As the great Irish folk singer Christy Moore once said, how's it going there everybody, you're very welcome to this evening's cabaret. We've a potential thriller/woefully damp squib (delete according to half-full/emptiness of your glass) in store; a Manchester derby some martyrs to hyperbole are describing as the most important Premier League match ever played. The result will almost certainly go a long way towards determining the outcome of this year's Premier League title race, while simultaneously signalling a seismic shift in the English football landscape. Considering the amount of money they've spent in such a short space of time, it's only a matter of when, not if, Manchester City win the title, but their city rivals United will be ruthless in their determination to delay the inevitable for as long as possible.
The build-up to this evening's game has been relentless and this excellent preview piece by our chief football writer Danny Taylor will tell you all you need to know about the relationship between two clubs who, for all their cross-city sniping at each other down the years, haven't actually played many matches with anything more important than local bragging rights at stake. Tonight, both sides the stakes could hardly be higher, with the Premier League title on the line and both clubs very much in charge of their own destiny. A win or draw for Manchester United would leave them sin a seemingly unassailable position with just two games left to play, while victory for Manchester City will bring them level on points with their rivals, but with a crucially significant advantage in the form of their superior goal difference.
We'll bring you all the pre-match news and comment from 7pm, but in the meantime, why not pass the time by perusing our gallery of Manchester derbies down through the years, reading our Manchester correspondent Jamie Jackson's thoughts on how a calmer, more mature Wayne Rooney has put his side on the verge of their 20th title, or digesting Roberto Mancin's latest comments about howe the title race is so over, he's not sure Manchester City will even bother turning up for tonight's fixture.
Alternatively, you could read this preview of the tactics likely to be employed by both managers for tonight's ding-dong at the Etihad Stadium penned by Michael Cox of Zonal Marking fame, or take a moment to gaze at this relaxing picture of a peculiar looking neutral snoozing in a deckchair ahead of the big match while wearing Manchester City coloured Converse trainers and a Manchester United coloured straw hat.
Some match pointers
• City scored six goals from just seven shots on target in their 6-1 win at Old Trafford earlier this season
• United have caught an opponent offside fewer times (36) than any other side; City are in second place with 39
• City have taken 77 from a possible 81 points in their last 27 top-flight home matches
• Wayne Rooney has committed the most fouls without receiving a yellow card (24) in the division
• No Premier League team has ever won a return fixture after losing by five or more goals in the initial encounter
• There have been six red cards in Premier League meetings between these sides, and five of them have been shown to United players
Carlos Tevez speaks
In an interview that has provoked much mirth among football fans the length and breadth of the country, Carlos Tevez has told the Manchester Evening News that he hopes to stay at Manchester City because he wants to "work hard and win things" because "that's all that matters to me as a player and a person".
In response to misguided cynics who suggest his sole motivation for moving to City was financial, Tevez was happy to set the record straight. "It was the project and the dream that made me come to City in the first place," he revealed. "I've been here since the start of that project and I share the same vision as Sheikh Mansour." According to Danny Taylor, of this parish, Tevez made similar noises in an interview conducted with the club's website in December 2010. Afterwards it transpired he'd handed in a transfer request a few days previously.
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Lescott, Kompany, Clichy, Barry, Toure Yaya, Silva, Tevez, Nasri, Aguero.
Subs: Pantilimon, Richards, Milner, Dzeko, Kolarov, De Jong, Balotelli.
Manchester United: De Gea, Jones, Ferdinand, Smalling, Evra, Nani, Carrick, Scholes, Park, Giggs, Rooney.
Subs: Amos, Berbatov, Hernandez, Young, Welbeck, Rafael Da Silva, Valencia.
