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Manchester derby can further expose gulf between City and United

Thu, Feb 29, 2024
Soccer News (AP)

Manchester derby can further expose gulf between City and United

Jim Ratcliffe's determination to bring down Manchester City is abundantly clear.

So is his admiration, it seems, for the team he calls "the enemy."

Since becoming co-owner of Manchester United last week, Ratcliffe has spoken about the "driven and elite environment" that has been created at City in its Abu Dhabi-controlled regime.

He described City's 4-0 win over Real Madrid in last season's Champions League semifinals as "the best football I have ever seen."

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He was even behind United's recent appointment of one of City's former top executives, Omar Berrada, as the new chief executive in what United said was the first step on a journey "to put football and performance on the pitch back at the heart of everything we do."

Ratcliffe acknowledged United was a "long way behind" City. Just how far might be placed into sharp focus this weekend.

It's the 192nd Manchester derby on Sunday, pitting two rivals at opposite stages of their modern development: City, the English, European and world club champion, vs. United, a fallen giant looking to be kickstarted by the riches and passion of a locally born billionaire.

Few are giving United a hope in the Premier League clash at Etihad Stadium - privately, maybe even Ratcliffe will not expect a win, either - but his recent investment in United, not forgetting his comments about knocking City and fellow local rival Liverpool "off their perch" within three years, provides the narrative and backdrop to a fixture that, for the most part, has been one-sided in recent years.

Take last season's match at the Etihad, for example, where Erling Haaland and Phil Foden scored hat tricks in City's 6-3 thrashing of United.

Or this season's match at Old Trafford, where United was overrun and ultimately humiliated in a 3-0 loss in October.

City comes into the derby following a 6-2 win at Luton in the FA Cup highlighted by a five-goal performance by Haaland. United has actually won seven of its nine games in all competitions in 2024 but barely ever convinces, which leaves Ten Hag under permanent pressure. Tellingly, Ratcliffe, in his round of post-takeover interviews, never gave his complete backing to the Dutchman.

March will also see United take on its other big foe, Liverpool, in the FA Cup quarterfinals. It's a month of great opportunity for Ten Hag and his players but also one of potential danger, if United was to lose to City - and therefore further jeopardize its Champions League qualification ambitions - and Liverpool.

Fifteen points separate second-placed City and sixth-placed United, and that could be 18 by Sunday evening.

More important for City is the points gap to leader Liverpool, which stands at one heading into the weekend. Liverpool plays first, away to Nottingham Forest. Third-placed Arsenal, which is a point behind City in third place, visits Sheffield United on Monday.

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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Article Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved.
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