Once upon a time, Manchester derbies meant six guaranteed points and bragging rights for Manchester United as they looked to muzzle challenges from rival teams in their quest to become kings of the English Premier League.
The derby would be treated as a cup final by the blue half, while it was just another fixture on the league table for the red half. Times have changed now changed and how. The blue half of Manchester is no longer a fringe player, a party spoiler, it is now firmly in the mainstream of English football. Fuelled by unlimited resources from Abu Dhabi, the Manchester City behemoth has tilted the power dynamics in Manchester and the Premier League.
Ever since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan completed the City takeover, Manchester derbies have never been the same. In this piece, we recollect some unforgettable moments in recent times from this great rivalry.
Wayne Rooney's second coming
Wayne Rooney will probably be credited for scoring the greatest ever goal in a Manchester derby. His winner at Old Trafford in 2011, is probably the defining moment of his second coming for United fans. It was a tumultuous time in Rooney's club career. After handing in a transfer request citing “lack of ambition” by the club, the striker did a u-turn after he was convinced by the management. Of course, his wage packet was puffed up to put an end to this long drawn out public spectacle.
However, United fans weren't convinced and repeatedly criticised and questioned his loyalty to the club. They had forgotten but not forgiven. It was clear, Rooney had to earn his place back in the hearts and minds of the Old Trafford faithful. He had to do something special for fans to chant “Rooney Rooney Rooney” once again, a sound that reverberates inside the theatre of dreams since he was signed as a teenager from Everton.
He had to do something. And he did.
As the score was tied at 1-1, Rooney attempted an audacious bicycle kick as Nani's deflected cross fell to him from 10 yards out. He adjusted his body, leapt and unleashed an overhead kick with the sweetest possible connection straight into Hart's goal, who was transfixed to his spot.
Rooney's goal celebration was Catona-esque. He just ran to the touchline with arms stretched out, soaking in all the adulation. He had finally won over every member inside the stadium. He has since gone on to break several club records and even earned the captain's armband.
Power shift in Manchester
After laying solid foundations under Mark Hughes, it was time for Manchester City to scale up to a new level. Italian Roberto Mancini was recruited from Inter Milan to help the blue half of Manchester attain steely resolve at the back, discipline in the middle and efficiency in front of goal.
The meticulous Mancini lured a moody young man – Mario Balotelli from Milan to Manchester. Though, Mancini's men weren’t just about Mario. The Citizens' squad was oozing with class. They had, as they do now, two good players for every position.
The Manchester derby in 2011 at Old Trafford is part of British football's folklore. City handed their rivals a 6-1 thrashing in their own backyard inflicting United's worst home defeat since February 1955. However, that match has even since been remembered more for Mario Balotelli's antics than the eventual scoreline.
As he opened the deadlock scoring the first goal, Balotelli lift his shirt to reveal a t-shirt bearing the words 'Why Always Me?'. Ever since the Italian moved to England, he had been under constant scrutiny from the press. He disliked being photographed and written about for anything not related to football. That message on his shirt was his response (as per him) to the media for unending bad press.
Riding on the back of strong performance from the likes of Toure, Aguero, Silva and Nasri, City were never too far from striking distance of the league title. An uncharacteristic meltdown from United gave Mancini's team the perfect opportunity to create history by winning the league title after multiple decades.
A win in the Manchester derby at the Etihad stadium would have put City in pole position to win the title, albeit on goal difference. Right from the first minute, they were faster, stronger and more disciplined than the Red Devils. Despite not conceding a goal, Ferguson's men were being outplayed. The goal eventually did come. Captain Vincent Kompany rose highest to power City ahead with a bullet header.
Maradona (Aguero's father-in-law) and Oasis front-man Noel Gallagher watched from the stands as City held on for a famous league double over their bitter rivals. They then went on to win the league on goal difference on the last day and last minute of the season. City were crowned champions for the 2011-12 season. The balance of power had shifted. The blue moon had indeed risen.
Liverpool legend scores in “Fergie time”
As Cristiano Ronaldo completed his “dream move” to Real Madrid, Sir Alex Ferguson bolstered his squad with relatively low key signing. He signed Michael Owen, Gabriel Obertan and Antonio Valencia. The gaffer was severely criticised for his latest acquisitions. The injury-plagued Owen was way past his sell by date, Obertan was a young Frenchman who had never played in England and Antonio Valencia was a one-trick pony who stood out thanks to his average teammates at Wigan. Fans were disappointed because there was no “like-for-like” replacement of Ronaldo from the world record fee earned from the sale of the Portuguese.
The 153rd Manchester derby was played out at Old Trafford in 2009. Wayne Rooney drew first blood for United as he scored in just the 2nd minute of the match. Ben Foster, the erring goalkeeper, committed yet another mistake that enabled Gareth Barry to equalize. The two teams were locked 1-1-1 as they went in to half time. But City were clearly the better side and slowly growing in confidence in front of a capacity crowd at Old Trafford.
After the break, Darren Fletcher restored United's advantage. Craig Bellamy replied for City in just three minutes with a long distance effort. As the match reached the 80-minute mark, Fletcher turned out to be an unlikely inspiration for the home team as he scored his second goal. As the three points and bragging rights looked sealed, Rio Ferdinand's catastrophic error saw Bellamy once again produce a stunning goal from a solo effort. It was 3-3.
There was a clamour from the City fans for the ref to blow the whistle. He allowed one final attack. The clock showed 90 (+4) minutes. After a wave of United attack, the ball fell to Ryan Giggs, who calmly slid in a pass to Michael Owen. The striker took a touch and as a tackle came flying in, he managed to side-foot the ball just in the nick of time into City's net. Old Trafford erupted. Even Sir Alex was jumping with his assistants on the touchline. Michael Owen, the man United fans loved to hate during his Liverpool days, had won them the Manchester derby in “Fergie time”. Who would have thought!
Robin resurrects the red empire
Manchester United over the years have garnered a reputation for scoring late goals and inflicting gut-wrenching defeats over opponents. The spirit of not giving in is now a fabric of United's footballing philosophy. However, Fergie's men got a taste of their own medicine as Sergio Aguero won City the league title with almost the last kick of the 2011-12 Premier League season. United had done their bit by beating Sunderland and the players waited to hear City's result, which until then was favourable to United. Notable was the reaction of players as the news trickled in of Aguero's heroics. They were distraught. United were dethroned.
As the new season commenced, Ferguson plotted revenge. Having lost the title on goal difference, the Scot signed Premier League's top scorer Robin van Persie from Arsenal. This was football management 101. The Dutchman powered United's challenge in a bid to wrestle back their title from City. United travelled to the Etihad Stadium for the Manchester derby with a three-point lead at the top.
Wayne Rooney scored two first-half goals put the leaders in command against the reigning champions. But Yaya Toure pulled one back followed by a stunning volley from Pablo Zabaleta to level the game in the closing moments. City pushed ahead for an equalizer backed by a frantic home crowd. But United held firm and got an opportunity to score from a free-kick when Carlos Tevez brought down Rafael just outside the box.
Robin van Persie, the £24m summer signing stood over the ball. This was certainly going to be the last goalscoring opportunity of the match as injury time had almost been played out. Van Persie curled a left-footer around the three-man wall. The ball deflected off Samir Nasri's half-hearted attempt to block and went past a stretching Joe Hart. United beat City 3-2. They went on to convincingly win the league and win their 20th league title. More importantly, they had reclaimed the right to be called the best team in the land from City. Manchester was red again. Sir Alex Ferguson had got his revenge and walked into the sun, as a champion.