After a somewhat strange season for both blue and red halves of Manchester, United host bitter rivals City on Monday night.
But after United’s FA Cup loss to Chelsea last Monday, the game is in danger of being the most meaningless derby on record, and bragging rights for the victor are almost non-existent.
Sir Alex Ferguson and his men sit 15 points clear of their neighbours with eight games remaining. Even with a derby defeat, it seems implausible that a team as experienced as United, with a winning mentality that has drove them to 12 Premier League crowns, would throw away such a lead. It is even more of a disappointment, therefore, that the league is the only trophy they are set to win after the knockout losses to Real Madrid and Chelsea.
According to The Guardian, when asked about similarities between the 1998-99 campaign and the current one, Ferguson said: "We lost to Middlesbrough in December and we never lost again. It was a tough FA Cup run that season, really tough. We were up against Premier League teams in every round. It's nice to look back at these things and how it was done with the squad of players I had, which is not nearly as strong as the one I have now."
While that claim looks ridiculous given that the 1999 side won the treble and the current team will only win the league, things at the Etihad Stadium look even worse for Roberto Mancini. The defending champions’ bid to retain the title had faltered from day one; City’s Champions League campaign ended in a humiliating last place in their group, while a semi-final tie against United’s conquerors Chelsea offers a chance to pick up silverware, a distant second place in the league and the FA Cup is a poor return on the hundreds of millions invested by Sheikh Mansour.
Normally a derby win allows some bragging rights over the defeated opponents, but if United win it will simply reaffirm what the league has shown all season long – that United are far more consistent, ruthless, and effective than City. To boast now would be akin to kicking a man while he’s down.
If City win their fans might enjoy a second successive victory at Old Trafford, but in truth no Blues' fan can claim their team is better than United. Mancini’s tactical shenanigans, allied with a tortured transfer policy and indifferent displays from some of his key players have made this a poor season for City, especially after the high of a maiden Premier League title won in the finals seconds of last season.
Ferguson is keen to focus on the City game: "We will kick on," the United boss said. "It was disappointing (to lose against Chelsea), of course, but we have to forget all about it and move on to the game against City next Monday.
"We are in a good position obviously and I think a positive result for us on Monday will just about seal the title for us."
Even that will be scant consolation. In a season where United have cantered to the league title, Ferguson will regret his side did not mount on a challenge on a second front. City have even less reason to look back on this season, and Monday night could be a massive anti-climax.
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