The English Premier League’s history is filled with some of the most intense rivalries, with various contexts elevating their thrill and severity. A Manchester derby, in particular, is one such box office event that not only blends quality football with passionate fan support, but has also been a platform for homegrown players to evolve into world-class professionals.
The dynamics of the 140-year-old Manchester rivalry has shifted in recent years, with City’s astronomical rise in the last decade putting Manchester United in the back seat. However, the Red Devils’ ‘comeback kings’ persona has prevailed on certain occasions.
While Manchester City have grown into a European giant, ending their 35-year trophy drought in 2011 with the FA Cup and going on to lift 10 domestic titles between 2010 and 2019, United have mellowed down in recent years.
The once Premier League giants have won just three trophies - FA Cup in 2015-16, the Europa League in 2016-17 and the EFL Cup in 2017 - since Sir Alex Ferguson retired after the 2012-13 season. However, that hasn’t lessened the fierce rivalry between the two sides.
Here are the three Manchester derbies that have defined the face of the rivalry in recent times.
Michael Owen’s ‘Fergie time’ winner (September 2009)
Amongst the 180-plus Manchester derbies, the Premier League meeting on September 20, 2009 is fondly remembered for Michael Owen’s ‘Fergie time’ winner.
Just five matches into the season, the Manchester clubs put out one of the most classic displays in a derby game but it was a bigger result for the red half of Manchester who were struggling on the defensive front.
Wayne Rooney, the all-time leading scorer in Manchester derbies, gave United the lead in the second minute before Gareth Barry equalized for City. There onwards, the tie became more gruesome with as many as four goals scored within the regulation time.
Sir Alex Ferguson, known for making the best out of crunch situations, brought on Michael Owen for Dimitar Berbatov to inject some attacking power. While this move didn’t pay off immediately, it set the stage for one of the most iconic extra-time winners in Premier League history.
The fixture, evenly poised at 3-3, moved into injury-time with both teams pushing for a winner at Old Trafford. Owen, whose summer move to Manchester United had raised many concerns, became an overnight hero when he tapped in a Ryan Giggs pass in the 96th minute to seal the game with a 4-3 win for United.
The 6 - 1 demolition at Old Trafford (October 2011)
Three years on from the Abu Dhabi group takeover in 2008, Manchester City had silenced the fortress of Manchester United to kickstart their dominance and paint Manchester ‘blue’. It was, in a way, City’s announcement to the world of their arrival.
It was the first time that United had conceded six goals at Old Trafford since 1930. With City leading 1-0 at half-time, even Sir Alex Ferguson couldn’t have predicted the disastrous end to the match.
The Red Devils had played the second-half with 10 men after Jonny Evans was given a straight red for a challenge on Mario Balotelli, and it was an absolute demolition since then. The likes of Balotelli and Edin Dzeko bagged a brace while Sergio Aguero and David Silva had contributed a goal apiece.
After 90 minutes, Manchester United were staring at their heaviest defeat at the Old Trafford in Premier League history, since 1955.
Van Persie rescues United at death (September 2012)
Robin van Persie, who signed for Manchester United in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season as a manager, made his mark as a club icon with a 92nd-minute direct free-kick, which had silenced the City fans at the Etihad Stadium.
Wayne Rooney’s double strike in the first half had propelled United to an advantageous position in the contest. However, just when United looked to bury the ghosts of the 6-1 home defeat, City had returned with goals from Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta.
The derby, which was marred by seven yellow cards and a couple of flare-ups between players, will always be remembered for Ferguson looking at his watch with his team in a disadvantageous position.
Van Persie’s momentous free-kick in the dying minutes of the game was crucial in the legendary Scottish manager’s 13th and final Premiership trophy for Manchester United.
Feature Image courtesy: AFP / ANDREW YATES