Manchester City vs Manchester United
The most telling statistic that outlines the great difference between these two English football institutions is that, since Sheikh Mansour bought the club 11 years ago, Manchester City have spent in excess of £1 billion on players and facilities.
During the same period, Manchester United have paid the same amount just on interest repayments on their debt alone. If ever you needed an example of the different pathways taken by these city rivals, look no further. That should be evident on the pitch this midweek too.
Holding a 3-1 lead from the EFL Cup semi-final first leg, City are now in a different sphere to United, for so long the dominant force in England.
Yes, their financial power – unseen at this level before in the game – has helped enormously, but so has United’s ability to self-destruct.
This observer believes the club, under the direction of chief executive Ed Woodward (presumably backed by club owners The Glazer family), has become too focused on the profits and not the football.
A money-making commercial machine but a mediocre football team where what goes on the pitch has become secondary.
The United powers-that-be insist not but it will take a turnaround in this tie to even begin to open the debate, such is the entrenched view of many.
Ole Gunnar’s Solskjaer’s shortcomings are also becoming brutally exposed and, while the fans will not turn on a club favourite, critics naturally suggest the current CEO is hiding behind a manager who should not have been appointed in the first place.
So, can United fans really expect any EFL Cup highlights of their own later this week?
With full respect to champions City, much focus has been on United in recent days.
In the words of respected football journalist Henry Winter: ‘the malaise runs far deeper than Solskjaer’s limitations. Glazer culture all about investors’ interests not fans, about profits not the football. Club needs more footballing expertise. Recruitment needs players who are tougher mentally.’
How could you disagree with that statement? It’s on occasions like this that United, under Sir Alex Ferguson, would relish. Going into the backyard of neighbours and rivals (often with greater financial resources than themselves) and putting them firmly in their place.
So many of the characters from those days have gone and not been replaced.
That’s not to say, the United crop of 2020 does not have potential. In fact, the young full-backs Brandon Williams and the expensively acquired Aaron Wan-Bissaka should have an exciting future ahead, and there are others too.
But will they be nurtured, guided correctly and allowed to improve alongside more established and experienced professionals with the right attitude and mentality?
That remains to be seen but one thing that is certain, United currently cannot match the guile and class that stretches right through a City team comprising world class talents like Sergio Aguero, David Silva and the recently returned Aymeric Laporte.
City were also able to rest key performers at the weekend ahead of this tie, whereas United are fully stretched with a squad short on genuine talent and depth. This will also be their ninth match this month.
Realistically, that suggests this second leg is a formality before it even begins.
These two have produced so many Premier League highlights over the years.
Only last month, United recorded a victory which was as thrilling as it was unexpected.
City gained revenge in the first leg of this semi-final three weeks ago.
Last season City completed a league double over United. They were 3-1 home winners, courtesy of strikes fromSilva, Aguero and Ilkay Gundogan. The visitors replied through an Anthony Martial penalty. City also won, crucially, 2-0 at Old Trafford in April when Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane were the marksmen.
Cast your mind back 20 months ago and there was a famous victory for United in this fixture.
At 2-0 up at the break, City were about to be crowned champions but United delayed their coronation with a fine 3-2 fightback spearheaded by Paul Pogba (two) and Chris Smalling.
United have the edge historically, winning 74 of their meetings compared to City’s 53 triumphs and 52 draws.
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