Roberto Mancini believes how Manchester City emerge from January will determine their chances of success this season.
Having started the month with a hard-fought 1-0 FA Cup win at Middlesbrough, City now move on to the first leg of their eagerly awaited Carling Cup semi-final against a Manchester United side still smarting from that shock defeat by Leeds.
A place at Wembley will be sealed by one of the old rivals in a fortnight, after which City will visit Scunthorpe United in the FA Cup fourth round.
Three additional Premier League games, two of which are away from Eastlands, also have to be completed during a period when Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor will be absent at the African Nations Cup, while Shaun Wright-Phillips, Nedum Onuoha, Wayne Bridge and Joleon Lescott are all currently sidelined with injuries of varying degrees.
Mancini is making an effort to solve that by recruiting Patrick Vieira on loan. However, the situation is not exactly perfect, which is why the Italian feels the month as a whole will be so vital.
"It is important we get through this month," he said.
"If we can do that, the future for us is good because then we will have all the injured players back.
"Hopefully it will be possible for us to get into the top four. But it all depends on what happens in January."
Although it appears Vieira's return to England is virtually sorted, Mancini does not want any distractions ahead of tomorrow night's game.
Cristian Chivu and Ivan Cordoba are two more players surplus to Jose Mourinho's requirements at Inter Milan and who may end up at Eastlands.
To Mancini, the names being bandied about, plus a limitless number of others from elsewhere on the continent, are hardly a surprise.
For now though, Mancini is concentrating purely on United, and helping City reach their first major domestic final since 1981.
"All the players want to join Manchester City," he said.
"That is normal with a big club that is going to have a big future.
"People are not only talking about Patrick Vieira, they are also saying Ivan Cordoba and Cristian Chivu.
"They are all good players, but the most important thing for me is the match against Manchester United. The other things we can talk about with the club after the derby. We will see then."