The biggest derby in English football

Manchester United and Manchester City might just be about to become the biggest derby in England. The unique nature of derbies gives them an edge, but rarely in England in recent times have two clubs from the same city been competing on an even level and at such a high level as United and City now find themselves jousting on.

The Manchester derby tonight is likely to be one of the fiercest and most lively of recent times. Forget last year’s 4-3 at Old Trafford, City were fake pretenders to United’s crown then, and by the time they met at Eastlands, the gap between the two sides was evidenced by their positions in the league. Fiesty it was, but it lacked the competitive edge that we are likely to witness tonight.

Tonight, Manchester City and Manchester United meet on the most even and competitive terms for a generation. City are probably still not quite title challengers, but they have been helped by Chelsea and Manchester United’s respective standards dropping in recent years. It is that drop in standards which allowed Arsenal to compete until the closing weeks of the title race last season despite little improvement on their part, and whilst City still have some way to go, their city rivals are coming down some way to meet them.

Derbies are traditionally tasty encounters by any measure, and even in London the Chelsea V Fulham game will engender a significant edge due to the club’s close proximity to each other. Much like a particularly competitive sibling rivalry though, throw in high stakes and the contests get a lot more personal, and there is seemingly far more to lose. Just see David Miliband as evidence of that fact; his battle for the Labour party leadership with amongs others, his ultimately victorious brother Ed, raised the stakes of the contest for them both.

In Manchester tonight, expect to see a similar impact on the rivalry between the two sides. With such a fierce and competitive rivalry between them already, throw in the now realistic and plausible contention that this is a game that will have a particularly decisive impact on the title race for both sides, and you have a Manchester derby of the most epic proportions in recent times.

In the Telegraph today, Mark Ogden argues that the Manchester derby is now the most significant and hotly contested derby in English football. It’s hard to disagree. The Liverpool V Manchester United games are perhaps the most fierce, due to the fact that these are the two biggest and most successful club’s in English football history, but they aren’t 10 minutes down the road from each other. Arsenal V Tottenham has particular bite, but Tottenham have not threatened Arsenal’s dominance as the top team in the capital for many years, and still do not. What we lack in England, is an Inter V Milan derby, two genuinely top class teams competing at the very top. Everton, Tottenham and Manchester City have all long been ‘inferior’ and junior partners in their respective derbies, despite the relative quality of these three sides in recent years.

But whilst Manchester United are rightfully still the top dogs in Manchester, there is for the first time in a generation, a real possibility that the sky blue half of the city might have a chance of changing its balance of power. However, they should be cautious. Whisper it quietly around the ‘noisy neighbours’, but Sir Alex Ferguson is used to having the last laugh.