A look at the Premier League table tells you the circumstances are in fact very different. However, the run up to this weekend’s Manchester Derby feels, in one major way, very much like the last one. United are expected to be steamrollered.
Back in April, the Red Devils were in second place. This time around, after a dreadful start to the campaign, they’re 7th. Between these two footballing powerhouses of the north west, though, it doesn’t do to merely quantify the gap between them in terms of points, even if the deficit is already a massive nine points after just eleven games. The gap between these clubs currently transcends points – it has become something far more primal. This is almost now a battle between good and bad.
Manchester City have a charismatic, affable manager who produces sides that play scintillating, swashbuckling football. United do not. City feel like they’re standing on the threshold of the dawn of a new era. Meanwhile, United’s extended sojourn in the sun is over. 2nd or 7th. It hardly matters when you’re already miles behind.
And yet, last season, when the then-champions elect had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to win the title against their bitter rivals, United came good.
At half time, City were 2-0 up at the Etihad Stadium and had one hand on the trophy.
Legendary leader Vincent Kompany gave the hosts a deserved lead. Had that been the end of it, it would have been a fitting way for City to clinch the title. As it was, things got even better when Ilkay Gundogan put daylight between the two sides.
2-0, with 15 minutes to go until the break and cruising, now was the time for City to do what they’d done to countless other opponents that season and put Jose Mourinho’s men to the sword. They had their chances, both Raheem Sterling and Gundogan should have put City out of sight. Perhaps, by then, they thought the job had already been done.
After the break, though, United were ignited. Little is more dangerous than a wounded beast, and this great club’s pride had just taken the kind of savage beating that they used to hand out themselves in the good old days.
A quick-fire brace from Paul Pogba levelled the tie and left City – whose expectant fans must have already had the champagne on ice – reeling.
Early in the game, a centre-back had put City ahead. A centre-back who the club always look to. Their captain, their rock, their talisman at the back. Later, another centre-back, this one much-maligned and in many ways unfortunately the epitome of the falling standards at his great club, did the unthinkable. Chris Smalling pounced to put United ahead and snatch the dream away.
For all the great strides City have taken to leave their formerly omnipotent neighbours far behind in their wake, some habits die hard.
After all, your big brother is always your big brother. You may be stronger, faster, richer, better. But they’re still your big brother. Despite the billions of pounds of investment, superstar players and manager and grand modern arena – psychologically and historically, City remain in the shadow of Old Trafford.
On the day when the Cityzens had the chance to assert their dominance in such a fashion that the Red Devils would have been crushed like red ants, City did what junior siblings so often do. They wilted under the daring glare of their senior.
Manchester City, that coat of supremacy looks good on you, but it’s a hand-me-down.
Will things be different on Sunday? Well, the home side shall likely triumph. They are the far superior football team, after all. To be the truly superior club, though, opportunities to win the league against your rivals who have towered over you for years cannot to go begging. United are still the kings of Manchester.