Referee: Andre Marriner (W Midlands)
An email from Josh Collis: "Whilst it might suit the narrative to hype this match up beyond comprehension – does it matter to City?" he asks. "At some point, the sheer volume of cash dictates that Man City will win the Premiership. Blackburn outspent and won, Chelsea outspent and won. There may even be a clever algorithm on the proportional outspending of one's rivals and the likelihood of success in top-flight English footy. Clearly, that United are even in the mix again is phenomenal testament to SAF, but the succession of City to the pinnacle has a creeping inevitability that should be recognized. The staggering amounts of money involved suggest that unless Mansour gets bored, it will be difficult to eclipse them. In that sense – surely this match is all about Manchester United."
A fair point well made and one with which I largely concur, but it's worth remembering that people were saying the same thing about Chelsea several years ago and while they've invariably been there or thereabouts ever since, they have been eclipsed on several occasions.
Corrections and clarifications: Apologies, there were a couple of errors in the original Manchester United line-up I published after taking it - in good faith - from Twitter. The one I've posted now is correct. Smalling and Park play instead of Evans and Valencia, while Micah Richards is the slightly surprising omission from the Manchester City line-up.
Another email: "Josh Collins makes an interesting point, but surely it's worth noting that one effect of Abramovich's Chelsea spending was a greater appreciation for the can't-be-bought spirit inculcated by Lord Ferg (including among Guardian journos; I might be misremembering, but I think it was Rob Smyth who made an excellent case for Fergie's post 2004 achievements being perhaps his greatest)?" writes Ryan Dunne. "Similarly, the original Galacticos era - a still somewhat accurate analogy to current City - was largely a flop and the current one is a success because of two people (Mourinho and Ronaldo) one can't see going to City any time soon. The 'mind games' discourse is largely pish, but the prospect of ABUs being replaced with ABCs when Sir Alex goes and a corresponding reminder of his old school(ish) achievements is surely nothing less than his Final Victory."
The match in pictures: Guardian Sport's award-winning snapper and all-round good egg Tom Jenkins is at the Etihad stadium tonight, where he will be pointing his lense at stuff and clicking away feverishly. You can see how he's getting on by perusing this gallery, which will be updated as the evening progresses.
Sir Alex Ferguson speaks on Sky Sports: He says he's picked his side with a view to "blocking" midfield, but adds that "we're going out to win the game, don't worry about that." He insists that "I've never sent a team out to get a draw in my life" and says it "should be a good game", but "could be disappointing" as a spectacle. "I hope everyone enjoys it, but you never know" he says.
A comment on Michael Cox's tactics blog: "The Guardian has warned Fergie that his midfield is too old and slow, so what does the stubborn sod do?" asks Ian Copestake. "Picks his oldest and slowest available midfield. He's like Thatcher in her last years (in office)."
How City will line up (unless they don't): Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry will play on the right and left between the back four and a fearsome attacking trio of David Silva on the right, Samir Nasri on the left and Carlos Tevez in the centre, playing behind lone striker Sergio Aguero.
How Manchester United will line up (unless they don't): Michael Carrick will patrol the area in front of the back four, with Park Ji Sung and Paul Scholes a little ahgead of him. Nani and Ryan Giggs will operate off the right and left wings respectively, providing service for lone frontman Wayne Rooney.
Not long now: Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack, click-clack. Both sets of players file out of the bowels of the Etihad Stadium, with each wearing the kit with which they are most readily associated: Manchester United in red, City in light blue. Are you excited? Are ya?
Prediction time: I haven't a clue how this is going to go; so I'll plump for a draw. I think I made an identical prediction for the match at Old Trafford earlier this season, which didn't work out so well. I've put two wagers on this match: £3 each on Nani and Michael Carrick to score at - I think - 16-1 and 24-1 respectively.
1 min: Manchester City kick off playing from left to right as the camera views the pitch. There's early pressure from Manchester United that forces Gael Clichy, who has been tormented by Nani in the past, to hack clear with a hoof over his own his own shoulder.
