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Tracing the evolution of the Manchester derby

A brief look at the evolution of the Manchester derby and how it became a key fixture in the build-up to the title race


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Fierce rivalry

Once upon a time, not too long ago, Manchester City were not the cataclysmic blizzard they are today. Having been relegated five times from the premier league between 1992-2001, the Citizens, although neighbours to the Red Devils, were not their toughest opponents.

Majority of the 90's was dominated by United before Arsene Wenger arrived at Arsenal to spice up the Premier League race. Driven by the desire to embrace the title, the two sides were involved in numerous disputes.

Following the arrival of Abramovich in 2003, Chelsea became the third major participant in the title race and burdened Sir Alex with the job to circumvent another obstacle. Along with his billions, the Russian owner also brought drought for Old Trafford as United failed to conquer the league in the next three seasons.

However, the Red Devils riposted in style by enjoying three successive league triumphs between 2007-09 and defeating rivals Chelsea in the 2008 Champions League finals.

Manchester United v Chelsea - UEFA Champions League Final
Manchester United v Chelsea celebrates after winning the UEFA Champions League Final

Amidst all the European and domestic success, United also made sure to give their fans the bragging rights by winning the Manchester derbies. Sir Alex's side won 13 of the 22 premier league matches against rivals City between 1993-2008.

City's uprise and transformation of the Manchester derby

The year of 2008 marked the reincarnation of Manchester City as their big money takeover would change their fate in the coming years. City, began drawing the interest of some big players from across the globe and many new faces arrived in the next few years.

Big money moves were made for players like Robinho, Tevez, Dzeko, Kolarov, Silva, Yaya Toure, Balotelli, Aguero, and Nasri. However, the success wasn't immediate. The citizens finished 10th in the league table in 2009 and 5th in the following year.

Finally, in the 2010-11 season, City ended their 35-year trophy drought by winning the FA Cup after defeating Stoke 1-0 in the finals. Further, a 3rd position finish in the league ensured them champions league football.

Man City's uprise gave the title race a new horse, and Sir Alex a new problem. With the noisy neighbours becoming an elite force, the Manchester derby became a much more significant occasion for all the horses in the title race.

Manchester City v Stoke City - FA Cup Final
Manchester City v Stoke City celebrating their 2011 FA Cup triumph

Post 2008, City and United played some enthralling matches. Both the sides clashed in the 2009-10 league cup semi-finals which United won 4-3 on aggregate. In the very same season, Michael Owen scored in the 95th minute at Old Trafford to give United a 4-3 win against their noisy neighbours. The match was voted the greatest Premier League game of all time at the 20 Seasons Premier League Awards in 2012.

In the run-up to their 19th league title in 2010-11 season, Rooney scored the famous bicycle kick, in the derby at Old Trafford, to secure three essential points for his side. He later received the best goal award for his overhead kick at the 20 Seasons Premier League awards. While United bagged 4 points in the two league derbies that season, they were knocked out in the semi-finals of the FA Cup by the Citizens.

Manchester United v Manchester City - Premier League
Wayne Rooney celebrates after scoring an overhead kick

The Manchester derby continued getting better and better. It got a lot better for the sky blues in 2011 when they recorded their biggest win at Old Trafford after butchering Sir Alex's side 6-1. Towards the end of the season, the Manchester sisters found themselves miles ahead of the rest of the lot and staged a two-horse title race.

Going into the last game of the season, both the clubs were level on points. United won their tie 1-0 against Sunderland and were anxiously waiting for the clock to run out at Etihad as the Citizens were losing 2-1 against QPR.

With 90 minutes up at Etihad, the score remained the same. However, what happened in the next 4 minutes would be remembered as one of the most extraordinary turnarounds in football history.

Dzeko equalised in the 92nd minute before Aguero slotted in the winner in the 94th minute as Sir Alex's side conceded the Premier League crown to the noisy neighbours due to the former's superior goal difference. Any guesses as to which season was voted the best season at the 20 Seasons Awards?

Manchester City v Queens Park Rangers - Premier League
Manchester City with the Premier League trophy

Sir Alex's departure and United's struggle

Sir Alex Ferguson retired at the end of 2012-13 title-winning campaign ending his 26 years stay at Old Trafford in which he won 38 trophies. Since his departure, the United ship has been sinking. In the last four seasons, the Red Devils have finished in the top 4 only once and their rivals Man City have certainly been the ones making the noise.

Manchester City v Manchester United - FA Cup Semi Final
Manchester City players celebrate after scoring against Manchester United

No English club other than Liverpool can match United's legacy nevertheless the recent period has seen a shift of authority in Manchester. Five of the last nine league meetings between the Manchester clubs have ended in favour of the sky blues. Time and again, United have faced catastrophic sea storms and the fans expect them to replicate that again.

The Weekend Clash

Manchester United v Manchester City - Premier League
Mourinho and Pep

The current season is the first since the 2012-13 campaign where United are proving themselves worthy of reclaiming the prize that has always been theirs. Unluckily, City's enrapturing style of play and devastating form has overshadowed United's improvement. With 43 points from the first 15 games, City are eight points ahead of second-placed United and have the chance to stretch that gap to eleven.

Lately, Pep's side has struggled to grind out victories and have scored the winner in two of their last three games seconds before the final whistle. United will fancy this chance to mount on pressure on their rivals. Under Jose Mourinho, they have the potential to regain the bragging rights and deny City any silverware.

In addition to the expectations of their fans, Man United are also carrying the burden of the entire league who, are hoping for City to at least allow them to be a part of the race. Ironically, the match's outcome could result in everyone thanking Jose for his boring approach to the game.

Also read: United v City: Noisy neighbours, 'Why Always Me?' and other Old Trafford memories

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