ROBERTO MANCINI claims Carlos Tevez can rewrite the history of Mancunian football tonight by insisting it is the Argentine's 'destiny' to score the decisive goal in the title-deciding 163rd Manchester derby.
With United manager Alex Ferguson pondering a selection gamble by sacrificing a forward, Danny Welbeck, in favour of midfielder Ji-sung Park in an effort to deny City the victory they need to reclaim top spot in the Premier League, the goal threat posed by repentant rebel Tevez is likely to be a crucial factor at the Etihad Stadium.
The former United forward, who appeared to have played his last game for City following a series of disputes with the club earlier this season, has scored four goals in three games since returning to Mancini's starting line-up.
With his defection from red to blue in July 2009 cranking up the acrimony between the two clubs, the pro-spect of Tevez producing the defining moment tonight has emerged as a real possibility and Mancini has no doubts as to the contribution the 28-year-old can make. "I think Carlos is destined to score the most important goal in the history of this club." Mancini said. "This is my belief.
"And if we beat United to the title, it would be the biggest achievement of my career because it is England, it is the best championship in Europe."
Mario Balotelli's dismissal during the 1-0 defeat at Arsenal earlier this month, which saw City fall eight points adrift of United, triggered Tevez's recall by Mancini following his return from an unauthorised three-month break in Buenos Aires in February.
Despite Mancini's much-criticised indulgence of Balotelli, who is set to be on the bench tonight after serving a three-match suspension, the manager insists Tevez would have returned to the team after the Arsenal defeat, regardless of Balotelli's availability.
"I thought it was the time for Carlos to play anyway." Mancini said. "But remember we also played well with Mario in the team. The problem with Mario is that he can get a red card at any moment on the pitch, in the tunnel or even in the dressing room!"
City's revival in the title race has coincided with United's loss of form, which has seen the champions lose at Wigan and draw 4-4 at home to Everton,seeing an eight-point lead shrink to three ahead of tonight's game.
A draw or a win will put United within sight of the title. United are set to have Nani available after a fitness scare but have Phil Jones on standby in case Jonny Evans fails a test on a bruised foot.
Ferguson is understood to be preparing his team to approach tonight's fixture in the same manner as a Champions League second leg, with United knowing that one goal for them would leave City needing to score twice.
With Chris Smalling set to replace Rafael at right-back and Park in line for his first start since mid-March, United appear determined to play it tight after losing 6-1 to City at Old Trafford.
But after seemingly building a decisive lead over their neighbours, Ryan Giggs admits United have been frustrated by their failure to finish City off. "It's a bit frustrating, but there's nothing we can do about it now," he said. "It's still in our hands and if we win, we'll be in a brilliant position. It could have been better, but it's not and we realise that.
"We're under no illusions that it's a tough game, but it'll be tough for City as well. They're a good side. They were on fire pre-Christmas and we were just trying to hang on really. We managed to do that and we've come into form in the second half of the season."
City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, who has attended just one fixture since buying the club in 2008, is understood to be considering flying in for tonight's game.
The sheikh issued a statement of support for Mancini and the team last week, but the City boss insists that, whether he succeeds or fails, the club is set for bigger things.
"Even if he hadn't said it, I was relaxed about my position," said Mancini. "I think the sheikh and chairman Khaldoon al Mubarak are happy with what we have done this season."