2 min: Manchester United win an early corner, which Nani pings to a totally unmarked Ryan Giggs after the winger had darted to the left-hand side of the penalty area. Giggs sends a cross into the mixer, where Joe Hart has a flap at the ball. City's nervy looking defence eventually clear in the wake of a goalmouth scramble.
3 min: Joe Hart comes off his line to pluck a cross from deep on the left from the sky. That should settle any nerves he might be suffering from in the wake of his previous rick.
4 min: City attack down the left, where Gael Clichy curls a cross towards Carlos Tevez positioned on the far side of the six-yard box. There's a bit too much welly on his delivery, Tevez can't get to it and Manchester United clear. They embark on a lightning fast counter-attack, which Joleon Lescott does well to foil.
6 min: Manchester City win their first corner. The ball's sent into the penalty area and Rio Ferdinand clears.
7 min: Carrick picks out Rooney with a long pass in behind Joleon Lescott in the City left-back position. Several passes around the edge of the final third later, Manchester United win another corner, which Nani prods towards the near post. Chris Smalling wins the header and nods the ball goalwards, but his effort is weak. Vincent Kompany blocks and clears.
10 min: It's been an entertaining opening 10 minutes. No chances of note yet, but it's a lively encounter which Manchester United are edging, but not by much.
11 min: Manchester United concede a free-kick not too far inside their own half, with Paul Scholes the guilty party due in no small part to one of his trademark mistimed tackles.
12 min: "Park Ji-Sung reminds me of a closing pitcher in baseball, except he's used at the end of seasons, rather than individual games," writes Brad McMillan. "Fergie seems to think he has nerves of steel, so he saves him up, then wheels him out for the real crunch games in April and May, and it's been going on or years. He usually performs outstandingly, too."
13 min: "City may well reach the pinnacle by spending, but they won't always be there," writes Paul Taylor. "The New York Yankees outspend everyone and are winners only part of the time. Injuries, bad luck, good luck for other teams, etc. It's just one new addition to the group at the top. Chill out, people." Yeah, chill out people. Chill out and enjoy Baseball Analogy Night on Guardian Sport. You feel me?
14 min: Joe Hart takes a goal-kick, which Chris Smalling sends back towards him with a meaty header. Manchester City win a throw-in, from which Manchester United win one of their own. I think we may have found ourselves in what is known in the trade of minute-by-minute reporting as "a lull".
15 min: Sergio Aguero takes advantage of a mazy run down the inside-right by Samir Nasri to take possession and send a low drive across the edge of the Manchester United six-yard box. Facing his own goal, Phil Jones slides in and hacks clear with one of those heart-in-mouth defensive clearances United fans could have been forgiven for fearing might end up wildly sliced into his own goal.
18 min: With Rooney down injured in the centre-circle, Nani slaloms forward and picks out Ryan Giggs with a looping pass into space in the Manchester City right-back position. Giggs crosses, but City clear. Moments later, referee Andre Marriner books Vincent Kompany for what he perceived to be a late challenge on Rooney, but replays suggest the City captain may have been hard done by. Rooney appeared to hurt himself by kicking the sole of the defender's boot as he offloaded the ball to Nani.
22 min: A good passage of passing play from Manchester City yields a corner. The ball's sent in to the near post, where Evra half-clears by heading it straight up in the air. Vincent Kompany wins the header when the ball drops from the sky, but puts it out for a goal-kick.
24 min: Another corner for City, after good play down the left between Gael Clichy and Sergio Aguero. While attempting a subsequent clearance, Wayne Rooney boots the ball straight up in the air and then emerges second best from his challenge for possession when it comes back down. Samir Nasri picks out Sergio Aguero on the corner of the six-yard box, but the Argentinian blasts a volley high and wide.
27 min: "Just so you know you don't have to say, 'You feel me?' now, you can just say, 'Feel?'," writes Ant Hull. I knew that (translation: I did not know that).
28 min: Samir Nasri skips past Patric Evra as he darts down the right wing, then sends in a low hard cross. Rio Ferdinand hoofs clear. Manchester City are looking increasingly dangerous in this match and their fans knowing it. They're roaring them on.
