Mancini bids to lift mood at his Theatre of Gloom with another derby win over Fergie
22:30 GMT, 8 December 2012
Roberto Mancini tried comedy when asked if he and Manchester City's new director of football, Txiki Begiristain, shared the same ideas about transfer targets.
'Yes. Him, me and Guardiola,' he quipped, before adding hastily: 'That is a joke.' It was a rare moment of levity in a peculiarly joyless season.
At face value, City should be feeling buoyant as they welcome Manchester United for their first meeting since the balance of power shifted last May.
Now's the time: Roberto Mancini (left) hopes Yaya Toure (right) can run the show from midfield
The blue army: Mario Balotelli (left) and Edin Dzeko (right) will want to sink United again
They are champions, pipping United with the final kick of last season, they are the only unbeaten league team in the country this season and have not lost at home for two years.
Yet morale has been low and relationships strained, even before the defeat by Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday which left City owner Sheik Mansour without European football despite his 1billion investment.
At the top, Mancini is distant from his players, booed by some fans for his substitutions and aware that the appointment of two Barcelona executives, Begiristain and chief executive Ferran Soriano, has increased the likelihood of Barca's double Champions League-winning manager Pep Guardiola replacing him at some stage. Off the field, a corporate restructure has left staff fearing for their jobs.
Head of partnerships Luis Vicente cleared his desk last month while finance director Graham Wallace will be vulnerable when the next set of figures show another big loss.
Elsewhere, employees whose annual salary is equivalent to what Yaya Toure earns in a day, have been let go to cut costs.
The dismal Champions League exit – accompanied by damning comments from players Micah Richards and Joe Hart – means City desperately need a tonic today.
And skipper Vincent Kompany, who scored the only goal when United last visited in April, has issued a rallying cry.
He said: 'We know the challenge is huge. It's a good game to pick yourself up with, but there is always a risk attached to a game like this.'
Larking about: Manchester City's players appear to be having some fun on Saturday in training
Returning to haunt them Carlos Tevez could feature for Manchester City
He won the mind games with Sir Alex Ferguson at the end of last season with his mantra that United were certain to win the title, and the Old Trafford club squandered an eight-point lead, including a crucial 1-0 defeat at the Etihad.
Only now can the City boss admit: 'They thought it was over, yes.' Mancini starts today having to defend his overall record, not least to those who booed the replacement of Carlos Tevez in last week's 1-1 draw with Everton.
'I accept the criticism,' he said. 'But I think in two years we did a good job because we won three trophies. In the last two years not many managers won three trophies and if they should sack me…'
While Mancini was feted for the 6-1 win at Old Trafford last season, he is prouder of the 1-0 home win over United in the title run-in, which was more emphatic than the scoreline suggested.
Ready for Mario Balotelli (left) scored a brace and was instrumental in Jonny Evans being dismissed when City battered United 6-1
'United had 10 men at Old Trafford [Jonny Evans was sent off] and that is always a problem for teams.
'The home win was a proper reflection.'
Despite that result, Mancini is likely to split the starting attack from that night, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero, with Mario Balotelli preferred to former United man Tevez.
David Silva and Gael Clichy also hope to be fit. One mid-term silver lining for Mancini is that he respects Begiristain's ability to sign a player above that of Brian Marwood, who oversaw the purchases of Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair and Javi Garcia in the summer and has since moved to take charge of the club's academy.
'I think that now we have people who know the market and can move quickly,' he said. 'But it will still be difficult to find the players in January to improve our team a lot.'
Never has he or the club needed a positive result more than Sunday. It may even spread a little happiness around the Theatre of Gloom.
Pick that one out! Rooney scored a belter against City in 2011