Three weeks before this clash Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were eight points in front of their neighbours but a surprise defeat to Wigan and a draw against the Toffees has cost them.
A resurgent Manchester City, buoyed by the return of Carlos Tevez, have slaughtered their opponents, scoring twelve goals on their way to three successive victories and making it four will see them return to the top of the table.
It’s the most important battle between the two sides in living memory and having been humiliated 6-1 at Old Trafford in October, United can’t afford to lose the game for so many reasons.
But with fans and pundits completely underwhelmed by the quality of the champions so far this campaign and some dodgy recent performances there are a lot of things for Fergie to consider if he’s going to win his 13th Premier League title.
Here are five things I believe United need to do if they’re going to stop City’s charge.
Tighten up the defence
With the plethora of attacking players at City’s disposal it is vital for United to keep it tight because any slip-ups will be pounced upon. Jonny Evans has taken advantage of Nemanja Vidic’s absence at the heart of the defence and made the position his own alongside Rio Ferdinand, and only City have conceded fewer goals.
But the backline has looked shaky on a few occasions. Against Everton the defending was abysmal as they failed to get in the right positions or pick up players and with the likes of David Silva always looking to find the gaps it will take an improved and disciplined performance if they’re to avoid another demolition.
Pick Phil Jones over Rafael
The little Brazilian hasn’t been at his best in the last few games and needs to be replaced by Jones. While Rafael offers a better attacking option to United, he leaves United exposed at the back far too often and has cost them points recently.
Jones won’t offer the same attacking prowess but can get forward when possible and more importantly his defensive abilities will offer a lot more security and assurance which has to be a positive when lining up against the likes of Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez.
Keep Tevez quiet
After five months in the wilderness, the former Red Devil has come back to Eastlands and had a monumental impact in kick-starting their floundering season. A goal against West Brom was followed by a hat-trick against Norwich City and now even the most positive United fan will be concerned that the Argentinean will have a big part to play in this title decider.
Tevez usually has a good game against his old employers too which makes his reappearance even more daunting, so keeping him out of the game will be vital.
Win the midfield battle
With the crossing strength of both sides, the battle for power in the middle of the park will be key and in particular David Silva versus Paul Scholes.
The Spaniard was sublime earlier in the season and although his form has dropped since then, he is one of the best midfielders in the world.
At the same time, United’s ageless midfielder has once again led them towards the league title and if they do hang on for the title, they can thank him for getting them there.
However, Silva’s on-ball skills and creativity will cause havoc for United’s defence, and as his high assist count testifies to, will be a huge factor in City’s attacking chances throughout the match.
Both players will be looking to find the gaps and turn defence into attack and their own personal battle could be a sublime sub-plot to the game, so the victor of their contest will probably be on the winning side.
Get Valencia involved
The Ecuadorian has been brilliant for United this season. Perhaps the side’s best player this term, his pace, power, determination and crossing have been a revelation having started the season behind Nani and Ashley Young in the pecking order. His industrious style will be vital against City in an attacking and defensive way. If Valencia is given plenty of the ball he’ll be happy to run down the line and take Gael Clichy towards his own goal in the process. And without the ball, his willingness to put in a shift for the side will have him tracking back after the French full-back when necessary, something that Nani can hardly be relied upon to do.
Valencia doesn’t have the flicks and tricks that the Portuguese has but you always get 100% and in games of this importance, that’s what counts.
What do you think United need to do to stop City? Or should City be thinking about stopping United? Tell me on Twitter @jrobbins_journo.