It has been a popular opinion, among the blue half of Manchester, that Man United were there for the taking last night. They seem to forget that a winning mentality means a lot more than the amount of zeros on a transfer cheque. While many components of this Man United side are coming to the end of the career line (seven first-team regulars are in their 30s), the experience of winning trophies cannot be discounted. All three scorers that knocked out Man City have been a valuable part of their well-oiled trophy-winning machine over recent seasons, and try as they might, the closest thing Man City have to a winning mentality is Carlos Tevez, who conveniently was signed from United.
That’s not to say Man City supporters are supporting mediocre mid-table nobodies. Their midfield is packed with talent, such as Gareth Barry, Shaun Wright Phillips, and Steven Ireland. They are all great players, who are all good enough to grace the Champions League. If we compare these players to the likes of Darren Fletcher, Park Ji-Sung, or even the latter-day Scholes and Giggs, there would be a strong case to say that Man City’s midfield is superior. However, they do not yet have the aura of invincibility that the Red Devils have cultivated over the last 15 years. Gareth Barry has spent his pre-City career viewing Uefa Cup qualification as an achievement at Villa. Shaun Wright-Phillips was mired in mid-table during his previous spell at Eastlands, before playing an extremely limited role in Mourinho’s Chelsea success. Steven Ireland is still in his early 20s, having come up from the youth system. None of these players, apart from arguably Wright-Phillips, really know what it takes to dominate English football in the way that Man United have. That is what made the difference at Old Trafford. Aside from the outrageous piece of skill that Carlos Tevez produced to level the tie, City never looked like they truly believed they could oust their old enemies in their own backyard. Until they do this, and then repeat the feat, they will never be seen as anything other than “noisy neighbours” by the United faithful.
Of course, it is still very early days in the new Manchester City era. Two months ago even predictions of a top five finish looked premature, as the team spent a lot longer gelling than Hughes could afford. However, since Mancini’s arrival, a new purpose is visible. City look the business, and if Liverpool can be fought off, the top 4 will surely beckon in May. That will be the first building block for success, as new players will not only be attracted to the astronomical wages, but the chance to pit their wits against Europe’s finest players. Only by playing these big games, and winning them, will Man City truly become the equals of their red-shirted rivals.