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Excitement builds among fans for derby clash

MANCHESTER, England — Football fans in Manchester — from both the red and blue sides of the city — are already feeling the nerves as the excitement builds.

It's derby time up north, and the Premier League title is the target.

Manchester United holds a three-point lead going into Monday's match at Manchester City, though City's superior goal difference means it can move back into first place with a win at Etihad Stadium.

United manager Alex Ferguson has called the latest installment of the Manchester derby the most important of his 25-year reign, while City manager Roberto Mancini has tried to ease the pressure on his team by insisting United is favorite to win the league.

With only a few more days to go, United and City fans can agree on at least one thing — this is no ordinary derby.

"There's something a bit extra-special about this one," said 37-year-old City fan Andrew Hutton, who grew up around the club's former Maine Road Stadium. "It's always huge for everyone in the city, but this time it could be the turning point when the power shifts from United to City. I've already got that buzzing feeling and there are butterflies in my stomach just thinking about it."

Patrick Keyes, a cook at "The Theatre of Food" fish and chip shop around the corner from United's Old Trafford, said he would be watching the game in the pub with friends that support both teams.

"It's going to be a big game. Maybe the biggest ever," Keyes said. "It could be a title decider and it's going to be a tough match considering the team City have got. It's gutting to lose the derby and sometimes the fans can go over the top, but it's a chance to have a bit of healthy rivalry."

John Cox, a United fan and tour guide at Old Trafford, said City's recent rise to become genuine title contenders means the derby has never been so important.

"Everybody knows someone or has a family member who supports the other lot and you always ask yourself why, because we have always upstaged them," Cox said. "It's a fraternal thing. It will sting a lot more if we lose because of things like the (Carlos) Tevez affair and the fact they've got more money than we have now.

"It's the game that's on everybody's lips, everybody's talking about it in the pub and when you get the newspaper or turn on the television it's all over the place."

The global reach of Premier League football was exemplified by the party taking a tour of Old Trafford, a 20-strong group which included visitors from China, Brazil, Kuwait, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands.

Mahdi Hussain, a Kuwaiti student living in Manchester, was taking a look around the 76,000-capacity stadium with his cousin Omran. Both are United fans and have tickets for the derby — though they will have to sit among the City supporters.

"I've told him not to make any noise if United score because they will kick us out," Mahdi said. "In Kuwait, the big teams are United, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Barcelona, but City is becoming more popular, not because of the owner Sheik Mansour, but because they are signing great players and that makes headlines."

While United has a three-floor museum and boasts a record 19 league titles and 11 FA Cup wins, plus three European Cup titles, City is hoping to start closing the gap in silverware after embarking on a $1 billion spending spree under the new owners from Dubai.

South Korean fan Pong Kyul, a 30-year-old computer engineer from Seoul, said he wanted to see where City plays because of their exciting strikers — but admitted he'd visited Old Trafford the day before as part of a 10-day trip to England.

"If Ji-sung Park plays for Manchester United then I like them," he said. "But I also like Carlos Tevez because he was Park's best friend.

"The derby is a very important game, even in South Korea. I think if Manchester City win it is very good because then the Premier League will have a new champion and it won't get boring."

Interest in the match has intensified so much that an extra television studio is being built in a corner of City's stadium.

With so much at stake, however, fans from both sides of the divide said it was sometimes difficult to just enjoy the game.

"I'm not sure whether I'll be able to watch — it's too nail-biting and the blood pressure does go up a bit," said United fan Chris Gregory, who is from Wrexham, Wales. "We need a win to win the league. It would be a good game anyway because it's a derby, but this has got a bit of extra spice."