On Sunday the unstoppable force will meet the immovable object in a clash of the titans at Old Trafford. When the Premier League’s top two clash it is a massive game whoever they may be but when the game is also a Manchester derby it is bound to be a battle of epic proportions.
There is no doubt that both managers want to win this game with the winner claiming top spot but Sir Alex Ferguson still believes that the biggest game in football is Manchester United v Liverpool, claiming that he has always “considered it to be the game of the season in English football”.
And despite his vast experience as a manager and unquestionable success, it is difficult to see why he thinks this Sunday’s game is not the biggest match of the year.
Roberto Mancini’s sit top of the tree having only dropped two points so far as their free-flowing attacking football lives up to the high expectations put on the star-studded side. While in recent years the signings made by Mancini and those before him have resembled a kid in a sweet shop, this summer has seen some very shrewd buys with top transfer Sergio Aguero making a bigger impact than anybody could have imagined, looking like a world-class player and making Carlos Tevez throw a tantrum in order to get noticed.
At the same time the arrival of Samir Nasri from Arsenal has allowed David Silva more freedom behind Aguero to weave his magic, while Clichy and Savic have given the Italian even more strong defensive options at a club that doesn’t concede many goals and Owen Hargreaves will give them the vital knowledge of how to win big trophies.
These additions have meant that the side Fergie’s men will come be facing is stronger than anything that City have ever had at their disposal and as the Blue half of Manchester look to claim only their second victory in the league at the Theatre of Dreams since 1975 and go five points clear at the top of the Premier League.
If City cross into the red half of Manchester and come away with victory, not only will they prove that they are capable of beating the big teams but it will send a message that they are ready to take over the mantle as the country’s biggest club from their closest foe. And it is this matter that makes this the biggest game of the season.
When a young Alex Ferguson trotted into the offices of Old Trafford his mission was to end the dominance of Liverpool who won trophy and trophy in the 70’s and 80’s. This instantly reignited the ferocious relationship between the sides that has lasted the past quarter of a century and although it took time, 12 Premier League titles later his side have now become the figurehead of the league while Liverpool have fallen into the depths of anonymity, living on their history to maintain a space in the footballing limelight.
Any match between Manchester United and Liverpool is massive because they are the two most successful clubs in the history of the English game and that rivalry will always remain but it is no longer a championship deciding battle. The title threat from the Merseysiders is now non-existent and despite the enthusiasm that surrounded the club after Dalglish’s appointed in January, the only thing that will enter the Liverpool trophy cabinet this season is dust.
They have been trophyless since 2006 and are shrinking more and more in their stature with the departures of big players such as Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso suggesting they are becoming a selling club and the overpriced purchases of Downing, Henderson and Carroll highlighting their desperation to cling on to the tails of the big teams. The only thing preventing total meltdown at Anfield is the support, which backs its team to the hill. Last weekends the home fans were more influential than the preverbial 12th man and spurred their team to a draw. Without that backing the side would be dwindling around the relegation zone as it was under Roy Hodgson.
While Liverpool have been falling City have been rising and our now in a position where victory over United could see them become the head of English football for the next 20 years. The Manchester derby has not been this big in a long time with City often fighting battles at the other end of the table to the Reds but the teams are now closer than ever and it is up to Sir Alex to take this threat seriously if they want to return to the top.
Although they come into the game as underdogs, Mancini has guided his team to victory over United in the League Cup and most recently in the FA Cup semi-final on the way to ending the club’s 35-year wait for a trophy. With one piece of silverware in the bag they are hungry for more and although Sunday’s game won’t decide the title race, it will be the clearest sign so far which half of Manchester may be celebrating in May.
Liverpool versus United will always be a big game. History, traditional and the rivalry between fans will never burn out. But there is a noisy new kid on the block and on Sunday we will see why the Manchester derby is now the biggest game in English football.
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