Red devils decline, blue moon ascent. A Manchester in transition

by Sam Rider

Saturday, April 17th, 2010
 

The most decisive Manchester derby since Dennis Law’s back-heel in 1974 will highlight where success and failure lies in a footballing city marked by a season of transition.

Forget the War of the Roses. Forget the north/south divide. Saturday’s clash between the red and blue armies of Manchester promises to be an epic, with meteoric implications for both clubs and both sets of supporters.

The Carling Cup contest was a classic cup tie with each side going for broke from the first kick. The early season 4-3 victory over City was special for its drama. The 2-1 humbling of United in 2008, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Munich disaster will not be forgotten quickly.

But with unrest and uncertainty in the air for the reds, contrasting with the optimism and financial clout wielded by the blues, this Premier League derby could prove as decisive and divisive a match as there has been at Old Trafford since former red, Denis Law’s back-heeled goal for City relegated United to the old second division in 1974.

Victory for United in the powder-keg atmosphere of Eastlands would reinvigorate their flagging aspirations for a fourth consecutive championship. While defeat or success for City would have dramatic implications for their assault on the top four, the immediate future for their manager and offer a fitting barometer to gauge the potential of this revamped, resurgent City of Manchester club.

For both Lancashire outfits this season has been one etched with transition. United are just facing up to a potentially bleaker future of consolidation and austerity on the pitch and in the transfer market. City, by contrast, have been burgeoned by Sheikh Mansour’s billions generating a firm belief in this club that they can recapture the glory days gone by of the 1960s and 70s.

The prospects for this period of transition in Manchester will be clearer when the final whistle goes tomorrow lunchtime. In previous years United have been almost untouchable in the league, setting the standards of domestic football while City were establishing themselves in a relatively new stadium and trying to shrug off doubts over the legitimacy of their ownership by Thaksin Shinawatra.

Since Gary Neville held the Premier League trophy aloft in May the gap between the clubs seen in performances on the pitch and in the transfer market has narrowed considerably. Perhaps this fixture in the coming years could represent a title decider – the likes of which not seen since Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison led City to League Championship success in 1967/68, when United were beaten into second place – as the two clubs continue on this path toward a level playing field.

Returning to the story of 1974, two years after Law’s goal against his former club, the blue side of Manchester was celebrating victory in the League Cup. It has been 34 years since that day and they have not picked up anymore silverware since – a fact the Old Trafford faithful propagate with increasing relish. The second-leg Carling Cup semi-final tie in January, regardless of what Ferguson would say about the importance of reaching finals, was ultimately about extending this barren spell, delaying Mancini’s men an outing at Wembley that their attacking displays this campaign have arguably deserved.

A befitting consolation for their passionate support would be a top four finish and an opportunity to represent what they believe to be the true team of Manchester on Europe’s centre stage – in the Champions League – confirming their ascent to club football’s elite that their billions of pounds would vindicate and their thousands of fans would demand.

Both times at Old Trafford a last-gasp goal has been the only thing maintaining United’s superiority this season. At the City of Manchester Stadium, the former United striker, Carlos Tevez was the difference for the Blues taking a 2-1 lead in the cup. It could well be, just like Dennis Law in ‘74, a former red devil that will have the final say on a season dominated by transition that will ultimately end in despair for one half of Manchester and celebration for the other.

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  • http://www.ukfootballfinder.co.uk Darren

    in a word. NO.

    Good, I hate City, hope they finish 6th

  • dexylongshot

    Well Scholesy done it again. The race is back on and i can’t decide who it will be out of the Mancs and Chelsea. I had hoped the Gooners would step up but the Wigan defeat was a shambles and Arsene knows it. As for Citeh, the way the Totts are flying, i think it may be 6th or 7th for Mancini. Talking of Denis Law (a great man), what are the odds that on the last day of the season, Citeh come down to Upton Park and an East-End hero sinks the goal to relegate them. There’s only 1 Carlos Tevez.

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