Tonight's Premiere League football match between storied Manchester United and upstart Manchester City could decide the title and, as much as United won't like to hear it, it is a duel of equals.
Manchester United has won the English Premiere League 18 times, while their neighbors have never won. United have been the Yankees of European football, dominating for decades, full of high-paid splashy stars, with their past lineups filled by David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo--a pantheon of world footballers. They have brand-recognition the world over and have utterly dominated under the long-standing manager, Sir Alex Ferguson (even their coach was knighted).
Manchester City has always been Manchester's hard-luck, blue-collar team. They have scrabbled for victories on a small budget for decades, most often struggling to remain in the Premiere League, while United were wondering whether they would come in first or second, and had the Champions League on their minds. That all changed a few years back, when Sheik Mansour, one of the world's richest men, bought City. A flood of high-priced players entered the City gates, and United got nervous. Ferguson famously called City "noisy neighbors," painting them as talentless and classless nouveau riche to United ancien regime. The first group of high-priced players to be brought in by manager Mark Hughes (Craig Bellamy, Emanuel Adebayor) did not pan out. Sheik Mansour continued to spend money and made Roberto Mancini the manager. The first year of Mancini's reign was quietly successful, but fans complained of his defensive-minded, Italian-style football that consolidated power and confidence, but was boring to watch. Success came the following year, and United began to grow nervous. A powerhouse of finances, able to buy any player they wished, City became a powerhouse on the field, too. This year they held first place for most of the season and, aside from being knocked out of the Champions League, have been the most dangerous team in the league. Carlos Tevez (who is back after a well-publicized row with the team), David Silva, Yaya Toure, Nigel de Yong, Gareth Barry, Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko, James Milner, Vincet Kompany, Aleksander Kolarov, Gael Clichy, Joe Hart—City is truly an all-star team that, this season, has played like an all-star team. United were quaking in their boots, though they maintained their usual great success and were never out of the top five.
Tonight, the gods of football matchups have provided, just before the end of the season, a duel between the two teams of Manchester. Earlier this season City smashed United, truly humiliating them. In another match-up, United won a quiet victory. United currently top the Premiere League with 83 points, while City are second with 80. A United win will seal the league for them. A City win will leave the door open. Either way, tonight is a meeting of giants, one ancient and storied, one a young, brash, brilliant upstart. But it is, for the first time in the history of the Premiere League, a duel between Manchesters and a duel among equals.