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United or City – the all-important balance of power in Manchester

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]anchester City fans have had hugely contrasting fortunes over the last couple of generations.

Winning the First Division back in 1968 and an FA Cup success the following year were notable triumphs, while most longstanding fans of the club will have a special place in their hearts for Denis Law’s goal in 1974 that all-but relegated his former side and the team’s arch enemies.

In the relatively recent past it has all been doom and gloom for City though, which has included relegations and underachievement.

While this was happening in the 1990’s and 2000’s, across the Manchester divide United were thriving under Sir Alex Ferguson’s tutelage and developed into the most successful English team of the modern era.

The balance of power has been brought back to the middle ground following Sheik Mansour’s acquisition of City, with extreme investment threatening to skew the axis of power in English football.

Since the nouveau riche City have come into play, a cross-town arm wrestle has ensued between red and blue.

The Etihad Stadium outfit have won two of the last three Premier League titles to stake their claim as the rising force of the domestic game, with United’s triumph in 2012-13 breaking up a potential period of City dominance.

Since the legendary Scottish manager has stepped down, United have looked like a fragmented and unfocussed football club with their history and prestige certainly shining more brightly than their recent performances on the pitch.

This season under Louis van Gaal the Old Trafford outfit have suffered contrasting fortunes, highs and lows, but the last month’s performances have been a massive step in the right direction for arguably English football’s biggest club.

Although the Dutch maestro does not yet have United playing the scintillating football of yesteryear or a new expansive brand of play of his making, results have been much improved – and most significantly against some of the division’s top teams.

Mario BalotelliCity meanwhile have gone from serious title contenders at the turn of the year to a side bereft of confidence and inspiration, with calls in some quarters for a significant revamp this summer.

Manuel Pellegrini’s future as the man to lead the wealthy club forward is in doubt, while the pillars of a once unstoppable squad are seemingly starting to crumble.

The backbone of the Premier League winning side, Yaya Touré and Vincent Kompany, appear to have diminished to some degree, while an ageing squad will be subject to trimming and reinvestment ahead of next season.

These bitter rivals clash today at Old Trafford; the scene for so much heartache for the travelling support over the years but also the venue of their most exhilarating show of strength – a 6-1 thumping of the hosts in 2011.

Ironically, both sides look all-but secure in their current standing within the Premier League’s top four, with Champions League participation next season almost a given for both teams.

With neither in a position to challenge for the title, it is not a six-pointer today from a mathematic perspective, but will play a considerable role in deciding which team likely finishes third and which fourth.

Although the latter of the two will have to undertake a qualifying round for Europe’s elite competition, more importantly today’s game and the final standings next month will be the latest chapter in dictating the balance of power between these Manchester rivals.

If favourites United can add to City’s woes (and terrible recent away form) with three points, it will be a sign that the Red Devils are a rejuvenated force ready to claim perennial bragging rights. Finishing ahead of their neighbours would be a metaphoric victory in this sense also.

However, if a floundering City can rally around the likes of David Silva and Sergio Agüero, record victory on enemy soil and finish above United this season, it could well give them the impetus to continue the recent trend of outdoing their illustrious rivals.

One way or the other, the Manchester derby has gained a lot more prestige, venom and quality due to City’s progression and today’s clash will be an exciting affair.

Although only a mere three points are on offer to the victor, a sizeable statement in the ongoing tug-of-war to dominate the local balance of power is an even bigger incentive.

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