City thumps United in Manchester Derby stripped of tension

MANCHESTER, England — There was no tension in the final minutes. It had passed well before the fourth goal arrived, marking the moment ...


MANCHESTER, England — There was no tension in the final minutes. It had passed well before the fourth goal arrived, marking the moment when victory turned into a rout. It was the same with the little anxiety, the little irritability that could still subsist. Instead, in the final minutes of a derby, Manchester City fans could let go and have fun.

It was not a vicarious joy. There was pleasure, of course, in seeing Manchester United, once again, reduced to chasing shadows, clinging desperately to the air, their players’ heads dangling and their supporters walking away in silence. But as the minutes passed, the Etihad Stadium got a little tired of singing.

Instead, City fans seemed light-hearted, playful. They sang the praises of Yaya Toure and his brother, Kolo, neither of whom has played for the club for some time. They turned their backs to the field, draping their arms along their shoulders and bouncing, a move known as Poznan. City imported him ten years ago, after a Europa League trip to Poland, but his popularity had waned. It has a vintage air now, the feel of a joke inside.

That’s not how derbies are supposed to be. They are meant to be heavy and feverish, full of visceral anger and naked hostility. The Manchester derby still has some of that: Halfway through the first half, after Jadon Sancho had even drawn Manchester United, he had celebrated in the eyeline of one fan, in particular, who called him greeted with a smart-faced rage. He was only slightly undermined by the fan wearing a large novelty sombrero.

It’s hard, however, to escape the feeling that over the years much of that furor has died down, at least for half the city. Manchester City always like to beat their old enemy, their snooty neighbour, of course. But he doesn’t do it with the urgency, the desperation of yesteryear. It is no longer a club that has a point to prove. It is no longer a day to dread. Increasingly, for Manchester City, derby day is fun.

Despite all the attention the rivalries command, despite all the baroque music and pulse-pounding edits they inspire, the form of most of them is hard and unchanging. Players and managers and the precise circumstances in which teams meet may change from month to month and year to year, but the basic story, the outline, remains the same.

In some cases, it is David who seeks to bleed Goliath’s nose. Can Torino beat Juventus just this once? Can Borussia Dortmund slow Bayern Munich’s relentless march to another championship, if only for a week or so, or can Atlético Madrid shed their inferiority complex long enough to defeat Real Madrid?

In other derbies, it is a meeting of equal powers, vying for immediate supremacy. Barcelona’s encounters with Real Madrid are often numbers for the outcome of the Spanish title race. Arsenal’s meetings with Tottenham in the North London Derby are, usually, a fight to see who might be in contention for a Champions League spot.

This larger narrative rarely changes. AC Milan might be a bit weaker than Inter Milan – or vice versa – at some point, but the teams remain equal at heart. The pendulum always swings back, whether it takes a month, a season or a few years, and so the nature of the rivalry remains the same.

The Manchester derby, however, has changed and changed beyond recognition. There was a time, before Abu Dhabi came to City and the money started flowing, when this game defined the club’s season. It was a date both anticipated and dreaded. Victory, stinging United’s vanity, could make the other nine months of grim mediocrity worthwhile. Defeat only lengthened the shadows.

Once City’s horizons lifted, the derby became the stage on which the club sought to shed their deep-seated inferiority complex, to prove they were ready to compete. At first it brought only grief. One year Michael Owen scored in added time at Old Trafford, the pain all the more intense as parity had been so close. Another year Wayne Rooney leapt into the sky, his comic book kick breaking City’s hearts again.

And then the spell broke. City beat United twice on their way to the Premier League title in 2012: a stunning and groundbreaking 6-1 victory at Old Trafford followed by a biting 1-0 victory at the Etihad, the match that ultimately tipped the race in favor of the city. Everything was reversed: now it was City with the feeling of superiority, and United trying to burst their bubble, taking just a bit of joy from sabotaging a superpower.

Now, however, he has taken yet another form. There is no fear in this game for City now, not one rooted in any rationality. It is no longer the game that decides the season. Instead, it will be Liverpool’s visit to City next month, or the Champions League final, or some other seismic global event. This game, for City, now looks like a distinctly homegrown skirmish.

Part of that, of course, is due to Manchester City’s change, its transformation under Pep Guardiola – fueled by the financial power of the club’s benefactors in the Gulf – into a truly modern superpower, which made the derby an inevitable conclusion, a done deal.

But it is also because of Manchester United’s reverse course, the perfect counterweight to the idea that money guarantees success, its dismal and seemingly irreversible decline. The gap between these teams has widened more and more in recent years. It is now a chasm, wide and deep, and it is hard to see how United can begin to close it.

As City fans reveled in their impending victory, as they played the songs they used to sing when triumph was rare and the fury ran deep, United players seemed to wander, dazed, around the pitch, their morale sapped and their hope shattered. This, more than anything, may have drawn the toxins from the crowd. There could be no tension. There could be no hatred. When the gap is so big, when the superiority is so obvious, where could be the fun in that?



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Newsrust - US Top News: City thumps United in Manchester Derby stripped of tension
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