Man City v Man Utd: Premier League set for derby showdown

By Alistair MagowanBBC Sport

The Premier League was canvassing opinion on the best games of its 20-year history last week but the process could have come seven days too early.

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson might not think so, but his team's 4-4 draw with Everton at Old Trafford was a genuine thriller.

And following Manchester City's win at Wolves, it is set up perfectly a Manchester derby on 30 April at Etihad Stadium which of his 25 years at the club.

It is a completely different picture from two weeks ago, of course, when City's defeat by Arsenal gave United an eight-point advantage.

But since then Roberto Mancini's side have strung three wins together, scoring 12 goals in the process, to reduce the gap to three points.

And City, whose goal difference is six better than United, will go top of the table with a derby victory.

But which team is best prepared to win?

Mood in the camps

Ferguson: "It's probably the most important derby game in my time. We have to go there, make sure we perform in the right way and not give away silly goals.

"There's no reason why we can't get a good result at the Etihad. There has been an expectancy from City that this could be their decider, but it's our decider too."

Mancini: "United [are favourites] always, because they have three points more and they have games that are not [as] difficult [as ours].

"We don't have a better chance to win. The derby is a good game but I think United has more chance than us."

Manchester United winger Nani: "There is anger from the players because we wanted to win against Everton. We're disappointed to lose four goals.

"We have to keep believing in our qualities because we still have a great opportunity to win the title. It's a huge game at City - there will be a fantastic atmosphere there."

Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart: "We've focused on ourselves. Our title chances are certainly a lot better than they were at the start of Sunday. We feel ready, we're firing goals in and we feel good, so we look forward to it."

Match of the Day pundit Alan Shearer: "City are on a hot streak and they are right back in this now. We all thought it was over but it changes every week. If I had to pick a winner, I would pick United."

Match of the Day pundit Robbie Savage: "I still make United favourites. They have already won at the Etihad in the FA Cup and Newcastle away is such a hard game for City."

Team form

Even though many of their recent victories have come against teams at the bottom end of the table, United have only lost one and drawn two of their last 15 league games.

The recent defeat at Wigan was followed up by victory over Aston Villa but United will have to respond once again after Everton exposed defensive frailties reminiscent of their early-season form.

By contrast, Nani looked fresh on his return to the side by setting up two goals and scoring another, and the way Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck linked up will give United added vibrancy.

The re-emergence of Carlos Tevez has coincided with City's upturn in fortunes and his combinations with Sergio Aguero have caught the eye despite Mancini still asking for the team to be more clinical in front of goal.

Their blip of no wins in three games around the end of March appeared to be more psychological and borne from a lack of title-race experience.

But that seems to have lifted as they have shifted from the hunted to the hunters.

Manager psychology

Despite his continued insistence that United are favourites to win the Premier League, Mancini let slip after the recent Norwich victory that he hoped his stance would inspire his players to prove him wrong.

As ludicrous as it now sounds with only a three-point gap, it seems to be doing the trick as Manchester United begin to wobble.

Ferguson accepted the defeat by Wigan, but was less charitable after the Everton game. And by highlighting the problem in defence he has automatically shifted the focus onto the likes of Rafael and Rio Ferdinand, who were at fault for at least two goals against David Moyes' side.

Still, Ferguson holds the upper hand in inspiring teams to the title from a variety of situations. The question remains if he has the team to do it.

Recent history

Footage of City's 6-1 win over United at Old Trafford earlier this season will likely be played on TV stations all week in the build-up to next Monday's spectacle.

Though City may be without their chief tormenter on that day, Mario Balotelli, they may still hold the psychological advantage given that their 3-2 FA Cup defeat by United came after captain Vincent Kompany was dismissed.

United also had Jonny Evans sent off in the Old Trafford loss so it may boil down to who can keep 11 men on the pitch.

The other important factor is that United do not necessarily have to win, unlike City, but in reviewing the Everton game Mancini will take interest in how the Toffees' five-man midfield found spaces between Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick.

The North East factor

Now Ferguson has described this as the biggest derby of his time at Manchester United, it will only add to the hype.

But whatever happens at Etihad Stadium, there are some tricky games looming which could play a telling part in which side of Manchester the Premier League trophy travels to.

United appear to have the easier games, as Mancini has suggested, with a home fixture against Swansea followed by a trip to Sunderland.

As good as Brendan Rodgers's side have been this season, their away record is poor, while the Black Cats have not scored in their last four games.

After the derby City will travel to face the form team in the division - Newcastle - before hosting a QPR team who are fighting for their survival and have beaten Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool over the last month.

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