Our favourite 10 top-flight Manchester derbies
As United and City ring up 150 top-tier tussles on Sunday, we revisit and rank the outstanding league derbies – from a decidedly Red perspective, of course…
”They are so fast, so quick,” said Pep Guardiola, having seen United’s devastating counter-attacking play all-but end his side’s title defence before the halfway point of the current campaign. With Liverpool continuing to set a break-neck pace at the head of the Premier League table, the Blues could contemplate nothing but victory over a United side generally expected to leave the Etihad empty handed. Instead, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side provided a sensational display of lightning raids, which might have ratcheted up a hefty advantage by half-time. Marcus Rashford’s cool penalty and Anthony Martial’s near-post effort were tangible reward for a dominant performance, while a spate of other missed chances were rendered inconsequential by a near-flawless defensive display. Nicolas Otamendi’s late consolation had no bearing on Solskjaer’s mood, with the Norwegian saying: “We will remember this one.”
9. Back from the brink (1936)
United had battled back from flirtations with bankruptcy and relegation to the Third Division before gaining promotion to the top flight in 1935/36. One of the Reds’ earliest tests came in the form of a first derby in five years against a City side renowned as one of the country’s most skilful. Teeming Manchester rain acted as a great leveller, however, and United were the quicker to adapt to the conditions, roaring into a two-goal lead through Tommy Bamford and Tommy Manley inside half an hour. Jackie Bray’s rocket and Jimmy Heale’s header either side of half-time levelled, only for William Bryant to race clear and net our winner with eight minutes left. As The Manchester Guardian’s Luke Sharp marvelled: ‘Manchester people waited five years for the thrills of this derby game and nobody can say that the waiting has been in vain.’
Matt Busby’s Reds ensured an upbeat start to 1961 with a New Year’s Eve obliteration of the Blues at Old Trafford. Amid the fluid landscape of the post-Munich rebuild, an unpredictable United side were capable of hitting dizzying heights – as City found to their cost. In the visiting ranks, Denis Law was experiencing his first Manchester derby, but it was his compatriot, Alex Dawson, who stole the show by hitting the fixture’s first hat-trick in almost 40 years. Dawson teed up Bobby Charlton for the early opener, then took over scoring duties after Colin Barlow equalised for City. The young Scot netted close-range headers in each half and then, after Charlton had ensured the win, powered in a ferocious low effort to round off the scoring with almost half an hour remaining.
7. Giggsy stuns Maine Road (1996)
Amid United’s legendary reeling in of Newcastle in the 1995/96 run-in, a derby classic for the ages, with both sides operating at opposite ends of the table. Though man-marked by Ian Brightwell, Eric Cantona still managed to notch a goal and two assists. Having stroked home from the penalty spot, the Frenchman released Andy Cole to scuff United into the lead mere seconds after debutant Mikhail Kavelashvili had equalised. Uwe Rosler crashed home another leveller 18 minutes from time, but once again the Reds responded briskly as Cantona fed Giggs who, encouraged by City skipper Keith Curle, rapped a shot high into Eike Immel’s near top corner. “There seemed to be a lapse of minutes and only Ryan knew he’d scored,” grinned Alex Ferguson, while City defender Kit Symons could only lament: “When we equalised for the second time, you could see the fear in United’s eyes.”
6. Babes are bouncing (1957)
Less than six months before Munich, the gap between United and City was pronounced, with the Busby Babes bidding for a third straight title. Just three games into the 1957/58 season, the Blues were emphatically swatted aside. ‘Not since the [10-0] Anderlecht massacre has a Manchester crowd been treated to such a feast of attacking play,’ wrote The Manchester Guardian’s match report. ‘An exhibition of football that tickled the palate and never palled from the first kick to the last.’ Duncan Edwards – adjudged afterwards to have had arguably the game of his fledgling career – fired in a left-footed opener, Johnny Berry headed in a corner and countless attacks ended in close calls. Ken Barnes halved the arrears on the hour, only for Dennis Viollet to surge through and finish before Tommy Taylor tapped in a late rebound to round off a sublime day’s work.
5. Party crashers (2018)
“It is a special day for United, which is a pity,” admitted Pep Guardiola, on an afternoon when the smart money was on his City side wrapping up the 2017/18 Premier League title with a month to spare, while United watched. That became a chilling likelihood for Jose Mourinho’s side when Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan struck inside half an hour, but the hosts would later rue their wasteful finishing thereafter. “The manager didn’t have to say much at half-time as we knew it was a poor performance,” Chris Smalling later revealed. “He said that we didn’t want to be the clowns standing there watching them get their title.” Sure enough, a quickfire double from Paul Pogba brought the scoreline level, before Smalling popped up to volley home an unbelievable winner 21 minutes from time to postpone the Blues’ party.
4. Two-nil down, three-two up (1993)
“I simply told our players that if we put on pressure and kept on playing the football that we’re capable of, it would all come right in the end,” smiled Alex Ferguson, having seen his side turn a nightmare week on its head. A shock Champions League exit to Galatasaray four days earlier had given City fans plenty to crow about, as had a first half in which two Niall Quinn headers looked set to give the Blues their first derby win in eight meetings. ‘Thereafter, City simply had the life throttled out of them,’ noted Guardian journalist Stephen Brierly, as Michel Vonk’s errant backpass gave Eric Cantona the chance to reduce the deficit. Substitute Ryan Giggs then immediately teed up Cantona’s leveller with a sublime cross, before Roy Keane completed the turnaround by powering home Denis Irwin’s deep cross.
