On Saturday, Manchester United and Manchester City will play the 172nd Manchester Derby, one of the biggest matches in English football. Don’t diminish this match by calling it Pep Guardiola vs. Jose Mourinho Round I. There were 171 derbies before Pep and Jose arrived and there will be plenty once they are both gone.
This match is far bigger than two bickering men who don’t like each other. Sure, they’ve played their part in helping set up the magnitude of this match, which can be argued is the biggest match Manchester United have played in the last three years.
Both managers have taken sides that underachieved last season and got them off to great starts. They both spent heavily over the summer to bring in fresh faces to their teams. They both have 100 percent records so far, despite it being obvious that neither team is anywhere close to playing their best football yet.
But this isn’t about Pep and Jose. This is about Manchester. This is about a rivalry that runs deep. These are two fan bases that don’t like each other. This is a rivalry that goes way back. When City won the league back in 1968 they thought they were the kings of England. That was until United stole all their publicity when they won the European Cup that same season.
This was always a fixture where you could throw out the records and form of each team. In 2008 when United had one of the best Premier League teams of all time, a team that won the league and the Champions League while City finished 9th, it was City who did the double over United. That summer when City got their big money takeover Sir Alex Ferguson referred to them as nothing but “noisy neighbors.” City would retaliate when they signed striker Carlos Tevez away from United by putting him on a blue billboard with the saying “Welcome to Manchester.”
The big money takeover at City took the rivalry to a new level. No longer were the two teams competing just for bragging rights in the city but now they were competing for Premier League titles. It took City a few years to get there. By 2011 they thought this would be the year they overtook United, only for Wayne Rooney to say “not yet” when he scored this sensational goal.
A year later, City walked in to Old Trafford and won 6-1. That same year City snatched the title from United’s hands on the final day of the season. These things are not forgotten by United and City fans.
For the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge of Manchester United this game is back to being about the top of the Premier League table. While the focus is wrongfully being placed on the managers, it should be on the field. It’s about the expensive stars like Paul Pogba vs. Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, and Raheem Sterling. It’s about Zlatan Ibrahimovic trying to take advantage of John Stones’ youth and inexperience. Or about how Manchester City will cope without the suspended Sergio Aguero.
It shouldn’t be about whether Jose Mourinho can defeat Pep Guardiola in Manchester after failing to do so when he was at Real Madrid and Guardiola was at Barcelona.
Both managers have said they will come out and try to win this game, but unfortunately that’s not likely to happen. Both will be pragmatic in their approach, with the priority being to avoid mistakes. While there will be plenty of stars on the field, we’re unlikely to get the wide open thrilling match we’re all hoping for.
It’s the 172nd Manchester Derby and the biggest one in quite some time. There are so many different storylines to focus on heading into this game. At this point we can only hope that we get the game that both teams’ fans deserve, rather than a match that gets ruined by the two big name managers as they try to settle a personal score.