Manchester United’s recent record in derby games is abject. Since that prophetic 6-1 defeat at home in 2011, they have won only one of the last seven league derbies at Old Trafford, drawing one and losing five.
It is, by a margin, United’s worst record at home against any club. As they close in on being champions of England for a fifth time in their 138-year history, City fans still reference the 6-1 in song, pointing out gleefully that it could have been 10.
Despite being hammered 3-0 by Liverpool on Wednesday, City fans are well up for the derby. Win and they win the league — with the added bonus of it coming against the team they despise. It could be the greatest moment in City’s history — or it could fall flat on its face if United manage to overturn the form book.
Reds feel slightly differently about City, with half considering Liverpool to be their biggest rivals and opinion split on who they want to go through in the Champions League. Not that it’s a choice many like to make, with one fan stating: “It’s like asking which testicle you’d like to be kicked in.”
The Manchester derby, so often a let down, gives United a change to lift the mood after last month’s awful Champions League elimination by Sevilla. Once again, United are not playing Champions League football in April, something they’ve managed only once in the last seven years. The clubs United profess to be bigger than manage it every single season.
In Manchester derbies since that 6-1, United have fared slightly better at the Etihad, winning two of the last seven and drawing one. It’s still poor, though United have won both the cup ties since City scored six in 2011.
Earlier that year, City knocked United out of the FA Cup on the way to their first trophy in 35 years, yet 2011 also saw United come from 2-0 down in a Community Shield game at Wembley to win 3-2. Sir Alex Ferguson gave his side the mother of all roastings at half time during that game, taking off established defenders Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand and replacing them with youngsters Phil Jones and Jonny Evans with the instruction to press high against City. It was a masterstroke as United, with Nani outstanding, scored three second half goals. The impact it had on the players was clear — there were no sacred cows in the team; anyone would be dropped if they weren’t performing. Far too many United players have failed to turn up in recent Manchester derbies.
City are much stronger now, but they couldn’t lay a punch on United for years.
Following the Blues’ shock 5-1 win in September 1989, a win which kept City fans going for a decade, United were undefeated in 16 matches until a 3-1 defeat in November 2002 in the last derby at Maine Road. When they weren’t busy visiting Grimsby or Gillingham in the lower divisions, City went through the entire 1990s without taking a point off United.
They came close a couple of times, racing into a 3-1 lead in an October 1990 derby, at which point City manager Howard Kendall took off midfielder Peter Reid with 10 minutes to play. His replacement lost the ball with one of his first touches, allowing Brian McClair to score. The cerebral Scot scored again to equalise and Gary Pallister, who’d had a terrible game in the 5-1, almost snatched a late winner. Kendall, somewhat unfairly given City’s high league position, was sacked soon after.
“Blue Moon,” chorused the United fans in subsequent matches, “you started singing too soon. You thought you’d beat us 3-1 … now Howard Kendall has gone.”
City raced into a two-goal half time lead thanks to striker Niall Quinn in another Maine Road derby three years later. It came a few days after Galatasaray knocked United out of the Champions League — having led 2-0 in the first leg — and City fans threw bars of Turkish Delight towards the United fans stood in the Kippax Street terrace and sat in the North Stand.
“Two-nil up and you f—– it up, Galatasaray,” sang City fans. United were not finished, though and surged back after the break with goals from Eric Cantona and a last minute winner from Roy Keane. Once again, they’d started singing too soon.
United fans need something from Saturday, the players must perform to reward the faith of the fans who’ll pack the away end as always. In Spain, fans give up on their team once they know the league is over. Barcelona took a pathetic six fans to Madrid for a 2008 league game when they knew their side would be giving Madrid a guard of honour to herald their status as champions.
I don’t know a single United fan who has given up their ticket for Saturday. The mantra is that you support your team through thick and thin and United even protested that City were trying to trim their ticket allocation.
City fans will be loving it as they bathe in the reflected glory of the team they’ve chosen to support. They’ll love it some more if they win, yet while City have been successful this season, there’s very little Manchester in the modern day Manchester City. None of their regular players come from England’s north west and youth players don’t get a chance to thrive at City. It’s all imported at a premium.
United have local players in the side. Not to the level of the Class of ’92, granted, but there is Marcus Rashford, a Mancunian United fan who the scored only goal of the game in the last league derby which United won in March 2016. Jesse Lingard and Scott McTominay are local boys too, both of them childhood United fans. Youth still gets a chance at United.
Fans have seen Liverpool beat City twice this season by going on the attack from the start, while Jose Mourinho has played a more cautious game, especially away, to their main rivals. The last derby at the Etihad, a 0-0 draw a year ago, was utterly forgettable.
Given what Liverpool — a side United beat last month — did to City this week, scoring three and limiting Pep Guardiola’s men to not a single shot on target, a United side refreshed after a week with no match and few injuries should make a game of it.
While most of the recent derbies have provided little to put a smile on United fans’ faces, a result on Saturday really would spoil City’s party, (for a week at least) and show that England’s most successful domestic team can put up a fight.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.