EEven in the rich tradition of drama, subplots and intrigue of the Manchester derby, Sunday’s 191st edition can be considered one of the most important in recent memory. When Manchester United welcome Manchester City to Old Trafford, an 18-year-old headliner enters a different and potential final phase, while a new rivalry between attackers on the pitch ignites.
The meeting of these icy neighbors puts an end to the expected farewell to the Glazers’ hold on United for almost two decades, while opposite, a first confrontation takes place between two young Scandinavian center forwards: the Dane, debutant in the derby the home team, Rasmus Højlund, and the Norwegian from City. superstar, Erling Haaland.
By the league’s return meeting in March, Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s decision to buy 25% of United for a £1.3bn premium in return for control of football policy should have been sealed , and the implications for Erik ten Hag’s team and the long-term future of a historic institution should be clearer.
By then, we will know whether Ratcliffe’s desire to wrest a quarter of the club’s share from the six Glazer siblings becomes official in time to affect transfer dealings in the January window. Nothing is certain about the Glazers and their business – next month marks the anniversary of their extended sales plans – but last winter’s trading month is, presumably, one that the Ineos owner would consider to be anathema to his ambitions for United.
With Cristiano Ronaldo released on the same day in November that the Glazers put the club on the market, a replacement was needed, especially as a title charge was underway when the January window opened. Ten Hag’s side were 11 points behind Arsenal ahead of meetings with Bournemouth, City, Crystal Palace and the Gunners. When United beat the Cherries and Arsenal drew against Newcastle, nine points from the next three games would have reduced the gap to a maximum of three.
But instead of acquiring a hungry young shot-stopper – £35m was Cody Gakpo’s asking price, for example – Wout Weghorst, a journeyman who missed badly enough for Burnley to enjoy a temporary contract at Besiktas, been loaned.
United faltered – drawing at Palace and losing at Arsenal – because of this acceptance of mediocrity which reflects the dubious transfer strategy overseen by the owners. Ratcliffe, notably, gave his own example during a presentation at the club’s Carrington training base in March, citing how Casemiro, 30, had been given a four-year contract the previous summer, worth of around £350,000 a week.
So let’s turn to Højlund and Haaland, whose presence is a sign of the clubs’ disparate eras. In 2019, United’s attempt to acquire Haaland for £20 million failed when the player opted to move from Red Bull Salzburg to Borussia Dortmund. Last June, he agreed to City’s entreaties, as part of a £51million move that propelled Guardiola’s side to last season’s treble.
City bought the finished article in Haaland while this summer United signed what Ten Hag describes as “potential” Højlund in a £72million deal from Atalanta. So far, the transfer can be considered cautious as Højlund’s mix of speed, muscularity, finishing and winning attitude is what United need.
However, in six Premier League matches, Højlund is yet to score – due to the patchy team he came into. Ten Hag’s United is, like its young marksman, a project far from finished. City, on the other hand, is a winning machine prepared by the genius Pep Guardiola who leads it in an endless quest for perfection. At Old Trafford, after a minute of applause for Sir Bobby Charlton, the curtain will rise on a captivating spectacle featuring United’s attempt to stop the visiting heavyweight, which they did in the 2-0 win. 1 in January during the corresponding match.
The total for this classic series which began on 12 November 1881 when St Marks (City) lost 3-0 to Newton Heath (United) stands at 78 against those in the City red zone, 59 against those of the blues, with 53 draws. . City, however, are catching up with United at a pace that traces the history of the clubs’ trajectories since Sheikh Mansour bought the former in 2008 and Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 after 26-and-a-half years in charge of the latter. By the time the Scot resigned, City had claimed Abu Dhabi’s first royal title under Roberto Mancini, and United, post-Ferguson, began to founder. Since then, of the 25 derbies in all competitions, the record 20-time English champion has won just nine and City 13. In this decade, City have won a further six titles – the first under the direction of Manuel Pellegrini, the others under the direction of Guardiola.
City’s supremacy and United’s struggle to become a force again are epitomized by Haaland and Højlund. Haaland arrived as a phenomenon and finished his opening campaign with a Premier League record 36 goals from a total of 52, as he made the hardest part of the sport – scoring – look simple. This season, Haaland is at 11 in 13 appearances.
Højlund has three goals – all in the Champions League – and is living on crumbs as Ten Hag continue to search for the right team combination and playing patterns to feed the 20-year-old. The coach has been hampered by injuries, the behavior of Jadon Sancho (still suspended) and Antony’s need to respond to accusations of violence against more than one woman – something the Brazilian denies.
Guardiola has his leading creative force, Kevin De Bruyne, on the long-term absentee list with a hamstring problem and the challenge of convincing his players that there is still a ‘mountain’ to conquer after the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup. sweep.
In 2005, the Glazer siblings’ father, Malcolm, saddled United with almost £500 million of debt as part of its leveraged buyout. Today that figure is closer to £1 billion. For the significant majority of fans unhappy with this situation, whatever the result on Sunday, they can hope that it marks the beginning of the final chapters of the ownership model.
So watch out for the presence of Ratcliffe around 3:30 p.m. If it’s there, it’s a statement. Where he might be sitting, another. Could he be in the fancy VIP berths? By the time the Championship returns in the spring, one of Britain’s richest people should almost certainly own one of these spots, controlling the direction of United’s football in a new era.