Stories

From red to blue: the seven shifts in Manchester power

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Oct 23, 2011: The 6-1

Gil Scott-Heron was quite wrong – the revolution was televised, to millions of bewildered supporters of every allegiance who witnessed the surreal sight of United being comprehensively outclassed in their own back yard. Rarely has a league game so starkly revealed the contrasting trajectories of two clubs.

First came Mario Balotelli’s nonchalant steering home of the opener before lifting his shirt and fronting the world like a beautiful Italian Cantona. Next, Jonny Evans grasped desperately at a shirt and was dismissed before the break.

Yet nobody could have anticipated what was to come: a masterclass of fluid passing and movement that bamboozled the hosts with the artful David Silva pulling every string.

Like a child waking up to heavy snowfall it was just too much to initially process, especially to City fans whose collective mindset is still hardwired to disappointment and farce.

Perhaps the most galling aspect from United’s perspective was the apparent ease in which the humiliation was dished out, accompanied by no small degree of haughty disdain.

In the esteemed home of the Red Devils, a demon had been well and truly laid to rest.

Jan 8, 2012: The FA Cup third round

It may seem odd to include a defeat, especially one that centred on controversy and frustration, but many Blues pinpoint this game as their personal watershed moment, the undeniable realisation that it was now they who wore Goliath’s sandals.

Roberto Mancini sent out a weakened side while the visitors were bang up for this one, the spittle from Fergie’s pre-match bombast still sprayed across their cheeks.

United duly opened proceedings with a Wayne Rooney header followed swiftly by the highly contentious dismissal of Kompany for an innocuous challenge on Nani.

With City a goal down and a captain down, United scented revenge for the 6-1 mauling three months earlier and rampaged through the opening 45, bagging two more before the referee blew for respite.

During the break the majority in the Etihad silently brooded, desperately hoping for damage limitation, while the away end understandably broke out into party mode.

Yet something strange occurred when the teams re-emerged; a spontaneous and unexpected resilience resounded through the ground and fed into the 10 men in blue. Micah Richards busted his lungs covering every blade of grass. Sergio Aguero was a one-man war.

In the event, two goals were pegged back and United desperately clung on through a barnstorming finish, grateful to escape extra-time. The Herculean effort shown that day was a statement of intent in adversity.

Apr 30, 2012: The title decider

Having surrendered an eight-point lead, United travelled to the Etihad knowing defeat would bring City level on points but ahead on goal difference.

With just a further two games to play it was a league decider in all but name.

This was supposed to be Ferguson’s farewell season and his opportunity to deprive his new detested foe of their first title for 44 years before retiring to fitting plaudits.

Suddenly it was unexpectedly slipping from his grasp. Perhaps then it was panic that prompted a rare misguided team selection that essentially conceded the mother of all derbies before a ball was kicked.

Going with one up front, Ferguson weakened his own team’s strengths and instead went like-for-like against a side who – by his own admission – were specialists at ‘cluttering up the midfield’. The omission of Antonio Valencia was bizarre.

In front of a record worldwide audience for a Premier League game, and with Aguero’s father-in-law Diego Maradona watching in the stands, City powered their way to an invaluable 1-0 victory with a performance that was surprisingly comfortable considering its magnitude.

This was also the first league clash in living memory where City started as bookies’ favourites, an occurrence Ferguson had previously firmly stated would never happen in his lifetime. A strangely lacklustre display from the Reds only proved the bookmakers correct.