LONDON, September 18-Manchester United have made a habit of putting would-be challengers in their place over the years but it will be with particular relish that they seek to to cut their neighbours down to size this weekend.Manchester City’s flaunting of their newly-acquired wealth appears to have got under the skin of everyone at Old Trafford from Sir Alex Ferguson down, providing an intriguing backdrop to the most eagerly awaited derby clash in years.
In their public statements, Ferguson’s players have savoured the prospect of pricking City’s bubble of self-confidence.
"They want to show people they are the kings of the city but they are not there yet," said Patrice Evra, United’s French defender. "We have to make sure that doesn’t happen."
It would be surprising however if there was not a bit of trepidation in there as well, particularly in the wake of City’s impressive 4-2 win over Arsenal last weekend, which extended their perfect start to the season to four matches.
The derby may have been billed as an important benchmark for the potential of Mark Hughes’s side to break into English football’s Champions League elite, but it will also serve as a reference point for assessing the impact of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure on United’s ability to win the kind of matches that define seasons.
City’s prospects have not been helped by the fact they could be without over 100 million pounds of striking talent at Old Trafford with Emmanuel Adebayor suspended following his stamp on Robin van Persie last weekend, Robinho and Roque Santa Cruz injured and Carlos Tevez struggling to recover from a knee injury in time to face his former team-mates.
United’s main concern is over the availability of the increasingly injury-prone Rio Ferdinand.
The lunchtime encounter at Old Trafford is one of two pivotal derby encounters on Sunday with league leaders Chelsea entertaining Tottenham later in the day.
Tottenham’s own aspirations of breaking into the top four were put into perspective by the ease with which United overturned an early deficit to win 3-1 at White Hart Lane last weekend, but manager Harry Redknapp does not anticipate morale collapsing in the wake of that setback.
"We played well, got the early goal, but like all champions they came back strongly," he said. "It’s not a case of sharpening up (for Chelsea). For an hour we played as well as we have all season."
Chelsea will have Didier Drogba firing on all cylinders after the Ivory Coast striker sat out the midweek win over FC Porto because of a European ban.
After defeats by both Manchester clubs, Arsenal will seek to put their domestic campaign back on track by building on a stirring Champions League fightback in Liege in midweek.
Andrey Arshavin and Robin van Persie, who both missed the 3-2 win in Belgium, are in line for comebacks when Wigan visit the Emirates on Saturday.
Liverpool travel to West Ham on Saturday evening with star striker Fernando Torres having recognised that the Reds have very little room for error after losing two of their opening three league matches.
"We are recovering the confidence now after winning three games in a row," the Spain forward said.
"We have to keep on like this, but also improve. If we lose points in the coming weeks it will be very difficult to stay at the top come January and February."
Elsewhere on Saturday, Portsmouth travel to Aston Villa still looking for their first point of the season, Bolton entertain Stoke, Sunderland are at Burnley and Hull host Birmingham in what, even at this early stage of the campaign, looks like an important relegation battle.
Australia defender Lucas Neill, signed by Everton this week, may be involved against one of his former clubs, Blackburn, on Sunday, which also sees Wolves entertain Fulham.