Loser could find themselves six points off the pace in crucial Manchester Derby.
Manchester United and Manchester City approach Sunday’s 166th city derby knowing defeat for either side would leave them in danger of being cut adrift in the Premier League title race.
The new season is only four games old, but both sides have already squandered points — United drawing at home to Chelsea and losing at Liverpool, City drawing at Stoke City and going down at Cardiff City.
The pair already trail leaders Liverpool by three points and should Brendan Rodgers’s men prevail at home to Southampton on Saturday, if either side loses the derby, they will find themselves six points off the pace.
Both United manager David Moyes and his City counterpart Manuel Pellegrini will be experiencing the Manchester derby for the first time, but Moyes can at least draw on an impressive recent record against City.
In his last six seasons as Everton manager, the Scot led his side to victory over City in nine out of 12 games, including four consecutive successes between 2009 and 2011.
Moyes can also draw solace from the fact that the trip to the Etihad Stadium marks the end of a fiendish opening run of fixtures that he complained about at the beginning of the campaign.
“We’ve had the hardest start of all the top clubs in the Premier League so we had to make sure after these games we had a decent points total,” said Moyes.
“After the City game we’ll have played two or three of our biggest rivals and they’ll probably have each other to play at different times.”
United produced perhaps their most impressive display of Moyes’s short tenure in mid-week, beating Bayer Leverkusen 4-2 at Old Trafford to take control of Champions League Group A.
Moyes has challenged Wayne Rooney to “keep getting better”, after he became only the fourth player to score 200 goals for United with a brace against Leverkusen.
He also admitted he was thrilled to be working again with a player who he first blooded as a teenager during the early days of his Everton reign.
“Have I missed him?” Moyes asked.
“At the time when he left (2004) I wasn’t too sure, but now I am with him I certainly have, because he is some player.
“If I had had him at Everton, on several occasions at different times, undoubtedly we would have finished in a much higher position.”
With Danny Welbeck struggling with a knee injury, Shinji Kagawa will hope to hold onto his place on United’s left flank, while defenders Phil Jones (ankle) and Rafael da Silva (hamstring) remain sidelined.
City saw captain Vincent Kompany emerge unscathed from Tuesday’s 3-0 win away to Viktoria Pilsen in the Champions League, in the Belgian centre-back’s first game since overcoming a groin injury.
Pellegrini also hopes to be able to call upon defender Micah Richards and Spanish playmaker David Silva, after both players returned to full training following spells on the sidelines.
“Richards is working normally with the whole squad, same thing for David Silva, and (Gael) Clichy starts now,” said the City manager.
“Maybe he will not be ready for next Sunday, but all the other players, except (Martin) Demichelis, are fit, no problems.”
The Etihad Stadium fixture has proved pivotal in the last two seasons, with a goal from Kompany setting City en route to the title in 2012 before Robin van Persie’s injury-time free-kick tipped the balance of the title race in United’s favour last season.
The teams go into Sunday’s game level on points, but Pellegrini says he has not paid too much attention to United’s early-season form.
“It’s not my duty to analyse how they start. It is a very good team and David Moyes is a very good manager,” said the Chilean.
“I think they have a lot of great players. Rooney of course is one of them, but we must not only attend to Rooney but all the big players they have.”