One Draw In 23: How The Manchester Derby Became English Football's Most Important Game

There’s only been one Manchester derby draw since 2005.

It was a goalless affair at Eastlands in November 2010 which featured a Carlos Tevez free-kick saved by his old teammate Edwin van der Sar, Patrice Evra bringing a good stop out of Joe Hart at the other end and not much else. It was quite untypical of the fixture.

The run of just one draw in 23 matches features meetings in the FA Cup, League Cup and Community Shield. It includes title deciders, 4-3 thrillers, 6-1 thrashings, late drama and season, even career-defining moments.

To make comparisons, both Merseyside derbies finished level this season, whilst Arsenal’s meeting with Tottenham at the Emirates ended 1-1. Draws in derbies are normal, they are to be expected given the close, often gritty nature of the fixtures. Not so in the Manchester version.

Manchester City's Italian striker Mario : News Photo

Recently it has been City who have ruled the roost in this clash which has embraced the nature of Draw No Bet.

Robin van Persie’s last gasp free-kick goal to secure a 3-2 win for the visitors at the Etihad in December 2012 doesn’t just represent United’s most recent win over their rivals, it also stands as the only time they haven’t lost to them in the last seven league meetings; a run which started with a certain afternoon at Old Trafford featuring Mario Balotelli and his ‘Why Always Me?’ t-shirt.

Why always a winner and a loser? Perhaps because these aren’t just derbies, but fixtures which make a real difference at the top of the table.

A rivalry which, at the dawn of the Premier League era – and yes, kids, football did exist before 1992 – was all about United showcasing their swaggering dominance over the English game whilst simultaneously rubbing it in the noses of the not-so well-off neighbours has changed a bit now.

City’s money and the status it has brought with it have made this a worldwide affair, and not just a need for United to shake their ‘noisy neighbours’ off the soles of their shoes on the way to domestic and European glory.

Manchester United v Aston Villa - Premier League : News Photo

Read Will Tidey on why United might regret selling Van Persie

At a time when the traditional power are signing up more sponsors than they are new players (those shoes will have come from an official leather partner in Outer Mongolia) they seem acutely aware of the cost of keeping up with the neighbours, but for the first time in a while they look able to keep up with them on the pitch, too.

United enter this latest derby above City in the table, they are the team in form and they will walk out at Old Trafford with a real sense of being the superior force.

Compare their recent displays to that of their opponents on Sunday and you will see a vast difference. They might both sport the name of their city, but that is the only link you could draw between the pair.

City boss Manuel Pellegrini appears to be clinging on to his job for dear life, but is he already a dead man walking? Second would have been a disappointment for his bosses this season, but what about third, fourth or even worse?


With United revelling in the joys of having had a kind, less cluttered season and finally seeing Louis van Gaal’s penny drop, they are quite rightly the favourites for a clash in which a draw would feel like a let-down.

In modern times, these games always seem to have a greater significance than any other derby we see in English football, and a United win could just push City even closer to a precipice they have been dangling over for pretty much all of 2015. In contrast, a City rally and a victory at a ground where they’ve won on their last three visits would puncture United’s optimism, and they’ve got to go to Chelsea next.

Let battle lines be drawn, then, and let both agree that the match won’t be.

They’ve got a tradition to live up to, after all.


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