I was out with a few friends late last week and the conversation inevitably turned to the upcoming Manchester derby.
At one point, a non-Mancunian, non-football-liking friend asked me what it was about matches between City and United that made us all so emotional and when I actually thought about it, I had to concede that I didn’t really know.
But what I do know for sure is that the reason winning a derby feels so good is because losing one feels so bad. City fans felt deliriously glad-all-over on Saturday not just because we’d seen our team play well and win, but because them doing so had made United fans feel thoroughly miserable. We’ve all met with triumph and disaster in derbies gone by and those two imposters could not be more different.
And that’s why I can’t accept the view I’ve seen expressed by several United supporters following City’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford, which goes a little bit like: “After the Louis Van Gaal era, I was just glad to watch an entertaining game of football and, in a way, it feels like we both won.”.
Whatever helps you sleep at night, I guess, but I’m afraid you and I both know that’s not how it works. The fabled “bragging rights” are ours and ours alone, until we meet again. There are no prizes for a good try.
You lost 2-1 https://t.co/2sGHYTK3pj
— Joycie (@MatthewJoycee) September 11, 2016
Of course, this is far from the first time in recent years City fans have floated into school or work the Monday after a derby. In 2002, Shaun Goater’s goals in the last ever derby at Maine Road painted Manchester blue for the first time in 13 years while Sven-Göran Eriksson’s City won their first derby at Old Trafford for 34 years when they defeated United against all odds on the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster.
If you thought that one was your favourite derby, you’d probably have changed your mind when Roberto Mancini’s Blues hit United for six on their own ground three years later. And you might have changed your mind again when Vincent Kompany’s emphatic header effectively sealed the title for City later that same season.
Those are just a few examples of the many times little City have come out on top in a contest which has always been much closer than the gulf in stature between the two clubs would suggest, but there was something about the most recent victory which made it feel a little bit different.
Saturday’s derby was reportedly broadcast to 190 countries and as many as a billion people around the world. It’s no surprise, then, that it had been somewhat disingenuously billed as the biggest and most important one of them all (the 2011 FA Cup semi-final and the 2012 title decider were surely bigger, no?) and the sub-plot of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho – two old adversaries going head-to-head with each other for the first time in a new city – only served to stoke the fire some more.
Going into the game, United fans had every reason to be cheerful. After investing heavily in a wealth of new on-field talent and a proven winner in the dugout during the summer, the Reds, like the Blues, had won their opening three league fixtures of the campaign and it felt as though they were approaching this early season blockbuster against a Sergio Agüero-less City with the wind in their sails. Three long years of tortuous mediocrity are finally over and United, they tell us, are back!
And it’s for that reason that the opening 40 minutes of total City domination was as surprising as it was thrilling. Guardiola’s men played Mourinho’s off the park with a level of authority and intensity which has so far been un-matched by anyone else in the Premier League this season and were thoroughly deserving of their 2-0 lead. If this was the Battle of the Bosses then for 40 beautiful minutes, Jose was what Duncan Castles would call “tactically and mentally bested”.
But as Guardiola was keen to stress both before and after the match, a manager is only as good as his players and his players just so happened to be very good indeed.
Kevin De Bruyne opened the scoring with a wonderfully well taken goal and assisted City’s second when his shot came back off the post after he’d bamboozled three United defenders in the box; David Silva – El Capitan – was majestic and magisterial in midfield; Fernandinho was Pep’s perfect pivote while Aleksandar Kolarov and Nicolas Otamendi put their bodies on the line in a way which would have made war heroes of derbies past like Mike Doyle proud.
— Man City Brazil (@ManCityBrazil) September 11, 2016
If you didn’t know better, you’d never have thought the world’s most expensive footballer was wearing a red shirt on Saturday. For 40 minutes, it was men against boys in every department and it brought to mind the performance exhibited by Guardiola’s Bayern Munich at the Etihad Stadium in 2013 – a match which is cited throughout the book Pep Confidential as the technical highlight of the Catalan’s first season in Germany.
City’s aim from this day forth will be to replicate that level of dominance again and for longer than just 40 minutes, but make no mistake about it, even those 40 minutes would not have been possible were it not for Claudio Bravo.
Despite Chris Sutton’s best attempts to prove that not all dinosaurs are extinct on Sunday night’s Match of the Day 2, Guardiola’s idea to deploy a ball-playing goalkeeper as an extra outfield player isn’t “a load of old rubbish” (remind me Chris, how many Champions Leagues have you won?) but an innovation which could very well revolutionise the English game and for those 40 minutes, Bravo put on a masterclass in the form.
It’s a shame then, that the Chilean’s City debut is largely being remembered for his fumble that gifted United their goal and a tackle which some claim should have resulted in a penalty and a red card. Yes he provided some hairy moments, but it was his first game for a team he’d barely trained with, in a country whose language he doesn’t yet have an expert grasp of.
In fact, there’s nothing anyone can say that will sum up Bravo’s afternoon as perfectly as Football365.com’s Sarah Winterburn did, so listen and learn…
— Typical City (@TypicalCity) September 11, 2016
If there’s one thing you can rely upon even more than the British tabloids ignorantly scapegoating a foreign player, it’s Jose Mourinho deflecting attention away from himself. The Portuguese hasn’t got where he is today by taking responsibility for his own shortcomings and it was no surprise to see him chastising referee Mark Clattenburg after the match for failing to award what he thought were two clear penalties to United.
Maybe I’m biased, but from where I’m standing, the most you can say about the two incidents in question is that penalties could have been given. That doesn’t necessarily mean they were penalties, though, and if your only argument is “you’ve seen ‘em given” then I’m sorry, but it’s an argument built on sand.
Had Mourinho also mentioned the penalty City could have had, or the fact Nicolas Otamendi ended up with a bandaged head and Aleksandar Kolarov with one tooth fewer, then his protestations may have had more credibility but to the astonishment of nobody, he didn’t.
When all is said and done though, City won, United lost and for six months at least, this city is ours. I still don’t really know why the Manchester derby means so much, only that it does.
Written by Dan Burke
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