Over the last week and a half we witnessed a star-laden Manchester side snatch a dramatic last-gasp victory in the Champions League, and then follow it up by inflicting a crushing defeat at the home of their bitter cross-city neighbours.
If one were to illustrate this scenario just four years ago, it would have been almost unthinkable to ascribe said sequence of events to Manchester City.
However, 48 months and nearly £500m worth of player acquisition later, the previously unimaginable has occurred, with City now leading their long-time tormentors by five points and favoured by the bookmakers to win the Premier League.
Sir Alex Ferguson has of course overseen challenges to United’s domestic dominance in the Premier League era. Both Arsenal and Chelsea have been seen off, but it remains to be seen whether the United dynasty will be able to withstand the threat posed by City.
City manager Roberto Mancini has experience of masterminding a major European city power shift before. Prior to his arrival in the black and blue half of the San Siro, Internazionale had failed to win Serie A in 15 years, with Milan claiming six Scudetti in that same period.
While the consequences of Calciopoli undeniably diminished the potency of rivals Juventus and Milan, Mancini successfully steered Inter to three straight Serie A titles, replicating the feat achieved by Fabio Capello’s early ’90s Milan side.
Mancini himself has not hidden his admiration of his United counterpart – he described Ferguson as a “teacher” prior to Sunday’s derby match – and it appears that the Italian may even be modelling his approach on that of the Scotsman.
No longer the epitome of functionality and caution, Roberto Mancini’s side sparkle and shine, with their vibrant mix of direct and intricate football bearing more than a passing resemblance to the style synonymous with United under Ferguson.
In David Silva City possess the Premier League’s outstanding player, an individual blessed with a deftness of touch, vision and movement that is without compare on these shores. Old Trafford has played host to several of the Premier League’s definitively exceptional players before – five of the last ten PFA Players of the Year have been United players – but now the mantle of the league’s finest can be found at the Etihad Stadium.
Like their Old Trafford rivals, City have also shown the capacity to dig deep in the face of adversity. A draw at home to Villarreal last week would almost certainly have curtailed City’s hopes of advancing to the next stage of the Champions League, but their persistence, inventiveness and ability to pierce a resolute Villarreal defence bore all the familiar trademarks of Manchester United in Europe’s elite competition.
Mancini’s handling of Carlos Tevez, as well as other dissenting players such as Emmanuel Adebayor and Craig Bellamy, has shown that the Italian possesses a ruthless streak and an unwillingness to work with those who refuse to read from the same page as him. But the way in which he deals with Mario Balotelli also suggests he is capable of nurturing and extracting the best from an enigmatic maverick too.
Given the enduring nature of Ferguson’s success, it would be foolish to prematurely declare a definitive shift of power in English football, especially before the halfway stage of the Premier League season.
However, City’s ominously strong start suggests that they are finally capable of emerging from United’s shadow. And even more worryingly for United, it seems as though City are taking inspiration from the very template that brought such unprecedented glory to Old Trafford.
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