Trite as it sounds, one of the reasons that we all love football to ridiculous levels is its ability to surprise us, and Saturday’s Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium was no exception. 2-0 down at half time, playing poorly, big names struggling and City ripping United apart at will…well, of course, we were going to win 2-3. Surely, there was no other possible outcome?
Saturday’s game wasn’t just a wonderful advert for this ridiculous sport of ours; it was a shock, a victory borne out of sheer pig-headedness and a potential turning point for Manchester United under Jose Mourinho. It had it all; controversy, lackadaisical defending, goals, fisticuffs and drama. That United were able to halt City’s procession to the title in their own back yard made it all the sweeter.
Ever since Manchester City struck gold in 2008 and suddenly found themselves with more money than they knew what to do with, the Manchester derby has taken on a decidedly more competitive context. Sure, beating the Berties was always a lovely occasion beforehand, but ever since Sheikh Mansour turned up at Eastlands, and City suddenly became capable of y’know, winning things, this fixture is far less cut-and-dried than it used to be. Still, in amongst the occasional thrashing and piece of silverware draped in sky blue, United have had some wonderful moments to celebrate in this fixture in the modern era. So, with Saturday’s drama still fresh in the memory, let’s recount our favourite derby memories from the Etihad, eh?
- The Ginger Prince returns – City 2-3 United, January 2012
As surprises go, Paul Scholes waltzing back into our lives in January 2012 like he hadn’t retired over six months prior will live long in the memory as a lovely moment. Winning the subsequent match was quite fun, too.
The Ginger Prince was a stunning inclusion onto the bench for this FA Cup 3rd round tie, surprising everyone considering that he’d hung up his boots at the end of the 2010/11 campaign. Given that this was the first meeting between the sides since The Derby at Old Trafford of Which We Do Not Speak, a response was required. The first half couldn’t have gone any better, either, with Wayne Rooney heading home early on and Vincent Kompany seeing red minutes later. Danny Welbeck made it 0-2 before Rooney’s second suggested that a comparable reserve of that rout earlier in this season might be on the cards. It didn’t materialise, with Aleksandar Kolarov and Sergio Aguero ensuring a tight finish, but Scholes’ second half cameo and the manner in which United went about their business prior to the break provide reason enough for this inclusion.
- Rashford drops Demichelis – City 0-1 United, March 2016
It’s easily forgotten, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that Marcus Rashford is only now coming to the end of his second full season as a United player. Louis van Gaal fortuitously and famously hit pay dirt when he dropped him into the starting line-up against Midtjylland in 2016 as cover for Anthony Martial, and after a brace in that game followed by a further two goals against Arsenal three days later, that was that. United had a new, young talent to laud.
His first taste of the Manchester derby didn’t disappoint, either, scoring the only goal of a predictably tight derby in the Dutchman’s last time in charge of this fixture. And what a goal it was too, taking Juan Mata’s pass, and fooling poor Martin Demichelis into oblivion with a quick glance, leaving the Argentine a crumpled heap on the turf behind him. Obituaries were written for the poor centre back’s career in jest, but in fairness, Rashford ruined him so easily that it was tough not to marvel at it.
The finish past Joe Hart was wonderfully lethal too, belying his tender years, and offered an excellent moment to marvel at one of the best young talents that United’s academy has produced in recent years. Beating City is always lovely, regardless of who scores, but when it’s a local lad bagging the winner, it makes it a little sweeter.
- Scholes to the rescue – City 0-1 United, April 2010
The 2009/10 season was undoubtedly the turning point for Manchester derbies. It featured four in total, including a hotly contested League Cup semi-final tie, and the classic 4-3 victory at Old Trafford. What made that term’s contests all the more engrossing was the fact that United came away victorious three times thanks to three stoppage time winners. Michael Owen arguably provided the most famous of those, and Wayne Rooney’s header several months later dashed City’s hopes of lifting a trophy for at least another year, but Paul Scholes’ last-gasp winner at Eastlands deserves to stand alongside its belated brethren.
The last derby of this particular season came at an awful time for United, coming as it did after a defeat to Chelsea, a gutting Champions League exit to Bayern Munich and a dismal 0-0 draw to Blackburn Rovers that had allowed Carlo Ancelotti’s team to seize the initiative in the race for the league title. The fourth derby of this term was tight, with Rooney and later Dimitar Berbatov coming close to breaking the deadlock. It looked, as the clock struck 93 minutes, that United’s title push was dead and buried, until Patrice Evra’s cross was superbly met by Scholes. The header was inch-perfect, bouncing beyond Shay Given into the bottom corner and clinching a third derby win in dramatic fashion. It might not have stopped Chelsea’s march to the title, but given how tight this game had been, given the dent to City’s European aspirations and given the fact that United had won with a stoppage time winner for the third time in this fixture in one season, it certainly wasn’t meaningless.
