Really it is. Beat United or Stoke and the same three points are awarded. At the end of the season there isn't some asterisk that gets posted on the point total that improves the league position because a club beat United. And City need to approach it as such.
In the past the derby against United was in many ways the club's cup final. United were, and still are to some respects, the dominant force in English football. City were not in a position to challenge this in any way when a place in Europe and a decent cup run was about all the faithful could truly realistically hope for each season. But the game against United was different. Here, for a couple of games a year, was a chance to put one over Ferguson and co.
For all the talk of Arab money and the investment in the club the derby remained the most important game of the year from a psychological standpoint. Beat United and them winning the league, again, was bearable because City had come out on top in the only game that mattered. This changed in that epic two-leg League Cup semi-final. Ferguson, for one, took City seriously for possibly the first time in his career. It was the turning point in the realities of the derby. Though City lost over the two legs the foundation for the FA Cup semi final victory a season later had been set.
For winning the FA Cup isn't the most important thing that has happened to City recently. It was winning the cup and beating United on the way to that triumph. It was finally a practical victory rather than the perpetual hollow one; that artificial attempt to indicate that the end of the season be damned, City were better than United.
The club still isn't. City are competitive with United. The two clubs appear to be the two contenders for the league title although I still believe Chelsea, Liverpool or Spurs make some kind of run. What's required on Sunday is a pragmatic approach. A glorious effort in defeat is just that, a defeat. Should City take a point from United, and more importantly cause United to effectively lose two home points, then Roberto Mancini will be well on his way to an excellent first half of the season.
The City formation will tell us everything we need to know. A single striker and a packed midfield says Mancini gets it and is playing for the Premier League title. An adventurous formation with the emphasis on attack, ala the game against Spurs for example, offers the chance of a City victory, but also a crushing United win. Risk and reward. No longer is the season about one game...