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The 10 best Manchester derbies EVER

Some derbies have a habit of throwing up dreary scoreline after dreary scoreline. The mere mention of Liverpool vs Everton, for example, can have football fans reaching for the off button on the remote control.

But then there are derbies that nearly always spit out cricket scorelines, 10-man brawls and last-gasp heroics. Manchester United vs Manchester City is one of those. 

With that in mind, it is FFT's pleasure to bring you 10 of the very best Manc showdowns. Hold onto your hats... 

1. Man United 0-1 Man City, April 1974

When Denis Law’s late backheel found the net against his former club, the Scot thought he’d been the man to end Manchester United’s 36-year stint in English football’s top flight. As it happened, the Reds would have been relegated anyway after Birmingham beat Norwich in their final game of the campaign, but Law wasn't to know. 

He refused to celebrate and was substituted immediately after, never to play another league game for the club who’d beaten Matt Busby to his signature the first time around in 1960. It was understandable – after all, Law spent 11 years as a Manchester United player, scoring 237 goals in 404 appearances until his release, aged 33, in summer 1973.

This game didn’t even see the full-time whistle after United fans invaded the pitch with five minutes to spare. The Football League upheld the result, condemning the Old Trafford side to the Second Division – if only for a season…

2. Man United 4-3 Man City, September 2009

The first of four meetings between these two sides this season was undoubtedly the best – and perhaps even the greatest-ever Manchester derby.

Manchester City had splashed over £100 million on new talent over the summer, including Emmanuel Adebayor, Joleon Lescott and £25m former United man Carlos Tevez. But this was one battle that money couldn’t win.

A classic to-and-fro saw United take the lead three times, only to be pegged back on each occasion until their late, late winner at Old Trafford.

Wayne Rooney slotted Sir Alex Ferguson’s men ahead inside two minutes, before City new boy Gareth Barry bagged his first goal for Mark Hughes’s side. Darren Fletcher headed home four minutes after the break, only for Craig Bellamy to curl home a beauty from the edge of the box soon after.

Fletcher would provide another with his noggin 10 minutes from time only for Bellamy, once again, to pounce in the last minute after Rio Ferdinand’s sorry blunder.

But that wasn’t the end. Deep into stoppage-time – the 96th minute, in fact – Ryan Giggs’s sumptuous through-ball found Michael Owen, who produced his most (and only?) memorable United moment to send Old Trafford into raptures. Hughes lasted another two months before being replaced by Roberto Mancini.

3. Man United 1-1 Man City, April 2001

This game isn’t remembered for its football, but the bitter ending of a four-year feud between Roy Keane and Alf-Inge Haland.

The story is familiar: Keane, still furious after Haland accused him of feigning injury while the Norwegian played for Leeds in September 1997, took his frustrations out on the City man with a heinous knee-high tackle that left the defender in a crumpled heap. Keane was originally slapped with a three-game ban and £5k fine, but after later admitting in his autobiography that he’d “waited long enough… I f***ing hit him hard. Take that you c***,” it became reasonably clear this was no accident.

What’s not so familiar is that, although utterly hideous, the tackle didn’t end Haland’s career – indeed, the Norwegian finished this game. He already had strapping on his troublesome left knee at the time, and when it failed to respond to surgery, Haaland was forced to retire in 2003 after just a handful more substitute appearances.

As for the game (as if you’re interested), Teddy Sheringham’s second-half penalty was cancelled out by a late Steve Howey equaliser.

4. Man City 2-3 Man United, November 1993

“Two-nil up and you f***ed it up,” chanted the masses at Maine Road, in reference to their city rivals’ Champions League exit at the hands of Galatasaray four days previously. In football you have to take the rough with the smooth, though, as City fans would find out to their horror.

It all began swimmingly for the hosts as Niall Quinn headed Brian Horton’s men into a two-goal lead before half-time. But those same City supporters weren’t signing for much longer thanks to defender Michel Vonk, whose wayward defensive header was pounced upon by Eric Cantona to halve the deficit.

Cantona equalised on 78 minutes when he converted from Giggs’s typically exquisite pass and, with just three minutes left on the clock, a young Keane smashed home the winner in his first Manchester derby.

Fergie’s men were formidable at this point – this was their 19th win in 22 league games. They’d go on to win their second title under the Scot and capped a fine season with the FA Cup. City finished 16th, just three points above the relegation zone.

5. Man United 1-6 Man City, October 2011

This wasn't so much a statement of City’s intent for the season but a full-blown fire-punch to the face.

Roberto Mancini’s marauders dismantled United on their title rivals’ own turf, smashing home six goals to leave a fuming Fergie rueing his “worst ever day” in charge of the club. “We will react, no question,” he spat.

Mario Balotelli broke the deadlock on 22 minutes (the day after it emerged a firework had gone off in his house) and duly celebrated by brandishing a t-shirt with “Why Always Me?” slapped across the front. And yes, he was booked for it.

But it was Jonny Evans’s catastrophic red card that proved the catalyst for a second-half City onslaught. Balotelli notched his second shortly after and Sergio Aguero added a third, while substitute Edin Dzeko helped himself to a quickfire brace in between David Silva’s late fifth.

While United responded with an FA Cup victory over their close foes, City won the war with their famous last-gasp title win.

6. Man City 2-3 Man United, April 2018

Pep Guardiola's side were 13 points clear at the top of the table when Mourinho's Red Devils rolled into town. A victory would have secured the league title on home soil against their fierce cross-town rivals, and fans were in party-mode ahead of kick off.

