It’s a fixture that used to be all about bragging rights for the city. Then a few years ago it started becoming about the little brother trying to overtake the big brother. Soon it became about deciding the Premier League title as the two clubs grew to be the two best in England. But this year when Manchester City travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United in the 169th Manchester Derby it will be a battle for one of the top three spots in the league between two clubs going in complete opposite directions as of late.
For most of the Premier League era, Manchester United have been the big boys of Manchester. They were always involved in the title race, usually winning it, while City were middling club who at one point in the 90’s were relegated all the way down to the third division. From when the Premier League began though 2008 the fixture was mainly just a local rivalry, a one sided one at that, with nothing on the line other then local bragging rights. From 1992, when the Premier League began, until 2008, the significance of the year we’ll get to in a minute, the two clubs met 24 times in all competitions with Manchester United winning 14 and drawing five.
Everything would change prior to the 2008/09 season when City saw an influx of cash thanks to being bought by the Abu Dhabi Group who started spending wildly to build a top club at Eastlands. At first United tried to ignore the influx of talent going over to City, with Sir Alex Ferguson famously describing City as nothing more then United’s “noisy neighbors.” By 2009, City were ready to spend the next few years overtaking United for control of the City. Luckily for United though, every time City thought it was their time, players like Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney were around to say “not so fast lil bro.”
But in recent years the Manchester Derby has been anything but kind to Manchester United and their fans. It started with the Mario Balotelli “Why Always Me” 6-1 drubbing at Old Trafford, which led to the Vincent Kompany game at the other end of the season which effectively won City the title amidst a United collapse. Last season saw the David Moyes/Ashley Young debacle at the Etihad which somehow only ended 4-1 to City though it probably should have been closer to nine or ten. City then went to Old Trafford to win their third game in a row at United’s home in a 3-0 game that must have been so bad because I don’t remember any of it which means I must have completely blocked it out of my memory.
Since the start of 2010 all United have are the above Rooney goal, and the December 2012 match at the Etihad famous for Rooney’s two goals, and Carlos Tevez committing a bone-headed foul in the final minutes setting up Robin van Persie’s completely fluky free kick winner.
Despite all the negativity and City completely having United’s number recently, especially at Old Trafford, this is the first Manchester Derby that I’m actually looking forward to since about 2009. United will come into the match on their best form of the season and for once the pressure isn’t on them (not for a good reason but still it’s not on them anymore!). Meanwhile City come into the match doing exactly what Manchester City does; IE: they’re a team made up of paid mercenaries who won the title last year, therefore they are completely unmotivated and are playing like it which could cost their manager his job. Furthermore after both debacle’s last season, United went to the Etihad this season and put together their first decent performance of the season against City, losing 1-0 only after a ridiculous Chris Smalling red card (ridiculous not because of the ref, but because of Smalling who took a dumb yellow and then a few minutes later when he took a real yellow that was already too much).
Sir Alex Ferguson was famous for keeping Manchester United hungry. No matter how many trophies the club won, they always wanted more. Manchester City have failed to find that formula. They’ve won the Premier League twice but they’ve been beyond underwhelming with their title defense both times. Part of that is the paid mercenary mentality while part of that is also the way City have been built.
When the Abu Dhabi group came in their strategy was to sign the biggest stars in the world. This led to them shelling out massive amounts of money to players in their prime. Now a few years later those stars are starting to age out of their prime and City have no younger players coming into the team. Factor in four years of playing in four competitions plus many players having short summers due to the World Cup (and Yaya Toure missing for a month midseason for the African Cup of Nations), and it could be that City are just finally running out of gas.
City come into the game having won three straight at Old Trafford, but they’ve won just four of their past 16 games in all competitions. United come in playing their best football of the season and look like they’ve finally figured things out under Louis van Gaal. A few weeks ago you would have laughed if you were told United would come into this game ahead of City in the table, and yet here we are with United having a great chance to go four points clear of City for third place.
It’s a Manchester Derby so of course you can throw recent form out the window. Chris Smalling will hope to get revenge for that red card he picked up at Eastlands. Though Smalling has been in great form, I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable with a Smalling-Jones pair trying to stop Segio Aguero and co.
But whatever, it’s all good when they have this guy behind them.
Louis, give him all the money!