The two Manchester clubs are shaping up this week for what would have been a “title-decider” by Sky’s moneymakers. Instead, it’s a vital fixture in the race for top four.
Both Manchester City and Manchester United have failed to fulfil expectations in the first season of their two new managers, Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho respectively.
Yet, the mood for both remains positive. City fans are adamant a trophy-less season is not a failure on Guardiola’s behalf. The Red half of Manchester insist there is still plenty of potential left in Man United’s season.
For the latter, Mourinho’s men are certainly on the up. A poor Autumn period proved fatal to United’s title chances and could yet derail their top four chances. Even then, United have had opportunities in abundance to return to the top four.
Sunday afternoon was one of them. Finally, they took one. United dispatched Burnley with professional ease as Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney strikes got the three points at Turf Moor, where others have failed.
City, meanwhile, have only recently begun fearing dropping out of the top four. Most of the season has been comfortable, with a title challenge still being discussed at Christmas.
A win for either side would make them favourites for top four. The only thing certain is that both have disappointed.
120 minutes of FA Cup semi-final action proved disappointing on Sunday at Wembley as the Citizens were knocked out by a late tap-in from Alexis Sanchez, losing 2-1 to Arsenal. It proved fruitless, of course, but its impact will be felt on Thursday night.
And its impact has already been felt, too. Fernandinho (muscle), Sergio Agüero (muscle) and David Silva (hamstring) are all slight doubts for the game at the Etihad. Gabriel Jesus could return after months out with a broken foot after that electric start to his City career. Guardiola revealed on Wednesday afternoon that Agüero and Jesus will definitely be able to feature.
John Stones (muscle) and Bacary Sagna (groin strain) both remain major doubts, though Stones may still play a small part.
Ilkay Gundogan, of course, remains a long-term absentee.
United played just the 90 minutes on Sunday, but they have also seen the effects of extra-time.
Paul Pogba is unavailable after a small muscle tweak at the end of the 2-0 win against Burnley, unsurprising after 210 minutes (two-and-a-half games) of football in just three days.
Zlatan Ibrahimović and Marcos Rojo will both miss the rest of the season, and potentially more, with knee ligament damage. Both will be a huge miss for United. Rojo, in particular, would have been vital against Man City's ruthless attack. United haven't lost in the league when Rojo has started.
As well as Rojo's absence, English centre-back pairing Phil Jones (toe) and Chris Smalling (knee) are both unavailable. Juan Mata, too, could miss the whole season.
Manchester City: Guardiola's side are undefeated in their last eight home Premier League matches.
Manchester United: The Reds have scored at least two goals in seven of their last eight Premier League away matches.