Man United might win the odd battle but Man City are winning the war: A decade that upended a rivalry

November 5, 2021

Pep Guardiola’s side head back to Old Trafford on Saturday expecting to win, while home fans fear a repeat of their humiliation at home to Liverpool

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Edin Dzeko raced onto David Silva’s pass to add the final goal in the unforgettable 6-1 win at Old Trafford and football in the city has never been quite the same again.

“This city is ours,” Manchester City fans have taunted their rivals ever since

Having had to live in a city where the red side dominated and the Blues sank to increasingly lower lows, City have finally got their revenge.

Over the course of the last 10 years, the clubs have been mostly going in opposite directions. City are chasing titles and reaching Champions League finals while United have been firmly in their shadow.

United haven’t finished above City since 2014 and, other than in the 2015-16 season when they were separated in fourth and fifth by goal difference, they haven’t even come close.

On average, the two clubs have finished 15 points apart over the past eight years with an incredible 32 points separating them at the end of 2018-19 campaign.

And that 6-1 victory can be seen in some ways as a defining moment.

City had won just once at Old Trafford in 37 years; United boss Sir Alex Ferguson tried to belittle the “noisy neighbours” – as he dubbed City – and going into the derby he was asked if his side would ever be underdogs.

“Not in my lifetime,” came the reply. 

After a humiliating 90 minutes, Ferguson looked visibly shocked as he walked down the touchline and past a three-quarters empty stadium.

City’s players had been accused of moving to the Etihad Stadium for the money but their 2011-12 title success definitively underlined the ambition of the project.

“We wanted to win that game to prove to everyone that we were serious about this league,” former defender Joleon Lescott, who played in that game, said.

“We had an extra motivation as a group of players because no one was taking us seriously outside the club. We were only together because Man City were throwing money at all of us – that was the perception but it wasn’t the reality of our motivation. We believed we could challenge and be successful.”

City went onto win the title that season after another crucial derby win late in the season and, while Ferguson managed to wrest back the title in his final season in charge, the reality is that United have been underdogs in virtually every derby since.

The fear factor has long gone; City have now won eight of their last 13 visits to Old Trafford.

Some still consider that 6-1 victory as a freak result, with three goals coming in injury time and United down to 10 men, but the reality is that a repeat could be on the cards this weekend. After all, United suffered a similar indignity in their last Premier League home game.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s heroics in recent weeks have given some United fans hope of a victory in Saturday’s lunchtime game but there are also plenty who would be happy just to escape a repeat of the Liverpool embarrassment two weeks ago.

Early-season optimism that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could launch a long overdue title challenge seems to have evaporated with his side still trying to get close to the bludgeoning dominance that City, Liverpool and Chelsea can inflict on other sides.

Another heavy loss would once again ramp up the pressure on the Norwegian, but the current issues in the dugout are symptomatic of the different ways the two clubs operate.

City made their dream appointment in Guardiola and have already scouted potential successors that would seem a good fit to take over when he leaves.

Solskjaer, meanwhile, is the latest in a line of scattergun appointments – a club legend they hoped would bring success after trying out the forceful approach of Jose Mourinho, the tactical straitjacket of Louis van Gaal and ‘the Chosen One’ David Moyes.

There are no obvious candidates to take the reins next which is the reason why some people believe Solskjaer is still clinging on.

It has been a similar story with player recruitment. Not all of Guardiola’s signings have been a success but each was scouted with purpose and to fill in a defined role in his strategy.