29 min: Another cross from Samir Nasri on the right flank, this time a high one. Paul Scholes heads clear.
30 min: As Manchester United find themselves pinned back, Wayne Rooney is starting to look a little isolated and frustrated. He's having a right old on and off-the-ball ding-dong with Vincent Kompany and is coming out second best at the moment.
32 min: Sky analyst Niall Quinn gives a brief assessment of Park Ji-sung's performance to date. The words "hard-working" and "industrious" feature, needless to say, but he points out that the Manchester United midfielder hasn't had a moment to settle on the ball yet.
34 min: Patrice Evra is summoned for a bollocking from referee Andre Marriner after getting involved in afters with Carlos Tevez, who'd just taken out Wayne Rooney with a rather agricultural challenge. Tevez skulks off looking guilty, Rooney gives Marriner his two cents and all ends a little tetchily without the ref reaching for his pocket.
35 min: Good play from Zabaleta, who goes on to spoil an excellent move he'd started by himself with a pitifully weak shot straight at David De Gea after being teed up by Sergio Aguero. Originally it looked as if Carlos Tevez would have a clear sight of goal to attempt a volley from the edge of the penalty area, but a breaking ball refused to drop quickly enough for him and he was forced to pump the ball into the melting pot of the six-yard box with a firm header instead.
39 min: Manchester City continue to probe in search of an opening, constantly knocking on the door - it seems like it's only a matter of time before they score. In quick succession, they send crosses into the Manchester United penalty area from the right and left, but David De Gea is quick off his line to take delivery of the second one.
40 min: Strong in the tackle, Zabaleta wins the ball and gives it to Tevez, who bursts forward and links up with Aguero. He takes a touch too many and puts the ball out for a goal-kick.
43 min: "Re: your comments at 27 minutes. Instead of saying 'I knew that' you can just say 'know'," writes Eliot Crowe. Didn't know.
43 min: "Diego Maradona is making a special guest appearance in Manchester tonight," writes Keith Holmes. "So who does he support - City or Utd?" I'd imagine he's a City fan, Keith. His daughter is married to Sergio Aguero.
45 min: Another corner for Manchester City ... ooh ...
GOAL! Manchester City 1-0 Manchester United (Kompany 45) Shocking marking from Manchester United, with Chris Smalling getting caught napping as Silva sends the ball in from the right quadrant. Vincent Kompany leaps highests to power a header past David De Gea from the edge of the six-yard box.
Half-time Manchester City walk off to rapturous applause at half-time. The quality of football's been poor enough, but it's been an exciting game and they deserve their lead. As things stand, they lead the Premier League on goal difference.
Meanwhile on Sky Sports: I've just seen an advert for Pirhana 3DD. I say without a hint of sarcasm that it looks a cult classic in the making - truly unmissable. Double the action, double the terror and double the Ds. What's not to love?
Gary Neville analyses Vincent Kompany's goal and in a nutshell, he hangs Chris Smalling, who was badly at fault as a result of being caught ball-watching. The Manchester United defender got caught badly out of position as the ball was lofted in to the penalty area and was leaning backwards as the ball sailed over his head. "As a defender you know then you're in trouble ... you're sunk," says Neville. From just inside the penalty area, Kompany had charged to the edge of the six-yard box, where he leapt to power a virtually unstoppable header home.
This, from Matt Cast: "Maybe worth mentioning events in Ligue 1, where humble Montpellier have gone five points ahead of Paris at the top," he writes. "Paris have spent €104m in six months, Montpellier less than a tenth of that sum. I'm not saying that Utd are as humble as Montpellier, but it shows once again that money doesn't buy success."
A decent point, but I think this minute-by-minute report was boring enough with all the baseball chat without anyone feeling compelled to put everyone to sleep altogether by dragging Ligue 1 into proceedings.
