Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini sparked the Manchester derby but now it is time for David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini to do the same, writes Richard Jolly.
Same competitive Manchester derby with new faces on sideline
For a few days, it appeared that Roberto Mancini had succeeded where the 13 previous Manchester City managers had failed. Sir Alex Ferguson had announced his retirement. The Italian would see him off and become the longest-serving manager in Manchester.
Except, of course, he did not. Six days before Ferguson’s marathon 26-year reign ended amid a host of tributes, Mancini was abruptly dismissed.
The last two title-winning managers met with contrasting fates: Ferguson was allowed to hand-pick his replacement, David Moyes, while Mancini saw Manuel Pellegrini chosen in part because he represents his antithesis.
The rivalry between Ferguson and Mancini was characterised by mutual respect as well as moments of mockery.
It was also a heavyweight clash, the first time both Manchester United and City had managers who had made them champions since Sir Matt Busby took on Joe Mercer for the final occasion in May 1971.
If the size of Ferguson’s achievements makes it hard to brand Mancini his equal, the reality is that the younger man owed much of his popularity with City supporters to famous triumphs against United.
It is against that backdrop that Moyes and Pellegrini make their derby debuts. It is the first time since 1947 that neither manager has experienced the occasion before.
The newcomers have it all to prove, and not merely because they whereas between them, Ferguson and Mancini won 20 league titles in Europe, their successors have none, albeit having spent virtually all their careers working for clubs with lesser resources and lower expectations.
For Moyes, the quest to prove himself a worthy inheritor of Ferguson’s heated seat in the Old Trafford dugout has been a constant theme. He is judged by impossible standards.
Yet, having already lost to Liverpool, he now enters the other most significant fixture of their season.
He lacks the pedigree required to offer encouragement. “I’ve experienced derby games in Glasgow and Merseyside,” he argued.
Yet while Moyes has an excellent record against City, he only won three of 22 Merseyside league derbies, none of them away from home.
He also, if controversially, came out the loser in his only previous clash with Pellegrini.
The Chilean’s Villarreal beat the Scot’s Everton 4-2 in a two-legged play-off to qualify for the Uefa Champions League in 2005.
“They got to the semi-finals, Moyes said. “For Everton to run them really close gave you an idea of what a good side we had as well.”
Meanwhile, Pellegrini has taken over by a man who was defined by games against United.
“The past will not play the next game,” said the Chilean, but Mancini had a history of excelling. While he actually lost more than he won — six to five — but it was the weight of his victories that gave the Italian iconic status.
The 2011 FA Cup semi-final triumph made City’s first trophy in 35 years possible.
The 2011-12 title was a consequence of a league double: the 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium took them to the brink of glory; the 6-1 at Old Trafford was a historic thrashing, Ferguson’s heaviest defeat, and a result to resonate through the ages.
So while it is often said that Moyes will be compared to Ferguson, Pellegrini will be judged against Mancini, too.
The Italian had a bond with the supporters, if not his players, which was cemented by derbies and made his “Bobby Manc” nickname both appropriate and comical.
No one has branded his stiffer, less demonstrative successor “Manc Pellegrini” just yet.
Perhaps, however, that is a matter of hours away. Tumultuous affairs have tended to be decisive derbies. The ‘Temple of Doom’, as Ferguson branded the Etihad Stadium, giving it the same initials as United’s ‘Theatre of Dreams’ to heighten the contrast, is a place where City have turned the Scot’s jibe about “noisy neighbours” into a badge of honour.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is evident City delayed his retirement by a year. But for Sergio Aguero’s injury-time, title-winning goal in May 2012, the Scot would have had his 13th title 12 months earlier.
Instead, a serial winner’s determination to go out on top meant he could not head off into the sunset with United officially second best in their own backyard.
Instead, the balance of power was wrested back from City. Now, with Ferguson and Mancini retired and rejected respectively, the tug of war between Moyes and Pellegrini begins.
Yaya Toure v Marouane Fellaini: United’s midfield has been a weak spot and Fellaini will need to battle well with Toure.
United won last season’s match at Etihad Stadium 3-2, but lost at Old Trafford 2-1.
Manchester City (4-3-3): Hart; Zabaleta, Nastasic, Kompany, Kolarov; Navas, Toure, Fernandinho; Silva, Dzeko, Aguero
Manchester United (4-5-1): De Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Fellaini, Carrick, Kagawa, Rooney; Van Persie