Manchester: Manchester City defender Micah Richards believes Manchester United are "frightened" of their cross-town rivals as the two clubs prepare for their Premier League showdown on Sunday.
Richards believes that after years of living in United's shadow, league leaders City are perfectly positioned to supplant their more successful neighbours as the dominant force in English football.
"United now know, much as they won't say it, that we are a genuine threat to them," the 23-year-old England international told the Manchester Evening News here Friday.
Richards is also delighted that City's FA Cup win last season has forced United fans to remove a banner from Old Trafford referencing their rivals' 35-year trophy drought.
"To get that banner down is quality -- we have got the last laugh," Richards said. "We are not going out and saying we will win this game or that game, but they call us the noisy neighbours. I think they're a bit frightened."
Richards said he is expecting a bruising encounter at Old Trafford on Sunday as City chase their first league win over United since 2008.
"The last four derbies have not been that ferocious really," he said. "Three or four years ago it was ridiculous, some of the tackling.
"It used to be the case that we went to United and got battered every time but in the last year or two we have gone to United and sometimes looked the better team, on their own patch, so it shows how far we have come in a short space of time."
Meanwhile Manchester United defender Chris Smalling is relishing the prospect of Sunday's derby, describing it as the biggest match in English football.
"It is one game I want to win more than any other," Smalling, 21, told the paper. "I think this is the biggest game and biggest derby we face now.
"City have been investing and growing steadily and have hit some great form this season.
"Straightaway when you come here to the city the Manchester derby is something everybody talks about."
Smalling believes Sunday's battle could be decided by the team with the best defence, noting the array of attacking weapons at the disposal of both clubs.
"The defences on Sunday could be key. It could come down to which is more solid because both sides have got great attacking talent," he said.
"These are the kind of tests I want. It is great to be able to say you have played against some of the best players and have more than matched them."