Second half: There are no changes on either side as Manchester United get the ball rolling. Having said that, Chris Smalling's hair does look much drier than it was when he marched off the pitch.
47 min: "Going on his son-in-law's performance so far tonight, I'll bet a sniggering Diego is asking his daughter whether Sergio Aguero always takes so long to pull the trigger," writes Adithya.
48 min: Jones, Scholes and Park pass their way through the centre, before winning a corner for Manchester United. Giggs sends it in towards the far post, where Wayne Rooney was waiting to head home, but Joe Hart stretched to get a vital touch to put the ball out for a corner. It's quite obvious to all present that he put the ball out, but when Andre Marriner awards the corner, Hart still protests that he didn't touch the ball.
50 min: Nothing comes from that corner, or another one won by United moments later. Manchester City clear and get out of their own half for the first time in this period and Pablo Zabaleta wins a corner. David Silva sends the ball into the mixer, where Joleon Lescott manages to put a couple of yards between himself and Rio Ferdinand on the edge of the six-yard box. The ball's a mite too high for him and he's unable to reach it despite his optimistic leap.
53 min: Yaya Toure leans in on Ryan Giggs as the duo contest a through-ball ball down on the left flank. Andre Marriner blows for a foul, prompting Toure to pick up the ball in both hands, raise it above his head and slam it down on the ground in anger. He's rewarded for his little tantrum with a yellow card.
55 min: "Christ, Barry, I'm sick of all this unchallenged whinging from about Man City outspending Fergie's lot," writes Andrew Mullinder. "Man Utd have been near the top of the spending tree for at least 15 years. For short periods, they were outspent by Blackburn, but mostly they were outspending everyone else. Keane was a transfer record, Cole was a transfer record, Yorke was a transfer record. Sure, the numbers are bigger now, but then that's inflation, isn't it? City have spent big, but it's catch up spend, making up for decades where they spent a fraction of Man U, Chelsea et al." Spend chat, baseball, French domestic football ... this is definitely shaping up to be the most boring minute-by-minute report of all time.
57 min: Pablo Zabaleta wins a corner for Manchester City as he tries to hook a cross into the Manchester United six-yard box after being put through by a lovely through-ball from Aguero. That was the culmination of a seriously quick counter-attack which had Manchester United's defenders back-pedalling furiously. From the ensuing corner, Manchester United clear eventually ... but not for the first time, David De Gea was less than commanding in his area, choosing to remain anchored to his goal-line rather than coming for the ball.
59 min: Manchester United substitution: Danny Welbeck on, Ji-Sung Park off.
61 min: Pablo Zabaleta is floored by a challenge from Nani in which he got clouted by the Portuguese's forearm. He chooses not to make a meal of it, picks himself to his feet and shakes hands with his opponent.
62 min: Manchester City attack down the right flank, with Sergio Aguero looking for an opening. He eventually pings the ball to the feet of Tevez, standing with his back to goal in the penalty area. He's crowded off the ball and Manchester United go in search of a much-needed equaliser.
64 min: From the centre of midfield, Paul Scholes plays the ball to the feet of Welbeck on the edge of the penalty area. The substitute is dispossessed and Manchester City advance.
64 min: "Why is Andrew Mullinder following football on the minhute-by-minute report when he clearly is clueless about the game and the issues with money?" asks somebody whose name I've lost. "Or is he comparing Louis Edwards to Sheikh Mansour? The again, perhaps he's just trying to liven things up with reaction to a totally crass email?"
66 min: Slack marking from Yaya Toure allows Phil Jones into acres of space in the Manchester City left-back position, where he picks up the ball from Giggs. He sends in a cross, but hits it way too hard and the ball sails out towards the far touchline.
68 min: Manchester City substitution: Nigel De Jong on, Carlos Tevez off. "Last week, I sat (and passed) an exam on VAT," writes Matt Dony. "I'm bringing that up apropos of nothing just to add to the boredom levels. I think we can break some kind of record here."
