Old habits die hard.
Inside five minutes of my arrival at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, I’d heard a City fan use the age-old “bragging rights” phrase. And I guess it’s understandable. After all, for the last quarter of a century, that’s about all the Blue half of Manchester have been battling for when the two teams have met. For them, derby day has been everything.
But times have changed and now the fixture is as much about picking up a crucial three points to aid a title charge as it is about getting one over your neighbours. Of course, if you can do both – pick up a win and break your neighbours' hearts – you’re in dreamland.
That’s exactly what United managed to do on Sunday in the first derby since City were crowned champions of England in May. That fact certainly wasn’t lost on the home fans (nor City’s stadium announcer), who spent much of the warm-up and pre-match festivities reminding the visiting supporters of their status as top dogs.
Sergio Aguero’s title-winning goal against QPR seemed like it was playing on a loop on the stadium’s big screen, while “Stand up for the champions” and “Campeones... ole, ole, ole” were popular refrains on the terraces.
Meanwhile, one banner, hung a mere 20 yards from the United end, continued the theme while simultaneously harking back to last season’s Old Trafford derby. It read: “CHAMP1-6ONS”.
Last season’s results counted for nothing when the match kicked off. City began brightest and looked menacing going forward, but United stood firm and soaked up the early pressure.
And if we’re talking about old habits, one Wayne Rooney can’t shake is finding the net against City. United’s opener, on 15 minutes, was Rooney’s ninth against the Blues. Fifteen minutes later, he’d doubled the Reds’ advantage and had his 10th – more than