Sir Alex Ferguson has claimed Manchester City's flying start to the season has earned them the accolade of title contenders.
In the countdown to the most significant Manchester derby in four decades, both sides have traded verbal jibes, yet Ferguson is also willing to admit that by winning their opening four games - something his own side failed to do - Mark Hughes' men have made exactly the kind of start any prospective champion team is looking for.
"You can't afford to lose games in this league," said the United chief. "When Chelsea won two titles in a row they had fantastic starts and we were playing catch up. We are playing catch up already. The same with City. They have won their games. You would always rather do that than not because this is a really difficult league."
He added: "We had always programmed our training so we came good in the second half of the season. You cannot afford that luxury now."
Ferguson has a doubt over Rio Ferdinand, who missed the midweek Champions League defeat of Besiktas with a groin injury.
Jonny Evans will keep his place if Ferdinand misses out but there is little doubt that selection dilemma is just a side issue to a collision that even Ferguson accepts promises to be a "feisty affair".
The bad blood between the sides is still bubbling due to the Carlos Tevez "Welcome to Manchester" poster that so amused City supporters and irritated Ferguson.
Ferguson felt it was a deliberate attempt to provoke United. And it seems to have worked.
"I'm sure of it," he said. "That stupid poster upset us. It showed an arrogance. It was naughty.
"It showed a cockiness that wasn't required at the time because they hadn't done anything. The season hadn't even started."
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