 19 goals in 10 games, with only one clean sheet. The situation led England international Wayne Rooney to warn his side against conceding early goals.
Since then, the defence has tightened up, with only six goals conceded in six games. The problem, though, is three of those came in the first 45 minutes of their last league game - at the Madejski. The United defence, as against Tottenham, were all at sea, and Ferguson was not amused.
"It was the worst defending of this season. We need to do something about it. We deserved to get battered today," the Scot said, adding, "Nobody competed for the crosses. In fairness Reading have a great delivery of the ball - the boy [Nicky] Shorey whips them in, fantastic crosses but we should be doing better than that. It was terrible."
- Last Five (all competitions, most recent first): L D W D D
- Last Match: Borussia Dortmund 1 - 0 Manchester City
- Last Five (all competitions, most recent first): L W W W L
- Last Match: Manchester United 0 - 1 CFR Cluj-Napoca
Mancini's biggest worry is over left backs Gael Clichy and Aleksandr Kolarov. The Frenchman (ankle) and Serbian (groin) will leave a difficult to fill gap on that flank if neither is fit to play. And that will probably be the flank England international Ashley Young will look to exploit for United, in tandem with the attack-minded Brazilian right back Rafael. Fortunately though, both Clichy and Kolarov are expected to recover although, at this stage, neither is a confirmed participant.
The centre of the hosts' back four will be at full strength, with Belgian Vincent Kompany, Englishman Joleon Lescott and Kolarov's compatriot, the young Matija Nastasic all available. If this were last season, Kompany and Lescott would be automatic picks but this time around the Belgian is likely to have Nastasic as his partner for this game. Lescott has not quite hit the peaks of last year while the youngster has impressed in his debut season, slotting in seamlessly alongside his captain.
Out on the right English international Micah Richards remains injured, which means Mancini has to choose between Argentine Pablo Zabaleta and Brazilian Maicon. The former is a decidedly more defensive player and will probably get the nod over his fellow South American. If, however, Mancini loses both Kolarov and Clichy, then the two-footed Zabaleta is likely to play on the left, with Maicon on the right.
The midfield is where this match could well be won or lost for City and Ivory Coast international Yaya Toure will be Mancini's go-to man. Kompany may be the squad's captain but the former Barcelona man is the heartbeat of the side and the 29-year-old is determined to control the game. Toure's fellow enforcer will probably be England midfielder Gareth Barry.
Mancini will also sweat over the fitness of World Cup and European Championship-winning Spanish playmaker David Silva. The former Valencia man was in stunning form for most of last season and although he hasn't quite hit the same heights so far this year, he remains one of the best creative forces in European football. Silva faces a late fitness test.
If he fails the test, expect Toure to be pushed up into an attacking role, with former Real Madrid youngster Javi Garcia (in the absence of injured England international James Milner) to partner Barry in midfield.
Spanish international Silva, should he play, and Argentina's Tevez and Agüero are likely to be key men going forward and Ferguson will know his side cannot allow them any space... at all.
Probable Line-Up: Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic; Barry, Toure (Javi Garcia); Silva (Y Toure), Nasri, Tevez; Aguero
United, meanwhile, have injury concerns of their own, with Brazilian midfielder Anderson the latest to be ruled out. The 24-year-old has a hamstring injury and is likely to miss three weeks of action.
He joins wingers Antonio Valencia and Nani on the treatment table, meaning Ferguson has only Young as a natural wide man. The injury room for United also contains Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa, Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic and England's Tom Cleverley, although the latter could be passed fit to play.
The absence of wingers aside, Ferguson's biggest problem will be that captain Vidic continues to be unavailable. The big Serbian is an absolute rock in the heart of the back line and although youngsters Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones are good options, they don't quite exude the authority of Vidic. Expect fellow veteran Rio Ferdinand to have to put in a commanding shift on Sunday afternoon, to keep City at bay.
Anderson and, probably, Cleverley's absence means United's midfield wears a slightly faded look. Paul Scholes is still an excellent passer of the ball but is unlikely to get much joy in one-to-one battles with someone like Toure, meaning Michael Carrick has a big role to play.
Finally, up front, former Arsenal man Robin van Persie will hope to show City what they missed out on in the summer, after he chose United over the champions. And he will have Wayne Rooney, as well as either Danny Welbeck or Javier Hernandez for company.
Probable Line-Up: De Gea; Rafael, Smalling, Ferdinand, Evra; Scholes, Carrick; Hernandez, Rooney, Young; van Persie