Manchester clubs meet at the Etihad with eyes on the title

In a match that was immediately circled on many calendars prior to the start of the Premier League campaign, Manchester City is set to host Manchester United at the Etihad on Monday to effectively decide where the English title will reside at season's end.

The title cannot be clinched in Monday's affair, but the result will certainly go a long way (in a short period of time) toward deciding which club will be crowned champions.

United enjoys a three-point lead over City with three games (including Monday's derby) remaining. A win against the Citizens would mean that the Red Devils would only need a point from their final two games to clinch an English-best 20th league title, while a win for City would see the club climb back into pole position.

"I suppose when the fixture came out at the beginning of the season, all the roads pointed to this game," Sir Alex Ferguson told the club's official website. "It was inevitable, maybe. But we are where we are and it doesn't matter what's happened before, who's dropped points or who hasn't dropped points. It really is all down to this game. It will be a fantastic atmosphere and I hope it lives up to the billing. I don't know how many countries are going to be watching it but it will be considerable. Hopefully it's a very good game."

A draw would not be a poor result for United, but Ferguson clearly stated the club's goal ahead of the massive fixture.

"We know the exact situation we're in," said the United boss. "We're in a better position than Manchester City. We could come out with two results, whereas they only have one. Although you know my attitude and this club's attitude - we'll be trying to win."

The two clubs have met three times this season with United coming out on top twice. The Red Devils claimed 3-2 wins in both the Community Shield and the FA Cup, though the Citizens earned a resounding 6-1 victory at Old Trafford in Premier League play.

But according to Ferguson, the two teams are so familiar with one another that the prior meetings will have no bearing on Monday's result.

"I think the previous encounters this season are irrelevant," he continued. "We've already met three times but the past is the past. It doesn't matter. It's all down to Monday."

The battle against relegation and the race for fourth place in the Premier League are heating up as well. Wolverhampton is already assured a spot in the League Championship next season while Blackburn, Bolton, Wigan, QPR and Aston Villa are all in contention to follow suit. At the other end of the table, Arsenal looks secure in third place with 65 points, but it is followed closely by Newcastle, Tottenham and Chelsea, all of which have a game in hand.

Saturday's matches that could have major implications for next season include Bolton's trip to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland, Arsenal's venture to the Britannia to face Stoke City, West Bromwich's tilt against Aston Villa at the Hawthorns, and Newcastle's meeting with Wigan at the DW Stadium.

Also in action Saturday, Norwich City and Liverpool meet at Carrow Road, Swansea City welcomes Wolverhampton to the Liberty Stadium, and Everton squares off against Fulham at Goodison Park.

On Sunday, Chelsea will look to continue its sensational run of form when it welcomes a hungry QPR side to Stamford Bridge, and Tottenham will hope to get back on track when it hosts Blackburn.