The Premier League title race can effectively be put to bed on Monday when Manchester United take on champions Manchester City knowing victory would put them almost home and dry.
United lead City by 15 points at the top with eight games to go and know that one more win would give them one hand on a record 20th top-flight title.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side went out of the FA Cup on Monday at the hands of Chelsea but the Scot expects his side to bounce back immediately at Old Trafford.
“It was disappointing, of course, but we have to forget all about it and move on to the game against City next Monday,” he said.
“We are in a good position obviously and I think a positive result for us on Monday will just about seal the title for us.” City manager Roberto Mancini said last weekend that the race was just about over but the Manchester derby is also about bragging rights.
Twelve months ago, victory in this fixture propelled City to the title and the Italian would love to at least delay United getting their hands on the trophy.
“We want to try to win because we want to get second,” Mancini said.
“We don’t want any problem from now until the end in the last eight games. We want to win because it’s a derby too.
“We know it’ll be difficult as they are in good form. They didn’t lose for a long time and we know that we play against a good team.
“They won a lot of games, difficult matches but they score a lot of goals. We had a chance at the start of the season when we can change our team. We didn’t change.” At the other end, the battle to avoid relegation is reaching boiling point with seven teams separated by just four points.
Reading and Queens Park Rangers, seven points from safety with just seven games to go, both face must-win home games.
QPR manager Harry Redknapp spent heavily in the January transfer window but his side are still struggling, level on points with Reading at the bottom.
On Sunday, they take on a Wigan side who sit just one point above the bottom three but who have won their past two games and are past masters at pulling off the great escape.
“We have just got to keep going,” Redknapp said. “We have got to win on Sunday.” “We don’t need a miracle. A miracle is: if you are a cripple and I touch you and I cure you. That is a miracle. It is not a miracle to win some football matches.” Reading manager Nigel Adkins takes on the side that sacked him, Southampton, in another “relegation six-pointer”, the result vital to both sides.
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert takes his side to Stoke City preaching to his side that they are not the only ones in trouble.
“Every team in the bottom half of the table is in a battle now. We are four points off 12th place and for much of the season we have been accustomed to this situation,” he said.
“Suddenly, there are other teams that have been pulled into it, teams who haven’t had to get their heads around it and we’ll see now what happens.” New Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio faces a baptism of fire in his first match in charge, away to Chelsea.
Chelsea are still chasing a top-four spot and Di Canio’s Sunderland are just one point above the bottom three but it is the Italian’s character that could be in question.
Di Canio’s first week in charge has been dominated by a row over whether he is a fascist, with the former West Ham player forced to make a public denial on Wednesday.
Newcastle and Norwich, the other two sides in immediate danger, host Fulham and Swansea respectively.
Third-placed Tottenham take on sixth-placed Everton while fifth-placed Arsenal travel to West Brom and Liverpool, in seventh, host West Ham.