Manchester City vs Manchester United: why recent history suggests a win could be within United’s grasp

The Red Devils need something to kickstart their season as their top-four hopes begin to diminish.

Ralf Rangnick will be the fifth Manchester United manager post-Sir Alex Ferguson to take charge of a team in the Manchester derby.

Given the dominance of the Red Devils in the first 21 years of the Premier League, the eight completed seasons since Ferguson’s departure have made for bleak reading for those of a red persuasion.

In contrast, Manchester City have collected four league titles in that period, six League Cups, an FA Cup and made it to their maiden Champions League final.

While United’s stock has so drastically fallen since 2013, City have cemented their status as one of the best clubs in Europe, if not the world. But for all that dominance, the Manchester derby hasn’t been quite so one-sided since Ferguson made the transition from touchline to boardroom.

From those 21 meetings since David Moyes took charge of the first derby of a new era, the Sky Blues have won 10, just two more than their neighbours have managed.

Rangnick becomes the sixth United manager to take charge of a Premier League Manchester derby. Credit: Getty.

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That alone should give Rangnick hope as he prepares to bring a side to the Etihad for the first time in his prestigious career.

Under the watches of the German’s two predecessors, trips to the Etihad have been much more fruitful than fans could have reasonably expected. In fact, under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer United won all three matches away to City, while they’ve lost just once in the last seven visits to the stadium.

That record isn’t quite so impressive when it comes to derbies at Old Trafford, but in recent years trips across Manchester have often acted as a much-need tonic for the Red Devils.

The grass might just be greener

When Solskjaer brought his United side to the Etihad in December 2019, the Norwegian looked on the verge of getting the boot at Old Trafford. Instead, he came away with a well-deserved 2-1 win as first-half goals from Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford wrapped up a morale-boosting three points.

Just under two months later and again United returned from east Manchester with a win, although the 1-0 scoreline did result in them being eliminated from the League Cup over two legs by the Sky Blues.

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A home victory in March also meant it was three wins over Pep Guardiola in a single season, and gave energy to United’s dwindling top-four aspirations.

Bruno Fernandes and Luke Shaw scored as United won 2-0 at the Etihad last season. Credit: Getty.

Meanwhile, last season the Red Devils won 2-0 at the Etihad after two successive 0-0 draws and following a run of just one league win in five. That victory breathed faint life into United’s ultimately unsuccessful title hopes, and brought to an end a 21-game winning run for City.

That’s why an away victory on Sunday shouldn’t be ruled out, despite the only increasing chasm between the two. While City look to hold off a rampant Liverpool side, United have genuine concerns about being overtaken in the league by an ill-disciplined Arsenal, an inconsistent Tottenham Hotspur and a West Ham United side whose wage bill is around 28% of the Red Devils’.

Given the quality and resources United have, they should be breathing down City’s necks rather than wondering what life could be like next season without Champions League finances.

It’s more than just bragging rights

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For all the genuine concerns over United’s recent performances, they actually head into the match in a relatively good run of form - City have only amassed one more point from the previous six league games.

It’s no losses in eight Premier League outings for Rangnick, and from the 17 matches he’s been in charge of in all competitions, he’s only lost once in 90 minutes.

While the goalless draw with Watford last weekend in many ways demonstrated the inadequacies in this team, it was oddly a much more convincing display than United mustered in recent wins over Brighton & Hove Albion or West Ham. It was also one of just two games since Rangnick’s appointment where United have been on top for almost the entirety of the 90 minutes.

The former RB Leipzig manager has repeatedly spoken of the need for ‘control’ since taking the reins, and there was a rare sighting of that against Watford, even if it didn’t lead to a breakthrough strike.

But there’s only one side who can expect to control Sunday’s clash, and while United’s recent record does give some cause for optimism it’s also entirely plausible to see the Red Devils humiliated at the Etihad.

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That was the case when the sides last met in November, even if City didn’t apparently feel the need to make any advances on their 2-0 victory.

City won with ease when the sides last met in November. Credit: Getty.

A heavy loss could also spell trouble for their top-four race, and United could end the weekend in sixth depending on results elsewhere. Arsenal are among those who could leapfrog Rangnick’s side, and should they do so, the Gunners would hold a points advantage over their old foes and have played three games fewer.

There’s more than just the fabled ‘bragging rights’ on the line this weekend.

Missing out on the Champions League next season really would be catastrophic for a club the size of United, while it would undoubtedly affect this summer’s transfer plans and potentially the chances of recruiting their first-choice managerial candidate.

The derby won’t determine that, but with the stakes so high and pressure piled so firmly on the Red Devils, another crucial three points away to City couldn’t come at a more ideal time.