Charting the Shifting Power Balance of the Manchester Derby Rivalry

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Charting the Shifting Power Balance of the Manchester Derby Rivalry
Clive Mason/Getty Images
Rio Ferdinand's bloodied brow tells a tale.

One of the neat curiosities about Premier League football telecasts is the way they regard recent form as having the same import (perhaps greater import) than overall record.

It is understandable at one level. The season is very long. Results accrued in September and October very often tell you nothing about the side you are watching in April and May.

This is why, in charting the Manchester City/Manchester United derby rivalry, I am cribbing from the Premier League's own format. The last six results are all that are worth discussing. Beyond that, too many players have moved on and too much has changed to have the previous outcomes be relevant.

The six matches surveyed include four Premier League clashes and two FA Cup battles. By selecting these six matches, I deftly avoid having to talk about an exhibition (the August 2011 Community Shield) and a Wayne Rooney bicycle kick I have been trying to forget for two-and-a-half years.

We pick up the analysis, then, with City 1-0 United in the 2011 FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium. The significance of this win for City was almost indescribable.

City took on United knowing that the winner of the semifinal would take on either a heavy underdog in Stoke City or an unfathomable underdog in Bolton Wanderers, the combatants in the other semifinal.

Whoever won the Stoke-Bolton match was probably going to win silver. This, therefore, was exactly the sort of match City normally lost to United. Except this time, they didn't.

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
Just another day at the office at the 2011 FA Cup semifinal.

Fittingly, it was Yaya Toure who scored the only goal of the match, which stood up more easily after Paul Scholes was sent off. You will recall that Toure's goal won the FA Cup for City against Stoke City four weeks later.

Also of note from the post-game reaction to this City/United FA Cup tussle was City manager Roberto Mancini's observation that he believed an FA Cup win could inspire City to win the league the following year:  "I believe in what I said because, for us, it's important to start to win the first trophies."

If City's triumph over United in the 2011 FA Cup semifinal nudged the door ajar for future City success, United 1-6 City kicked it off the hinges in October 2011.

Darren Fletcher's 81st minute goal was the only thing that kept the Sky Blues from a clean sheet, but by then City had already scored three times and had the three points all but in the book. Then the Citizens popped three more in to press some salt into the fresh gash.

When a City performance can inspire words from Sir Alex Ferguson like: "It was our worst ever day. It's the worst result in my history, ever. Even as a player I don't think I ever lost 6-1," that is one special day.

United 1-6 City marked the first time in forever outside of the blue side of Manchester that anyone seriously considered the possibility that City could topple United and seize the Premier League crown after 44 years of misery.

The sides met again in the third round of the FA Cup at the Etihad in January 2012, with City falling 2-3. Contrary to popular belief, there really are no moral victories in sport. You either win or you lose.

However, it is still damn entertaining to watch an outnumbered, apparently defeated side try to claw back a result the way the Citizens did in this match.

United had their way with City in the first half, helped in no small part by City centre-back Vincent Kompany's straight red card in the 12th minute, two minutes after Rooney had opened the scoring for United.

After Danny Welbeck's tally in the 30th minute and Rooney's conversion of his own penalty miss in the 40th minute, 10-man City seemed past dead.

A funny thing happened on the way to a revenge rout for United, though: "City had United holding on as they pressed at every opportunity," and the final whistle came none too soon for the Red Devils.

Then came an even more famous day than United 1-6 City, at least where City's 2011-12 Premier League title run is concerned.

ESPN FC's match report of City 1-0 United in April 2012 tells the tale as well as I ever could:

Vincent Kompany's header on the stroke of half-time loosened United's stranglehold in a game City richly deserved to win.

Clive Mason/Getty Images
Not every exchange between Sir Alex and Mancini was so cordial.

The pressure looked to tell on Sir Alex Ferguson, who approached Roberto Mancini in a finger-jabbing fury after Nigel de Jong had brought down Danny Welbeck in the second half.

The Italian responded in kind and at one point only fourth official Mike Jones stood between the pair, who after repeated clashes, were eventually pulled apart by their backroom staff.

The same report noted that, with only two matches left on City's schedule, the Citizens had control of their own destiny. "If City win their final two games - at Newcastle on Sunday and at home to QPR on the last day - they will be crowned champions for the first time since 1968."

Easy as pie.

As joyous as City's derby double against United was in 2011-12, their split with United in 2012-13 was unsatisfying.

City 2-3 United last December announced former Arsenal man Robin van Persie—whom City notoriously failed to sign—as the new difference-maker in the rivalry. The Dutch forward's free kick in the second half of extra time off Joe Hart's back post and in secured all three points for the Red Devils.

Perhaps more importantly, the United victory set City six points back in the table. It was a deficit they never really seemed to consider closing up.

By the time City claimed a small measure of revenge with United 1-2 City in April, the Premier League title was already boxed and awaiting shipment back to Sir Alex and United. According to ESPN's match report:

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In the fractious latter stages, Gareth Barry was booked for starting a skirmish, Pablo Zabaleta's yellow-card challenge forced Ashley Young off and both Rafael and Antonio Valencia were cautioned for felling Barry.

It all felt slightly hollow though as City's fans sang about being the "pride of Manchester'' whilst knowing their title is almost gone.

You don't say.

Still, that makes four wins from the last six for City over United in matches that both teams played to win. A form of W,W,L,W,L,W will do for just about any side in a rivalry like this.

Sunday's renewal of acquaintances should be the standard issue derby between City and United.

A bloodbath, plain and straight.

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