The 178th Manchester derby is all set to be the biggest game of the 2018-19 Premier League season as top-four hopefuls Manchester United host title-chasing Manchester City under the lights at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
United need a win to get their Champions League challenge back on track following an alarming dip in form, while only victory will do for Man City too if they are to retain control of a topsy-turvy title race.
We could learn a lot about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Manchester United on Wednesday night considering what happened to them at Goodison Park on Sunday.
Whereas the visit of the champions might appear to be the last thing they need off the back of their heaviest defeat since October 2016, it might also be the perfect fixture to spark the reaction Solskjaer will be demanding from his side.
The Norwegian did not mince his words when telling his players and staff that the 4-0 humiliation against Everton was nowhere near good enough, and questions have already begun to be asked about whether handing Solskjaer the reins on a permanent basis was the right decision.
In fairness to the United board, at the time it appeared to be the only choice, and it should not be forgotten that Solskjaer is the man who has dragged them back into top-four contention and taken them into the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Nevertheless, there has been a definite dip in recent weeks, and United go into Wednesday's derby having lost six of their last eight games across all competitions, having won 14 of their opening 17 under Solskjaer.
The drop-off in results began before Solskjaer was handed a permanent deal at the end of last month but now appears to have reached its nadir with that hammering at Everton - making it seven goals conceded without reply in United's last two games.
The Red Devils were let off the hook a little over the weekend in that Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal all dropped points too, but there is still a three-point deficit for the 20-time champions of England to make up in their final four games of the season.
There are reasons for optimism ahead of City's visit, though; whereas United have lost five away games in a row for the first time since March 1981, they remain unbeaten at home in the Premier League since August and have won each of their last three such outings.
Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona are the only teams to have beaten United at Old Trafford inside 90 minutes during that time and, while Man City can count themselves in the same calibre as those European giants, United have only lost one league game at home all season.
Sunday's showdown with Chelsea also comes at Old Trafford, and while the Blues are in more direct competition with United than Man City are, both matches have now taken on must-win status.
The main concern for United when welcoming the league's top scorers will be their defensive record, having failed to keep a clean sheet in 11 games for the first time since 1998 and conceded 48 league goals so far this season - their most in a single campaign since 1978-79.
United's last clean sheet did come at home against Liverpool, though, and while a repeat on Wednesday could ultimately help their fiercest rivals to win the Premier League title, the Red Devils no longer have the luxury of being able to choose which is the lesser of the two evils as Champions League qualification takes precedence.
Recent Premier League form: WLWLWL
Recent form (all competitions): WLLWLL
Many view Wednesday's match as the final major hurdle for Man City to overcome in their quest to retain the top-flight title for the first time.
Burnley, Leicester City and a relegation-threatened Brighton & Hove Albion may have something to say about that, but on paper it certainly appears to be the most likely source of dropped points for Pep Guardiola's champions.
It has been a near-faultless title race so far with Man City and Liverpool standing toe-to-toe and trading blows in what is surely the highest-quality tussle we have ever seen in the Premier League era.
Liverpool could end the campaign on 97 points but remarkably still miss out on the title if Man City win all of their remaining games, which would leave the champions on 98 points - just two off the record they set last season.
The prospect of reaching that 100-point mark was ended back in January, but since then City have won 10 league games on the bounce for the first time since their top-flight record of 18 between August and December 2017.
The most recent of those was a narrow 1-0 triumph over Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, with Phil Foden the unexpected hero as City exacted quick revenge on the team that knocked them out of the Champions League and ruined their dreams of a quadruple.
A domestic treble remains in their grasp and, while it may not carry quite the same prestige as the trio of trophies United claimed 20 years ago, it would still be a huge achievement and City know that anything other than a victory at the home of their biggest rivals could leave them instead chasing a cup double.
The fact that 'only' winning the EFL Cup and FA Cup would be seen as a disappointing campaign for City speaks volumes for the standards they have set themselves under Guardiola, and they will travel to Old Trafford fully expecting to come away with three points.
It is away from home where City have fallen down most often this season, dropping 13 points compared to just three at home, where they have already amassed more than they did in the record-breaking 2017-18 campaign.
Three of City's final four games come on the road, but Wednesday's is by far the toughest on paper and should they overcome that challenge then they will be very much on course to lift the trophy once again.
Recent Premier League form: WWWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWLWWW
Man City's win over Spurs was marred by a hamstring injury to Kevin De Bruyne, and while the extent of the problem has not yet been revealed, Guardiola does expect the Belgian to miss the derby.
The visitors are by no means short of options in that area of the field, though, and David Silva is likely to come back in while Bernardo Silva may also drop back into midfield if Guardiola opts against starting Foden again.
Vincent Kompany has been a titanic figure in previous late-season derbies and could be recalled for his experience this time around, although he faces stiff competition from Aymeric Laporte, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi for a place at the back.
United, meanwhile, will be hopeful of welcoming Ander Herrera back into the side following a hamstring injury, with Solskjaer likely to make changes following Sunday's debacle.
The likes of Fred, Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku all find their positions under threat, while Phil Jones picked up a knock which forced him off at half time and will undergo a late fitness test ahead of this match.
Man Utd possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Dalot, Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw; Herrera, McTominay, Pogba; Lingard, Rashford, Martial
Man City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Walker, Kompany, Laporte, Mendy; Gundogan, Fernandinho, D Silva; Bernardo, Aguero, Sterling
Head To Head
Recent meetings between these two sides have been very evenly matched, with four wins apiece and two draws from the last 10 Manchester derbies.
Man City won the reverse fixture at the Etihad in November, though, and are therefore looking to do the double over their local rivals for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
City are unbeaten in their last three Premier League visits to Old Trafford too, winning the last two including a 2-1 triumph en route to the title last term.
We say: Man Utd 2-3 Man City
It is sure to be a fascinating derby with United demanding a response and both sides needing a win. There have been some classics between these two sides in recent years and we are expecting another on Wednesday night, but it is impossible to ignore the form book and that points clearly at a Man City win.
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