Manchester City's manager Mancini and his Manchester United counterpart Ferguson gesture during their English Premier League soccer match in Manchester
Manchester City's manager Roberto Mancini (R) and his Manchester United counterpart Alex Ferguson (L) gesture during their English Premier League soccer match in Manchester, northern England, April 17, 2010. REUTERS

Their respective press conferences on Friday morning were lively affairs but in truth neither Roberto Mancini nor Sir Alex Ferguson were required to stoke the fires for the Manchester derby on Sunday, when Manchester City welcome their bitter Premier League rivals Manchester United to the Etihad Stadium in the FA Cup third round.

On the 23 October, Manchester City served notice of their growing stature in world football, by thumping the perennial English champions at Old Trafford 6-1. The "worst result" in Sir Alex Ferguson's career according to the long standing Manchester United manager, demanded the type of response that the Red Devils duly delivered, but recent form has once again raised doubts over their ability to negotiate their "noisy neighbours'" lavish spending.

"The way we, and our supporters, should look at it is that we may as well get used to it because they (Manchester City) are not going to go away," the Manchester United boss told Inside United. "We played them in a semi-final last year and the year before, we're both in the Europa League this year and now we are facing them in the FA Cup.

"So we have to get used to the fact that City are going to be challenging for competitions along with us. There's every chance we're going to meet at some point - maybe not every year but on average it's going to be pretty regular."

A loss for Manchester United would not only fuel the fervent and conceivably premature predictions of their demise, but it would also be the first time since 2001 that Sir Alex Ferguson's side will have lost three games in a row.

Defeats to Blackburn and Newcastle have highlighted Manchester United's patent injury problems, but perhaps for the first time all season, Manchester City have their own concerns.

Taking its toll

Despite their huge outlay on some of Europe's most coveted players, Roberto Mancini revealed they are lacking numbers for the game on Sunday, intimating he may not even fill his full quota of substitutes.

"For Sunday, we have 17 players and I don't think we will fill the bench," The Manchester City manager said. "In January - and I said this two months ago - we could have a big problem. We play four important league games, big games, without Yaya.

"If we have strikers injured then we need to buy another and at the moment I have only one striker [Sergio Agüero]. So I have one striker and only two [central] midfielders [James Milner and Nigel de Jong]."

Mario Balotelli, Gareth Barry and the Toure brothers all look set to miss out, but Manchester City's alleged paucity is unlikely to garner any sympathy from Manchester United given their well-documented injury concerns.

Ferguson believes Yaya Toure will "probably" play at the weekend despite Mancini's best efforts to suggest the Ivorian international will be absent due to his African Cup of Nations commitments.

"I am not sure Touré won't be available for Sunday," The Manchester United manager said. "He probably will. I don't know the whole background but apparently, he doesn't need to meet up until Monday, I read somewhere, which suggests he should be playing on Sunday."

Ferguson has plenty of selection issues to ponder himself, although the lack of options available to him means his XI will be chosen from the squad that surrendered meekly at St James' Park on Wednesday night.

A Tale of Two...Three Goalkeepers

The barometer of the two sides is possibly best surmised by their respective goalkeepers.

Manchester City have arguably the division's finest in Joe Hart. The England international's performance against Liverpool earlier in the week led Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp laud the 24-year-old as the best in the world and superior to Iker Casillas.

Manchester United on the other hand, appear no nearer to anointing their successor to Edwin Van der Sar. While far too early to write off David De Gea given his obvious pedigree and reputation in the game, his errors have been both costly and far too frequent thus far. The precocious Spaniard's uncertainty has led to Anders Lindegaard's regular introduction, yet the air of ambiguity remained in Ferguson's back-four throughout their recent loss against Newcastle.

Tom Cleverley remains frustratingly sidelined, while Darren Fletcher and Nemanja Vidic's absences have deprived Sir Alex Ferguson of two his most trusted performers, but although Manchester United's depleted squad are evidently toiling, Mancini and Manchester City are taking nothing for granted.

"It's a difficult game, always difficult. Maybe more so in this moment because Manchester United are angry after two defeats. They are very strong after defeats. For this reason, I think it's a very tough game." The Manchester City boss warned.

Sunday 8 January, 13:00 GMT kick-off. Live on ITV1. Referee: Chris Foy

(William Hill selected odds) WIN 11/10 Manchester City; 11/5 draw; 13/5 Manchester United. TO GO THROUGH: 4/6 Manchester City, 11/10 Manchester United