The Manchester derby: Has The Blues Time Come?
Sometimes football seems to be driven by fate. The coloured boot wearing, hair band slinging, flip-flap exhibiting Gods almost seem to inject a little bit of fate into our game; a touch of dramatic irony, a smidge of destiny. Eric Abidal’s wonderful, swift return to the game in time for the Champions League final; Manchester United themselves lifting the Champions League trophy 50 years after the Busy Babes met an untimely death.
I’d like to think they aren’t mere coincidences. I’d like to think somewhere and somehow, someone is pulling the strings to produce these moments. And if you will kindly take a look at the biggest game of the weekend, the Manchester derby, you will find a game which has almost been scripted, as if it was meant to be.
Sunday’s encounter is a contest between two football behemoths that will stop at nothing to get what they want. Manchester United, the ever-present Gods of the English game, will face their newly-minted ‘noisy’ neighbours, Manchester City.
This game could very well be symbolic of the turning of the tide from Red dominance to blue triumph.
If Manchester City wins, they will be five points clear of their rivals in the league table. But we all know it won’t be as simple as that because it’s football. And football is perfectly, purely, brilliantly unpredictable.
To reiterate, it’s almost too good to put it down to silly, random chance. Cast your minds back to the games of yesteryear and think of City surprising everyone by whipping United four goals to one, or United coming on top by outplaying their neighbours and sinking the dagger in more by being, once again, the only team from Manchester to lift silverware at the end of the season. That seems so long ago now.
City have improved and Manchester United have consolidated their dominance over English football with their 19th title, overtaking Liverpool in the process and reaching a third European final in four years. Yet just as the 19th title is in the bag King Kenny storms back to Liverpool and splashes the cash while furnishing his beloved side to make it clear Liverpool will soon be in the running again.
Just as the 19th title is in the bag Roberto Mancini’s City side come good and gain Champions League qualification for the first time, while lifting the FA Cup and certainly this season, playing an unprecedented, stylistic brand of football at the Etihad. It’s all so story-like, almost as if football is this addictive saga and we, as the happy audience, simply cannot shake it off.
Now for Fergie and his newest batch of determined youngsters, they must dismantle a new side. They must overcome a completely new challenge which threatens the status quo they’ve held for so long. It's matches like this when we realise why Alex Ferguson changed his mind about standing down from his post a decade ago.
Enthralling stuff. Manchester City and their cool-cucumber yet icy manager Mancini will go into this game with expectancy. Why shouldn’t they win? Why shouldn’t they triumph? There are no excuses and failure will not be accepted because Manchester City are now one sixth (if you count Liverpool and the Tottenham) of the big boys.
They are now up there with the likes of Chelsea, challenging for titles and will soon be lofting larger pots than the FA Cup above their heads if they carry on in this vain. All this intensifies the animosity between the now two giants of Manchester. Imagine it – you’re a schoolyard bully that picks on the milky-white pale kid who sits at the front of every class. Over the summer, they grow six inches and learn how to bite back; they aren’t the laughing stock, they are certainly not there just to make up the numbers of the school year.
Look at Micah Richards’ words in the press: "United now know, much as they won't say it, that we are a genuine threat to them. To get that banner down is quality - we have got the last laugh.
"We are not going out and saying we will win this game or that game, but they call us the noisy neighbours. I think they're a bit frightened."
The United boards were awash with die-harder’s quite rightly stating that they are Manchester United and they do not fear anyone. But perhaps even the strongest red is wary of their blue rivals – their successes, undoubtedly due to money, have been rapid and it is only a matter of time before they reach the next step up, if they aren’t already there yet. Isn't it human nature to be wary when a new foe looms in the background and can potentially thwart your dominance? Did Liverpool, when United won the first Premier League, believe their record of titles would be broken by them? Of course not, someone would step in; it wouldn’t get that bad, surely.
But what must be believed is City will go into this fixture with confidence from their last-ditch win in Europe and the assurance of being top of the table. What must be believed is City are probably the second favourites to the title, ahead of Chelsea. What must be believed is a win against their rivals will not be celebrated enthusiastically because they have gotten a rare one-off result, but because it will be a small yet important step to their quest of becoming the most successful team in the world. City aren't going to Old Trafford just to try and get one over on their rivals - they are also there to contribute to a title push.
So let’s all wait in anticipation for a game which could well symbolise a massive change in Manchester. One thing is for sure – when you look into the heart of football, there is nothing you can truly rule out.
Article by Jack Heaney