3. Not nineteen forever (2012)
For the first time in the Premier League era, the Reds travelled to the Etihad as challengers to Roberto Mancini’s champions, having been dethroned so dramatically in 2011/12. United’s response had been to start the following term apace, building a three-point lead at the top of the table by the time the sides met. “We obviously had what happened last year at the back of our minds,” Ryan Giggs later confirmed. Wayne Rooney’s first-half pair put us 2-0 up, only for Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta to haul City level with four minutes remaining. The momentum was now firmly in City’s hands but, as Giggs stressed: “We don’t hang on for 2-2 draws. We go for it.” That mentality manifested itself spectacularly, as Robin van Persie lined up an injury-time free-kick, curled it into Joe Hart’s net and added priceless propulsion to the Reds’ 20th title charge.
If United required a restorative after their sobering experience in Barcelona last week, this was it,’ wrote The Guardian’s David Lacey, as United bounced back from a 4-0 hammering at the Nou Camp with a five-goal romp against Brian Horton’s Manchester City. With Niall Quinn and Paul Walsh in encouraging form, the Blues had fancied their chances of heaping further misery on a Reds side whose Champions League cause had been substantially hindered by the enforced absence of key non-British players. With Messrs Schmeichel and Cantona back in the fold, and further buoyed by the away support’s Catalan catcalls, United set about meting out vengeance galore. After an open, oscillating first 25 minutes, the Reds landed a crushing first blow when Andrei Kanchelskis picked out Cantona, whose right-footed control at high speed was matched in its brilliance only by the devastation of his unerring left-footed finish past Simon Tracey. Any trace of nerves banished from the Old Trafford air, the hosts set about revelling in the occasion – and none more than Kanchelskis. The Russian winger put the outcome beyond doubt with a four-minute brace bisected by the interval; firstly firing in via a deflection off Terry Phelan, then prodding in after Tracey had saved his initial effort. Victory assured, the home support’s collective attention turned to long-awaited payback. Five years had passed since the Reds’ infamous 5-1 drubbing at Maine Road so, when Mark Hughes stabbed in a fourth with 20 minutes remaining, redemption edged ever closer. When it arrived in the final minute, Cantona and Kanchelskis were inevitably involved, with the former leading a counterattack to release the latter, who again finished past Tracey at the second attempt. As Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler perfectly summarised: “Five-nil! The cherry… on the icing… on the cake.”
1. History's greatest Manchester derby (2009)
There can, of course, be no debate. There have been heftier victories, tighter performances and greater goals, but nothing even comes close to the sustained drama served up by the two Manchester factions at the start of the 2009/10 campaign. A year on from City’s Abu Dhabi United Group takeover, the Blues appeared to be in the ascendancy, with a summer spending spree headlined by the cross-city capture of Carlos Tevez at the end of his two years with United. Having been a fans’ favourite among Reds, the Argentinian was assured nothing but resentment when he and his new colleagues took to the field for an early-season showdown at Old Trafford. The striker had made his bed with our neighbours, and when Wayne Rooney opened the scoring inside two minutes, Old Trafford revelled in making him lie in it. Choral baiting rang around the stadium as the champions, once again, had seemingly put the challengers in their place. That tone, however, would soon change. Tevez, inevitably, was central as City drew level after 16 minutes, dispossessing Ben Foster and teeing up Gareth Barry to stroke home. Both sides, now acutely aware of each other’s capabilities, retained a cautious approach until the second half, when pandemonium broke loose in unforgettable fashion. Darren Fletcher headed United back in front shortly after the interval, only for Craig Bellamy to crack home a stunning equaliser, after which the hosts repeatedly forced Blues goalkeeper Shay Given into heroics. Chance after chance went begging, prompting Sir Alex Ferguson to turn to his summer signing; a man fluent in the language of goals. “As I sat on the bench watching the action pulsate from end to end in a sold-out Old Trafford, I thought, ‘this is exactly why I signed,’” recalled Michael Owen. “As Sir Alex gestured for me to get ready after 78 minutes with the score hanging in the balance at 2-2, I thought: ‘I’m scoring the winner here.’” Before the former England striker could stamp his authority on the game, however, time remained for yet more plot twists.
When Fletcher once again nodded home with just 10 minutes to go, and City seemingly spent, the drama appeared to be finally at an end. Instead, in the final minute of regular time, Bellamy ran clear and slipped in City’s third equaliser. With five added minutes – bolstered further by City’s celebrations and further substitutions – time still remained for something special, and during that period two old heads conspired to settle matters once and for all. You know the rest. “As soon as I saw Giggsy lift his head, every ounce of my body was screaming, ‘oh my god... goal,” recalled Owen. “During the one-and-a-half seconds it took for the ball to arrive, I shut everything out apart from total focus on the first touch.” In the two-touch act of controlling and finishing, Owen killed the ball, then killed the Blues, sparking some of the wildest celebrations witnessed inside Old Trafford. “I lived for moments like that,” said the match-winner. “I knew right then that it was a moment I’d always be remembered for.”
This article appears in United Review, the official matchday programme.
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