LONDON, October 24 – The Manchester derby is no longer a clash of warring Mancunian tribes, but Sunday’s 170th instalment at Old Trafford carries a fascination for overseas players like Manchester United’s Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Twenty years ago both teams boasted Manchester-born players, with Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers lining up for United against City’s homegrown cohort of Richard Edghill, Garry Flitcroft and Nicky Summerbee, son of former Maine Road great Mike Summerbee.
There will not be one Mancunian on the pitch at kick-off this weekend, as Premier League leaders City cross town to third-place United, but what the game has lost in local connections it has gained in worldwide renown.
“I think it is something very special and we should be very happy that we have two big clubs in one city that are also playing in the Champions League,” Germany midfielder Schweinsteiger told United’s match-day programme.
“I remember when I was in (Bayern) Munich we were always looking for that, but the other team at 1860 Munich didn’t play so well! Here, we can play lots of derbies and I am very happy about that.”
The game’s global pull was demonstrated on Friday when City received a visit from no less a figure than the Chinese president Xi Jinping, a reputed United fan, who was in Britain on a state trip.
For both City and United — founded, respectively, by a pair of church wardens and a group of railwaymen in the latter part of the 19th century — it was a reminder of the extraordinary reach that they now exert.
Both feature in the top five of Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s most valuable football clubs, but it is for the earthy intensity of their on-pitch encounters that their rivalry enjoys such a broad appeal.
Another player set for his derby bow is City’s Belgian forward Kevin De Bruyne, who continued his excellent start to life in Manchester with an injury-time winner against Sevilla in the Champions League on Wednesday.
De Bruyne’s last game at Old Trafford came in August 2013, in a 0-0 draw with Chelsea that was to be his last league start for the London club.
– 6-1 anniversary –
Back in England via a storming spell at Wolfsburg, De Bruyne has urged City not to abandon the attacking approach that has seen them amass 11 goals in their last two league games.
“We shouldn’t play defensive because our main strength lies in going forward, though we need to stay disciplined,” he told the City website.
“We know it will be difficult. Man United have been a top team for a long time and the rivalry between us and them obviously runs deep, but the season is very long.
“That said, we know what it means to our supporters and it would be nice if we could go there and get three points.”
While City — two points above United in the table — played at home in the Champions League this week, United had to endure a long trip back from Russia following their 1-1 draw at CSKA Moscow.
But any extra freshness in City legs will be counterbalanced by an injury list that means they will be without Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Samir Nasri, Fabian Delph and Gael Clichy.
United, in contrast, are close to full-strength, with broken leg victim Luke Shaw the only long-term first-team absentee, and impressively won 3-0 at Everton on their last league outing.
United prevailed 4-2 when the teams last met in April, but City had won six of the previous seven league encounters stretching back to their giddy, title-inspiring 6-1 triumph at Old Trafford four years ago this weekend.
Both United manager Louis van Gaal and his City counterpart Manuel Pellegrini have played down the significance of the match in the context of the title race, citing the season’s embryonic state, but with so much emotion invested in the game, there are points to be scored.