Its been a while, but there is genuine excitement for this weekend’s Manchester Derby. Not only have both clubs gone out and made the big managerial signings in Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, but they have also brought in some world class players. In the case of Manchester United, it’s been a number of years since that could be said; just last season their big money signings were Anthony Martial, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin, and Memphis Depay, none of which will have struck the fear of God into any opposition. Of the new signings, it was Martial who probably had the biggest impact. An impressive feat for a player who arrived in Manchester for big money after one good season with Monaco.
This season has seen a change in attitude from the club, however. Louis Van Gaal had taken Manchester United as far as he could with his style of play and it was the worst kept secret in football that he was going to be replaced by Mourinho in the Summer of 2016. Installing the former translator at the helm showed intent but it wasn’t enough; the club had to strengthen the team too — not just with squad players, but with players who could become part of the first XI and make an impact, straightaway.
The early transfer window signings of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Erik Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were widely seen as enough to mount a United challenge of old, again; but the signing of prodigal son, Paul Pogba,was the significant signature that The Red Devils needed. It’s not just the player himself, who is a terrific footballer, but the message it sends to the sport’s elite like Bayern, or Barcelona; “United are back among the big players in Europe”. Real Madrid’s interest in Pogba might have only been a fleeting one, but never the less, Pogba going to a club with zero Champions League football shows he believes in where Mourinho and the club are heading.
On the other side of Manchester, the players at Man City were never the problem, but they did need a world class manager to get the best out of them. While Pellegrini and Mancini showed glimpses of what could be achieved, they never demanded, or maybe even inspired, a consistent performance from their players to win big in Europe. With arguably the best squad in the league for the last five seasons, two league titles and one Champions League semi-final is not a good enough showing.
With Pep Guardiola arriving in the Summer, it appears the final piece of the puzzle might have been found. Guardiola’s first order of business was to get rid of some of the dead weight at the club. Wilfried Bony and Samir Nasri have left on loan, while Yaya Toure has been frozen out of the team completely. Claudio Bravo arrived from Barcelona to replace the inconsistent Joe Hart, and John Stones signed for a hefty fee from Everton.
So it would seem that the stage is set for a decent game of football at the weekend then, right? Maybe. There has been some terrific games in the past between these two sides. Remember that terrific seven goal thriller in September ’09 that was decided by a last minute Michael Owen winner? Or how about when United clawed their way back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at Maine Road with a certain Mr. Cantona getting two after Niall Quinn had bagged a brace for City in 1993? And don’t forget about those hammerings, either, with the most notable being a City drubbing of United at Old Trafford; Mario Ballotelli scored twice in a 6-1 victory for the blue side of Manchester. Unfortunately there has been some dreadful games in the past too. In total, the Manchester Derby has seen 16 0-0 draws with the most recent occurring last season at the Etihad — if you didn’t see it, you’re lucky as it was potentially the worst 90 minutes of football since the sport’s inception.
So what is going to happen this weekend, then? Are we going to see another classic? Perhaps a one sided thrashing? How about the seventeenth 0-0 draw? The one thing that is certain is that it’s unpredictable, so it’s probably best not to follow our derby-related bets. But, you knew that by now, anyway.