Ole Gunnar Solksjaer may well experience first-hand tonight the gulf in class that currently exists between his Manchester United side and their treble-chasing neighbours but, regardless of the result, the club’s new manager is already searingly honest in his appraisal of their standing in the English game.
United, fresh from that 4-0 embarrassment at Everton on Sunday, take on City at Old Trafford in a derby in which defeat would leave his side 25 points behind Pep Guardiola’s and 24 adrift of City’s closest title rivals Liverpool.
That sobering performance at Goodison left even the usually positive Norwegian muttering ominously that a number of first-team players may not survive long enough to share the success he insists he will bring back to United.
But while Solskjaer has admitted there needs to be changes at his club, he has again called for patience when asked if he thought his squad was capable of competing for the title as early as next season.
“I don’t think we’ve got the consistency to do that,” he said.
“Over the last 18 games, we’re not far away from them but it’s doing it over the course of a season. We’ve done it for half a season now. Let’s see. You can never say never.
“You cannot expect things to happen overnight and we know that. It will happen gradually and we have to be realistic enough as a club that we have to take it step by step.
The manner of the 4-0 defeat at Everton clearly impacted on Solskjaer, who has now lost six of his last eight games in league and cup. The memory of those dozen unbeaten league games to start his reign in caretaker charge seem like ancient history.
It led to that notorious outburst by Gary Neville who labelled the display at Goodison as “rancid,” on television and tore into players for their lack of effort while clearing the manager of any culpability.
Solskjaer was more honest in the aftermath, insisting on shouldering his share of the blame, and, as is the way in the modern media world, having refused to name and shame live on television, Neville later used his own television podcast to personalise his attack.
Goalkeeper David de Gea, World Cup winner Paul Pogba, and no fewer than four forwards - Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Alexis Sanchez, and Romelu Lukaku - were all named by Neville as the more chronic of his squad’s current underachievers.
Certainly, those personnel - with the possible exception or Rashford - have all seen their United futures come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks with Sanchez, reportedly the highest paid player in English football, a particular headache for Solskjaer to resolve this summer.
Lukaku, effective in fits and starts for Mourinho, would appear not to fit into Solskjaer’s preferred style of play while Pogba and Martial both spoke openly of wishing to leave United during their old manager’s reign and have not shown a marked improvement in form or attitude since.
Further, Ander Herrera still appears odds-on to be on his way out of Old Trafford this summer and de Gea continues to refuse to sign a new contract - a fact which many have pointed to as a contributing factor behind his dramatic loss of form.
Add in a host of players - most notably defenders such as Ashley Young and Marcos Rojo - who do not appear up to the standards expected of a championship-calibre squad, and it is hard to identify a single player who can be classified as “untouchable” in the eyes of Solskjaer and his club’s supporters.
Of course, one added result of United’s recent and spectacular loss of form has been closer scrutiny than ever on the wisdom of Solskjaer being appointed to the job permanently in the first place; the pressure increasing on an almost daily basis as pundits who initially called for his full-time appointment now question whether executive vice chairman Ed Woodward was too hasty in handing him the job last month.
United supporters, however, remain completely behind the increasingly beleaguered Solskjaer and the man himself insists he is still the right man for the job.
“Well I would like to say yes but it’s not down to me to say that,” he said. “I’m confident in my team and myself. I’ll be ready to take this challenge on.
“When you go through bad results, you’ve got to be confident enough to say this is the way we’re going to do it and plan ahead.”
Perhaps the last four games of the current disappointing season will offer a few more clues in that area of planning ahead, with players now having the opportunity to bounce back from the disaster of the weekend and prove they have what it takes to form a part of Solskjaer’s rebuilding job.
And a starting point would be to show tonight that trailing City and Liverpool, such hated and local traditional rivals, by such a huge margin is far from acceptable.
“There’s loads of things that motivate players,” said Solskjaer.
“For me, the motivation is towards something, to win something yourself. It’s not about taking something away from others. We have to want to overtake them, not because it’s City and Liverpool.
“But of course because it’s City and Liverpool, for a supporter as I am, and as a manager now as well, because they’re so close in the vicinity as well, we want to be the best. We have been the best, and it’s not nice seeing those two at the top.”