Premier League: Why this is the biggest Manchester derby to date
The Manchester derby arm’s race can be traced back all the way to Sergio Aguero’s famous last-gasp goal four years ago. You know the one – the goal that changed the landscape of English football forever. The goal that signalled the most dramatic shift in Premier League power in a generation. The goal that almost gave Martin Tyler an aneurysm.
With one swish of his left foot, the Argentine established Manchester City as a true member of the English footballing elite. By scoring the goal to secure the club’s first league title in 44 years Aguero prompted Manchester United into a transfer market response, with the Old Trafford club splurging £24 million on that season’s top goalscorer Robin Van Persie. That goal arguably had more of an impact on United than it did on City.
The two Manchester clubs have made a habit of attempting to out-do each other at every turn over the past few years, but never before have they been so reactive to the other club as they were this summer. When City appointed Pep Guardiola as their new manager; United essentially had no choice but to themselves hire Jose Mourinho. It was their only possible response.
Marcus Rashford is the name on everyone’s lips again ahead of Sunday’s Manchester derby.
This Saturday’s Manchester derby, the first of the season, is the greatest manifestation of that arm’s race so far. There have been some fairly significant derbies over the history of both clubs, with the April 2012 clash decided by a Vincent Kompany header probably the most notable of recent times, but none were as significant as this weekend’s will be.
Of course, the Premier League title race won’t be decided on Saturday, with 34 games still to be played before any silverware is handed out, but it won’t just set the tone of the season ahead. It will set the tone of Guardiola and Mourinho’s personal duel for the next generation.
On Saturday, one Manchester club will become the chaser with the other the chased. That will have a profound influence on the direction of both City and United, transcending the immediate consequence of three points. There is much more than that on the line at Old Trafford this weekend.
This contest will come to be defined by the two men on the touchline. The resumption of Guardiola and Mourinho’s personal rivalry has been long-awaited and a simmering duel, last fought in LaLiga, could reach boiling point once again in Manchester. Only one eye will be watching the actual game on Saturday, the other will be trained on the dugouts. Guardiola and Mourinho are under the spotlight.
But while those two men embody the changes that have taken place over the summer at their respective clubs, the true significance of Saturday’s derby goes deeper than any individual. City and United find themselves at crucial existential junctures in their recent history, which brings a new dynamic to the rivalry.
For the first time in a number of years, one isn’t responding to the other. Both City and United are looking to improve on what was a disappointing season last term, making big managerial appointments and big signings in the transfer market in a no-expense-spared attempt to do that. That’s just another reason why this weekend’s Manchester derby means so much.
Chelsea might have similarly claimed three wins from their opening three Premier League games of the season to sit atop the table alongside City and United, but 2016/17 already feels like a race between the two Manchester clubs. They have claimed the predominant narrative for themselves and it seems likely that they will occupy the division’s top two places as well, even at this early stage.
There might not be a moment to rival the drama of Kompany’s headed winner of 2012 or Michael Owen’s 95th-minute goal which clinched victory for United in 2009, but Saturday’s derby clash will undoubtedly make for a compelling spectacle. It will be a case study in what to expect from these two clubs in the years ahead, previewing what will surely become the prevailing rivalry at the top of the English game for seasons to come.
The Manchester derby always has plenty riding on it, but never before has it carried so much.Follow GuyFancy