Looking back now it’s almost strange to think that nobody knew what to expect going into the 166th Manchester derby. Not many would’ve been so bolshie, so brazen and so accurate to predict the merciless massacre that played out in the blazing Manchester sunshine. A match so one-sided it was wrapped up in shiny sky blue wrapping paper with 40 minutes of the game still to play.
City were industrious, formidable and relentless from the outset. Jesus Navas, all blistering pace capable of putting Olympic athletes to shame, stretching the pitch boundaries with his width. Alvaro Negredo worked tirelessly upfront, assisting with two goals for his efforts. Fernandinho showed great endeavour and command in midfield and ever-reliable Pablo Zabaleta made 10 tackles throughout the match- more than double any other player.
With both City and United having new managers it was difficult to foresee which way the game would go beforehand. Although David Moyes would’ve been bitterly disappointed to be without talisman Robin Van Persie after a groin strain, Manuel Pellegrini also received a blow, with David Silva still not fit after a thigh injury. Both managers were new to the experience of a Manchester derby: it would prove to be unforgettable for everybody who had the privilege of witnessing it.
If you didn’t see it, don’t be tempted to believe the statistics. They create a false illusion: United had more possession, but it’s what you do with the ball that counts. From the outset and throughout City terrorised Moyes’ side, with creativity, intensity and tenacity across the park that raised eyebrows and delighted the homes fans. Nasri and Aleksandar Kolorov combined on the left, with the Serb curling in a cross that Sergio Aguero inconceivably managed to volley home. It was a sublime finish- and the home side were only getting started.
Dictating play entirely during the first half, the Blues managed to land a hammer blow just before the break. Negredo’s strong header from Nasri’s corner was redirected into the goal with a touch from Yaya Toure, giving City a two goal lead and leaving United staring into the abyss. As Howard Webb blew for half time, Chris Smalling and Nemanja Vidic would’ve looked more at home exiting a boxing ring, such was the knockout force from the opening 45 minutes.
With Moyes making no immediate change, the second half started exactly the way the first had ended- with a City goal. With Nasri and Negredo combining, Aguero was left to volley in his second. It was scintillatingly breathless: magical, offensive football at its best. Rio Ferdinand would’ve arguably been more useful eating pasta at his restaurant such was the dominance of Pellegrini’s side. No sooner had the fans in blue drawn breath from celebrating Aguero’s double, they were punching the air in delight again. This wasn’t damage limitation for Moyes, this was unpreventable humiliation.
City captain Vincent Kompany had been nothing short of phenomenal. Winning everything at the back, he was a ferocious force of nature: driving forward to penetrate United further at any given opportunity. After winning possession in the box he passed to Navas, who ran the length of the pitch and crossed into Nasri, the Frenchman volleying home from close range. Such was the performance from Kompany, he’d mirrored the run from Navas, clambered into the box and attempted to head home the Spaniard’s cross before it reached Nasri. It was a case of leading by example from the Belgian, who’d marshalled his troops into a battle that United had long but surrendered to.
It was telling that Moyes didn’t leave the bench for the majority of the second half. There were no war cries, no embattled shouts and no possibility of redemption- just a solitary substitution bringing Tom Cleverley into the fray. At that point with the job done City sat back and relaxed, realistically it could’ve been a whole lot worse for the visitors. Joe Hart finally had a touch, making saves from Fellaini and Wayne Rooney, and Patrice Evra hit the post. Rooney won a free kick late on and curled the subsequent effort exquisitely into the net, but didn’t bother to celebrate. There could be no consolation such was the brutality of the day.
It was difficult to pick an outstanding player for City such had been the nature of their collective team effort. Toure, a thunderous locomotive charging through midfield, left Marouane Fellaini trailing in his wake. Nasri, the man most people singled out for blame after last season’s derby defeat at the Etihad, putting in an electrifying attacking performance and notching up a goal for his efforts.
It says a lot that the City players who beat United 5-1 back in 1989 went down in City folklore. A few have been accused of living off the back of the result for years. But those were the days when such devastating routs against the neighbours were few and far between, when the two sides experienced polar opposite levels of success for the majority of the 1990s. The decade climaxed with United winning the treble while City desperately clambered out of the third tier of English football: the derby itself then was a rare encounter.
Although this 4-1 victory was the biggest home derby win for City since Kevin Keegan managed the side to a win of the same score-line in 2004, the fans were still joking about Gary Neville feeding the Goat to beat United 3-1 in the final derby at Maine Road. Still telling tales about beating them at Wembley in the FA Cup semi final and absolutely still rejoicing from that 6-1 drubbing that played out at Old Trafford in 2011.
But the manner of this win was different from the 6-1: there had been no sending off for United, no injury goals to inflict more agony. The damage had been done clinically with plenty of time to spare. It was a day where every player wearing blue stood up to be counted, rolled their sleeves up and annihilated the opposition in a team performance up there with the very best on offer in the annals of the Premier League.
The opposition just happened to be Manchester United. An exposed, vulnerable United.