- Spoiling the title party – City 2-3 United, April 2018
Saturday’s game has to make an appearance here, purely because it was such a remarkable occasion. The circumstances were unprecedented; City knew that a win would seal their third Premier League title in this decade, and had prepared suitably; the Etihad was already outfitted with a plethora of fireworks, and members of their first team squad had already decked their offspring out in full City kits awaiting celebrations at full time. And their form this season, who could have blamed them for preparing for victory?
After a tight first 20 minutes Vincent Kompany’s header, a carbon copy of his crucial goal in 2012’s season-defining meeting sparked City into life, and Pep Guardiola’s men could have been 5-0 ahead by the end of the first half. United fell apart after the Belgian’s goal, and it was only Raheem Sterling and Ilkay Gundogan’s profligacy that spared them. It all felt so flat; United’s performance represented a team that appeared simultaneously unwilling and incapable of mustering any sort of resistance to their neighbours, and this season’s disappointments were too raw to merely disregard this as an off-day. At half time, defeat felt inevitable, and the prospect of watching City celebrate was imminent.
We all know what happened next; United picked a stunning time to rediscover their own swagger, and blasted their way back into a game that had seemed lost. Paul Pogba, who endured an awful first half applied two excellent finishes in two minutes to draw United level, before Chris Smalling, at fault for Kompany’s opener clinically volleyed home Alexis Sanchez’s free kick with twenty minutes to go. Sure, Mourinho’s side rode their luck; a superhuman save from David De Gea, the post and a contentious penalty call all aided them, but this was an exhilarating win. Ignore the bitterness that followed at full time; this was undoubtedly a special occasion. How many times do you get to beat your nearest rivals in their own ground to spoil their own Premier League title party?
This win was about more than stopping City, however; it offered tangible encouragement for the future under Mourinho. Regardless of the context, United came from behind against by far the best team in the land and beat them with a great performance. It was a much-needed example of what this side and this manager can do when they sing from the same hymn sheet, and after a season characterised by equal parts progression and stagnation, this victory, and the manner in which it came, was infinitely welcome. Snatching victory from City is always a sweet moment, but to dash their hopes in such dramatic fashion…it made that first half horror show worthwhile.
- Van Persie’s late, late winner – City 2-3 United, December 2012
At the risk of being accused of living in the past, it’s worth remembering that it was only five years ago that United were the Manchester side leading the Premier League at a canter. City’s 2011/12 league title stung Sir Alex Ferguson deeply, but with Robin van Persie nabbed from Arsenal for a remarkably cheap £22.5m, his side were blasting their way through the following campaign with a series of come-from-behind victories. A derby meeting at Eastlands in December of 2012 was pivotal that term, with three points separating the two sides. A Wayne Rooney brace in the first half gave United an excellent start before Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta restored parity. Having battled back after a poor first half, City looked to have the impetus to go on and win it, with Zabaleta’s goal a reward for a strong showing after the break. United weren’t necessarily rocking, but as the clock ticked into injury time, most in red would have accepted a draw.
It adds an extra layer of enjoyment when you consider that what happened next was as a direct result of a former terrace favourite at Old Trafford. Carlos Tevez’s foul on Rafael gave United a free kick close to City’s goal in the 91st minute, and up stepped that season’s MVP, RVP. The Dutchman’s initial shot was struck sweetly enough, but it was Samir Nasri’s wildly-swinging leg that looped the ball up and beyond a despairing Joe Hart. The reactions of those in red said it all; the away end erupted, flares were thrown from despairing City fans and Rio Ferdinand left the celebrations with a cut above his eye, courtesy of a rogue coin. You could see how much that goal meant to United, and the sense was that a significant blow had been dealt in the title race as early as December.
And so it proved; City never got close to United after that, and Ferguson’s side romped to the club’s 20th title in relative comfort. The scenes that greeted the victory on the streets of Manchester were unforgettable, and they owed much to that Sunday afternoon at Eastlands.
It’s a wonderful memory to recollect from another dramatic derby, and this is without mentioning Tevez’s full time argument with his former boss, Ashley Young’s wrongly disallowed goal and that famously perturbed City fan attempting to confront Ferdinand on the pitch. What an occasion it was.
United’s finest hour-and-a-half at City’s current home, hands down.