Blue smoke bombs and cries of "Champiooooneeees" greeted the sides as they emerged from the tunnel and not even the most die-hard United fan would have bet against City getting the job done that afternoon. It felt written.

Things got bleaker for the visitors after a Vincent Kompany bullet header handed the home side the lead and Ilkay Gundogan doubled it in the first half. Red Devils fans were merely wishing that the score would stay respectable by this stage. 

And then the game turned on its head. A 97 second brace from Paul Pogba wrestled the narrative back in United's favour, before Chris Smalling made himself an unlikely derby hero with 20 minutes remaining. Cue utter bedlam in the away end. 

A Manchester City onslaught led to plenty of panic and high drama in the dying minutes, but Mourinho's men held on to record one of the sweeter victories in recent memory. 

Ultimately this victory made little difference and Mourinho - ever the magnanimous winner - even contrasted Pep Guardiola on their title win in his post game interview. The fans, however, knew a bitter blow had been struck that April day. 

7. Man City 5-1 Man United, September 1989

City celebrated their return to the First Division in style with a victory that would give them the city bragging rights – for a couple of seasons, at least.

United, still yet to blossom under Sir Alex's stewardship, were at sixes and sevens defensively as the hosts ran riot at Maine Road. A slip from Gary Pallister let in David Oldfield for the first, before even worse defending allowed Trevor Morley a second.

Ian Bishop soon bagged No.3 with his first City goal (one of only two he’d score for the club), before Mark Hughes’s brilliant scissor provided brief hope for the visitors.

Brief was all it was, though, as Oldfield nabbed his second of the game to restore City’s three-goal lead. Mel Machin’s troops made it an occasion to remember when left-back Andy Hinchcliffe capped a glorious City move with a thundering header at the back post.

The teams would finish just a place apart in the final standings, United edging it with a superior goal difference. City, however, felt like they’d won the important battle.

8. Man City 2-3 Man United, December 2012

They’d had seven months to get over City’s stunning 2011/12 title victory – but Fergie’s men were baying for blood when the pair met in this mid-season clash. United topped the table by three points after 15 games, with City close behind in second and unbeaten (albeit with six draws).

But Mancini’s men looked dead and buried within the first half-hour of this one.

Wayne Rooney grabbed the opener with a scuffed finish, before making it two in the 29th minute after converting Rafael’s cross from the right.

But champions City didn’t lie down without a fight. Yaya Toure halved the deficit on the hour mark after some penalty-area pinball and, with just four minutes left on the clock, Pablo Zabaleta crashed home a loose ball from Tevez’s corner.

Game over? Er, not quite. In the second minute of injury time, Robin van Persie’s deep free-kick evaded all (including a desperately puny Samir Nasri) before nestling in the bottom corner, prompting exuberant celebrations from the United players. Rio Ferdinand was struck by a coin in the ensuing melee, before City shot-stopper Joe Hart fended off a pitch invader heading for the former England defender.

United went on to win the title at a canter, finishing 11 points ahead of the wilted holders. Mancini was sacked with a game to spare.

9. Man City 3-3 Man United, October 1990

Keen to avenge their 5-1 hiding from the previous campaign, Ferguson’s improving side headed to Maine Road preparing to face a City side making great strides of their own under Howard Kendall.

Under the former Everton boss, City had lost just one of their first nine games of the campaign and were three points ahead of their neighbours. And with 10 minutes left it looked like the hosts, cruising at 3-1 up, were on their way to another superb win over the Reds.

David White’s quickfire brace handed City the ideal start, before United replied with a powerful Hughes header – thankfully for them, earlier than in their hurtful humbling 13 months earlier. But when Colin Hendry’s ambling run ended in a third City goal, Kendall’s men seemed home and dry.

With time running out the City boss replaced the ageing Peter Reid with Ian Brightwell, whose first contribution was to give the ball away to Brian McClair. Needless to say, the United striker took full advantage. Within two minutes he had another, flicking home Steve Bruce’s powerful header to earn a point in the blue half of Manchester.

This time it was City who finished a place above their city rivals in fifth – but it would be the last time that happened for another 21 years.

10. Man City 3-1 Man United, November 2002

There was a Goat, and he was fed. Before the season began it was rumoured the Bermudan fan favourite could be leaving Maine Road – after all, they’d broken their club record twice to sign Nicolas Anelka and Macken for a combined £18m.

How could they? Nevertheless, Shaun Goater stayed for one final season and played a starring role in the last-ever Manchester derby at Maine Road.

After Anelka and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer swapped goals inside just eight minutes, the stage was set for the 32-year-old to endear himself to the City faithful once again. He bagged his first on 26 minutes, robbing a distraught Gary Neville on the byline before beating Fabien Barthez with a fine finish on the angle.

Then, five minutes into the second half, Goater struck his 100th goal for the club after latching onto Eyal Berkovic’s exquisite pass and dinking the ball past a gazumped Barthez.

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Joe Brewin
Joe Brewin

Joe is the Deputy Editor at FourFourTwo, having risen through the FFT academy and been on the brand since 2013 in various capacities. 

By weekend and frustrating midweek night he is a Leicester City fan, and in 2020 co-wrote the autobiography of former Foxes winger Matt Piper – subsequently listed for both the Telegraph and William Hill Sports Book of the Year awards.