Man City Club Focus – Roberto Mancini’s men search for their own iconic image to illuminate the Manchester derby

The Manchester derby has conjured up a series of stunning snapshots in recent years. Last season’s encounter at Old Trafford was settled as Wayne Rooney soared through the air to scissor kick the goal of the season, giving the Reds the ascendency in a Premier League title race which Manchester City, in truth, ran only fitfully. 10 months earlier, a kiss shared between Gary Neville and Paul Scholes sealed the deal on a last minute smash-and-grab operation at the City of Manchester Stadium; the third such heartbreaker for the Citizens during a season in which dramatic Michael Owen and Rooney winners silenced the Red Devils “noisy neighbours” in the league and League Cup respectively.

No matter the riches at City’s disposal, the blue half of Manchester has been unable to procure a moment as priceless as the aforementioned. With these moments etched into the history of the fixture, the illusion of United superiority has been maintained. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have since knocked Liverpool from their perch by attaining their 19th English league title in 2011. As such, their eyes have turned to the new pretenders from across the city. The victories, and the moments of pure drama which have provided them, have – whisper it quietly – taken on an added significance. Manchester United realise that Roberto Mancini’s men are no longer the irritating upstarts with whom they fight for city bragging rights. Rather, they are serious pretenders to the throne as kings of English football which for the past two decades, United have found, allowing for just one blip midway through the last decade, to be almost exclusively theirs.

City have also recently produced moments to remember from the fixture. A Shaun Goater brace inspired Kevin Keegan’s outfit to an emotional victory in the final derby played at Maine Road. Victories in the embryonic years of the City of Manchester Stadium – a sensational 4-1 in 2004 followed by a 3-1 demolition job in 2006 – ensured the transition to City’s new home was that much smoother. And who can forget Carlos Tevez’s rabble-rousing during the 2-1 League Cup semi-final first-leg victory of 2010?

Yet these memories too are tainted. As Manchester City played their very final match at Maine Road – a typical damp squib of a 1-0 defeat to Southampton – Roy Keane was lifting the Premier League trophy for their detested foes. Whilst Tevez’s confrontation of the United technical area in celebration and post-match baiting of Gary Neville provide a smile, the second-leg’s denouement will long outlast it. These were temporary moments of euphoria whose purpose only served to remind City of their secondary status. They were victories for the upstart over their oppressor. Contextually, they changed nothing. The normal order was quickly restored.

As his team last week prepared to face Liverpool, Sir Alex Ferguson proclaimed the game the “biggest in the world,” yet it arguably isn’t even the biggest game he faces this month. On Sunday, he gets to grips with English football’s aspirational force. Today he sits atop the perch. He is the target. Manchester City are cast in the role his once famished side assumed in the shadow of an all-encompassing Liverpool force. They are searching for their own iconic moment, the moment which announced their credibility as serious title challengers. Old Trafford on Sunday is the perfect stage to produce it.

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