Old Trafford is due to play host to one of the biggest games in English soccer tonight as Manchester United take on local rivals Manchester City in a Premier League derby. It will be the 166th Manchester derby that has taken place competitively, with the first back on the 12th November, 1881. Since then, United have won 69 meetings to City’s 47 and the spoils have been shared on 50 occasions, but past statistics mean nothing as both teams go into the match desperate to come away with three points but for completely different reasons.
The red side of Manchester have had a torrid time since the departure of talismanic manager Sir Alex Ferguson at the end of last season, finding themselves placed 7th in the league table and an unconquerable 18 points behind leaders Chelsea with eight games to go. They also had premature exits from both the FA Cup and the Capital One Cup, being knocked out by Swansea and Sunderland respectively. Despite a number of abysmal performances since the arrival of new boss David Moyes, United are still in with a shout of winning the Champions League for the first time since 2008 after overturning a 0-2 first leg defeat against Olympiakos to win 3-2 on aggregate and proceeding to the quarter-finals. A United victory against City in the Manchester derby this evening will help boost their bid for a place in the top four, an achievement that has started to look more and more unlikely as the weeks draw by.
Manchester City on the other hand, are enjoying a hugely successful start to the reign of new head coach Manuel Pellegrini. Already with the Capital One Cup under their belt (beating Sunderland 3-1 in the Final) they are also one of the favourites to take the Premier League crown for the second time in three years. Their triumphs come in defiance of disappointing departures from the Champions League and more embarrassingly, The FA Cup, in which they were beaten 1-2 at home against Championship side Wigan Athletic. Off 1st place by six points in the league, City’s fate still rests in their own hands due to their superior goal difference and the fact that they’ve played three games less than Chelsea. Winning all of these three games would see them three points clear at the summit of the table with only 21 points left to play for. Victory in the Manchester derby this evening would be a great start to making those games in hand count, heaping pressure on Chelsea’s final few matches.
Whilst there are many local Premier League encounters that provide great entertainment year in year out (Spurs-Arsenal, Liverpool-Everton, Newcastle-Sunderland to name but a few) few offer the level of passion and ability that is displayed in the Manchester derby.
Famous spectacles from previous matches are plentiful and a shock in some form or another is always on the cards. Examples of this include Wayne Rooney’s incredible 18-yard bicycle kick that soared into the top corner to earn the Reds a 2-1 win in 2011, and City’s 1-6 trouncing of United on their own patch later that year. The last five head-to-heads have resulted in four City wins to United’s one, but the match-up still remains as unpredictable as ever.
For United, the game will be won or lost with Wayne Rooney and whether he holds the key to unlock a City back-four with the second best defensive record in the league. The Reds themselves have looked frail at the back all season, and with City’s strong firepower upfront they look certain to concede at least one inside the 90 minutes.
The Sky Blues’ recent influx of wealth has spiced up the rivalry with their neighbours over the past few seasons, making tonight’s Manchester derby a game between Manchester United and Manchester City that no soccer fan wants to miss.
Commentary by Zachary John