Up until fairly recently, the Manchester derby had been a rather predictable affair. Such was United’s dominance—of English football, not just in Manchester—it was a lopsided matchup that sometimes lacked a competitive edge. City had some good days, but it was a fixture dominated by United.
Right from the Premier League’s inception back in 1992, United began winning trophies with extreme regularity. From the inaugural season in 1992 up to City’s takeover in 2008, United had won 10 titles out of a possible 16. It was about as dominant as you could realistically be.
Meanwhile, City would yo-yo between the top flight and the football league, even dropping down to the third tier of English football in 1998. City fans hated United’s smugness in success; United fans enjoyed mocking their inferior neighbours.
Although the rivalry was fierce by virtue of their close proximity, the two clubs have since become involved in a far more bitter feud. City’s takeover by Sheikh Mansour ushered in a period of improved results, and in the last two seasons, they have been United’s closest competitor. The two Manchester clubs now battle it out for titles as well as local bragging rights.
It took City until 2002 to record their first Premier League win over United—a glorious 3-1 victory at Maine Road in which Shaun Goater scored two, the second of which was his 100th goal for the club. His first saw him dispossess a dithering Gary Neville—a moment now firmly entrenched in City folklore. The outpouring of emotion inside City’s beautiful old stadium that day will never be forgotten.
Four more league wins came City’s way before the takeover, including their first at Old Trafford—a 2-1 win under Sven Goran Eriksson, which completed their first league double over their rivals since 1969-70.
Since Mansour completely revolutionised the club, they now compete with United for trophies as well as for derby wins. They have won three of the last four, including the 6-1 mauling at Old Trafford in October 2011, a result which truly announced City’s arrival as a force in English football.
City’s improved performance means the rivalry has greatly intensified. Both sides now need to win to keep the other at bay in the title race, with the top two spots in the league occupied by the Manchester clubs for that last two seasons: City won their first league title in 44 years in 2012, before United regained the crown last season. It’s been a fascinating few years in Manchester.
A week on Sunday, the latest chapter in the history of this great fixture will be written when United visit the Etihad. Although it’s too early in the season to be crucial in terms of final league position, it still carries huge significance. Manchester stands still on Derby Day and the whole world watches. It has become one of the most absorbing sporting contests on the planet, and the winner will strike the first big psychological blow of the title race.