London: For so long a match simply about local bragging rights, the Manchester derby suddenly has much more riding on it ahead of this season's first Premier League clash between title contenders United and City at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Bankrolled by Abu Dhabi billionaire Sheikh Mansour since 2008, City is challenging for the English title for the first time in a generation and climbed above United into first place in the league last weekend.
With a star-studded squad and a vast array of attacking talent, Roberto Mancini's side look to be United's biggest threat to the defense of its title.
"In the last couple of years, they have become more intense and there's more importance attached to them," United manager Alex Ferguson said of the Manchester derbies.
"On Sunday, it's top of the league and second-top, and it really builds up into a fantastic prospect for everyone. I am looking forward to that."
By drawing 1-1 at Liverpool on Saturday, United slipped two points behind City. Chelsea, which visits Queens Park Rangers on Sunday in a west London derby, is a point further back in third.
One of the Premier League's three remaining unbeaten records could go at Old Trafford, where City was beaten 2-1 last season thanks to Wayne Rooney's sensational overhead kick in the 78th minute.
The team from the blue half of Manchester has improved since then, earning its first taste of Champions League football and looking like a side capable of winning the club's first English title since 1968.
A winner of seven of its eight league games this season, City comes into the match on the back of a last-gasp 2-1 victory over Villarreal in the Champions League, which kept alive its hopes of qualifying for the knockout stage.
"We will go into Sunday's game, knowing it is a massive one, with a little bit more confidence now," City midfielder Gareth Barry said.
"But it is not a place you can go and relax — we have got to go and play our best game of the season to get something out of it."
History is against City as it takes the short trip across Manchester.
Ferguson's men have won their past 19 league matches at home and won five of the past six Premier League meetings with their local rivals, drawing the other one.
"We know it will be a tough game, a great atmosphere, a great occasion. But if we keep playing as we are, I am sure we can get the win," City midfielder James Milner said.
Aside from the Manchester clubs, the other team still to lose a game in the Premier League this season is fourth-place Newcastle, which is three points behind Chelsea heading into a home match against second-bottom Wigan on Saturday.
Newcastle's resurgence has surprised most pundits, who expected the northeast team to struggle following the recent departures of key players such as striker Andy Carroll, defender Jose Enrique and influential midfielders Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan.
Despite keeping spending to a minimum since his arrival last December, manager Alan Pardew has put together a talented, hardworking group that has forged a great team spirit at St. James' Park.
"We had our skeptics, but the manager added quality — it's great they've bought into the never-say-die attitude," Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi said. "We've got a great squad here that want to learn and get better."
Also on Saturday, fifth-place Liverpool hosts Norwich, West Bromwich Albion visits Midlands rival Aston Villa, fifth-bottom Wolverhampton Wanderers looks to avoid a sixth straight defeat when it hosts Swansea and Sunderland travels to Bolton.
On Sunday, Arsenal bids for a fourth straight home win in the league when Stoke visits the Emirates, north London rival Tottenham travels to bottom team Blackburn and Fulham is at home to Everton.