69 min: Phil Jones gets booked for a late lunge on Gareth Barry just outside of the centre-circle inside his own half, which brings the Manchester City midfielder crashing to the ground with a yelp of agony. A quick rub-down with the magic sponge later and he's fit to continue.
70 min: Just 20 minutes to go and the game, while tense, is becoming increasingly scrappy, fractious and dull.
72 min: Picking up the ball on the halfway line, Yaya Toure goes on one of those surging runs where he doesn't quite seem to have the ball under control, but manages to hold on to it regardless. With Manchester United's defence backing off, he makes it to the edge of the penalty area unchallenged and unleashes a shot which fizzes a few feet wide of the left upright.
74 min: More tedium, from the keyboard of Alex Fleetwood. "The incessant rain over the weekend has drawn my attention to the fact that my gutters need unblocking," he writes. So, what about those AA insurance premiums? Anyone? Anyone?
76 min: Nigel De Jong gets booked after contesting a 50-50 ball with Danny Welbeck. He was unfortunate, as he looked set fair to win the ball, before Welbeck got ran across his line and the pair's feet got tangled. De Jong's challenge prompts Sir Alex Ferguson to erupt furiously on the touchline and he gets into a shouting match with Roberto Mancini.
79 min: Assorted backroom staff members drag Fergie asnd Mancini away from each other before things get ugly, then the name of Michael Carrick goes into the book for a foul on Gareth Barry.
Moments before the De Jong/Welbeck challenge, Yayya Toure had waved an imaginary yellow card in a bid to get Paul Scholes booked after the United midfielder committed a foul. At least I think it was an imaginary yellow card - it being invisible, it could have been an imaginary anything.
81 min: Another foul, this time Rooney is the perpetrator. This is hideous, but very tense.
81 min: Another rampaging run from Yaya Toure, who shoots about a foot wide from the edge of the penalty area instead of picking out Sergio Aguero who was in a good position to his left.
83 min: Manchester City substitution: Ashley Young on, Nani off. Manchester City substitution: Micah Richards on, David Silva off. Manchester United substitution I forgot to mention about five minutes ago: Paul Scholes off, Antonio Valencia on.
84 min: Tonight's official attendance at the Etihad Stadium: 47,259. Samir Nasri entertains them all by standing over the ball in a corner deep in Manchester United territory, shielding it and doing his damnedest to waste time. Rio Ferdinand concedes the inevitable throw-in.
87 min: David De Gea is forced into a good save save from Gael Clichy, who got on the end of a pull-back from Pablo Zabaleta after good work down the right from Samir Nasri. The full-back's low drive was goal-bound, but De Gea was quick down to his left to parry clear.
89 min: Manchester City go on the attack again and Samir Nasri finds himself in the United penalty area with the ball at his feet and seemingly all the time in the world to pick his spot and shoot. In what may be an homage to his days as an Arsenal player, he tries to walk the ball into the net instead of taking a shot from 12 yards and is eventually dispossessed. Manchester United embark on a counter-attack, prompting Roberto Mancini to go into a fury on the touchline.
90+2 min: We're in the third of a minimum of five added minutes. Manchester City substitution: James Milner on, Samir Nasri off.
90+4 min: Manchester United win a corner, from which nothing comes.
90+4 min: Michael Carrick plays the ball to Wayne Rooney on the edge of the City penalty area. He shapes to shoot, but is quickly closed down before he can pull the trigger.
90-6 min: A high ball into the Manchester City penalty area. Joe Well charges off his line to punch clear one-handed.
Peep! Peep! Peeeeeeeeeeeeep! It's all over. Manchester City have beaten United in the Premier League for the second time this season and are now in the boxseat as far as winning the title is concerned. They lead the table on goal difference with two matches to play: away at Newcastle and home against QPR. Manchester United play Swansea at home and Sunderland away. The season is young yet.