At the Etihad on Sunday there will be players from all corners of the globe primed for battle. From Norway to Argentina – and plenty in between – internationals will don the blue and red of Manchester’s two teams to earn the much sought after bragging rights.
Ask Pep Guardiola and he will tell you it is another game, one professionals will be fully prepared for. Keeping cool heads and focusing on the job in hand over 90 minutes is at the top of the agenda for those trained to execute a plan. Derbies, however, do have an edge, even if managers want to play down the difference history makes to them. For the fans, the result will define their week before it has even started.
Among City’s ranks is a born and bred blue, Phil Foden, who certainly knows how important this fixture is. United boast Marcus Rashford, another brought up in Manchester but in the red half. Their addition to the derby melting pot is a vital one, players that can still be seen as representative of those in the stands.
Guardiola says of Foden: “Of course it’s nice that he is a City fan and it’s important, not just for the game but for the day before and the day after they have to behave like a Manchester City player.
“What Foden has to do is play the game; focus on what you have to do on the pitch, this is what you have to do, all the work you have to do. Just to be a Manchester City fan does not mean he will play good or bad, nobody knows, of course he wants to play good. But, for him, if he can beat United or win the Premier League, he’s won already a few at this early age, this is the important thing.”
Premier League games are watched around the world by many millions but at the heart they are local rivalries, grown organically down the years and capitalised on by football’s propaganda machine. When the first Manchester derby between Newton Heath and St Mark’s from West Gorton took place in 1881 it is fair to say no one knew where the game would be 141 years later.
Running throughout the intervening period are local lads, coming up through the ranks to reach what is often a personal pinnacle of playing in a Manchester derby. From Neil Young to Andy Hinchcliffe and now Foden, they are blue baton carriers, while United have named an academy graduate in their squad for every game since 1937. It may seem trivial but this matters to fans.
Guardiola knows from his time as a player and head coach the importance of fixtures against great rivals. He came through Barcelona’s La Masia academy and while coaching he could call upon Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and Gerard Piqué, among others, to add the Catalan spirit to bind his team together.
“There is not a more important match than this,” Guardiola said of the clásico, and fans in Manchester feel the same about a derby where the level of vitriol is toned down. “There is passion and you want to win a derby,” Guardiola said. “The winner is going to laugh and take the piss out of the loser, but it’s nothing. It has to be like that, but no more than that.”
Rashford comes into the game revived, with a Premier League player of the month award. His stock fell so low last season he started the timid derby losses on the bench. Foden is recovering after a far briefer form blip but will be desperate to show he is getting back to his best.
There are many ingredients that give a game an edge but for the fans geographical tribalism is still important and to know their clubs’ players share the same desire is what every fan wants.
City v United is the main event but Foden v Rashford is a poignant rivalry to add to the heritage.