Saturday, 9 December 2017

Manchester derby: Liverpool the biggest game but City is special

Ask any United fan and we’ll tell you that Liverpool is always the game we want to win the most: the clash against our bitter and most hated rivals has historic and tribalistic connotations that make it stand alone as the biggest game of all.The two clubs and sets of fans may despise each other, but we’re 34 miles apart, and no matter the feuding between us, you cannot call the game between the two biggest clubs in the land a derby in the true sense. This Sunday’s meeting with the mob from across town gives us United fans a feeling that no other game can. There’s the usual mix of derby-day nerves, excitement, tension, expectation and that “pit of your stomach” feeling that only those who love their club can describe.

The rivalry with City is very different, and until 2008 it was merely a geographical affair with only bragging rights at stake. Since City’s takeover that saw them become one of Europe’s richest clubs, however, the importance of the derby – and its intensity – has grown, with City on a much more level playing field. For years United were the dominant force and the fixture was one-sided, but now it’s a much more unpredictable affair. Even though City have been mightily impressive: unbeaten, eight points clear and having dropped only two points all season, we’ve certainly got the quality and firepower to be the side to finally stop the juggernaut. They’ve had to rely on late winners in their last three games, cracks have started to show and they won’t relish coming to Old Trafford which has become a fortress again under Jose – 40 matches unbeaten and counting.  We have belief in our team again and there’s a sense that something special is building, no matter what goes on to unfold.

After so many years of them sitting in our shadow, it’s been painful to watch City finish above us for four seasons in a row – no doubt revelling in our post-Ferguson downfall. The noisy neighbours have become unbearable. But this has been our best season since that last title-winning one in 2012 / 2013, and it’s a nice feeling to go into this one as their closest challengers having finished seventh, fourth, fifth and sixth in the four years since.

Such is the unique nature of any derby game, that it’s almost a match played in isolation. Points, league position and form usually seem to go out the window. This is about pride, passion and playing for the shirt. That said, a City win would put them eleven points clear, surely an insurmountable hurdle even at this stage of the season. If we win though and the gap becomes five – that would surely affect City mentally and blow the race wide open. How both managers set up, Jose in particular, will be an interesting subplot. It will be a fascinating contest for the neutral.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in this one, but one thing’s for sure: Manchester will become a football Mecca at 4.30pm on Sunday. The world will be watching … the stage is set and come on United!

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