On 7 January, Manchester City will meet crosstown rivals Manchester United in the Carabao Cup over two legs to decide who will progress into the final. The last time these two sides met each other in the same round of the competition was in 2010 when City were two years into their UAE takeover and were beginning to challenge domestically under Roberto Mancini. United, weakened by the departures of Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo weren’t quite the same force as they were in the seasons prior.
It made for one of the best ties in the League Cup and one of the greatest Manchester derbies to date.
After the infamous 4-3 earlier on in that season where Michael Owen scored that goal, it was perfect that the two sides would meet each other again four months later. For City, this was a lot more than just a derby victory for them.
A win over the two legs would put them into their first domestic final since 1976 and would give them the possibility to finally end the humiliation from their neighbours over in Salford and remove the clock from the Stretford End that counted up how many years it had been since they last won a major trophy that had been dwelling on them. If they could win, ‘Cityitis’ could finally be vanished.
As for United, the possibility of just losing to City was just unthinkable. After years of domination and laughing at their neighbours in League 1 whilst they were fighting for trebles, City were beginning to actually look quite worryingly good. Tevez had crossed enemy lines from United, Craig Bellamy was a big threat for them (as United found out earlier that season) and Emmanuel Adebayor had also been snapped up from Arsenal and was being paid £160,000 a week.
This certainly wasn’t as good as City were going to end up becoming but they were definitely starting to become a threat. United were determined to stop City in their path.
The attitude at Old Trafford was a strange one as well at the time. Despite reaching two consecutive Champions League finals in 2008 and 2009, the fans weren’t happy. The crowd weren’t holding back their feelings with the green and gold campaign against the Glazer family’s ownership of the club was beginning to take momentum at home matches. A defeat to City would be another blow to their morale after a shock defeat to Leeds at home in the FA Cup, earlier in the month.
The first leg was played at Eastlands (as it was known then) and it had the tempo of the game between the two sides in August. And for United, it looked like it would be them getting the win to put them into pole position for the second leg at home. Ryan Giggs tapped in a cross that was fired in by Antonia Valencia to give United the lead after 17 minutes. It was the perfect start to silence the home crowd.
United took control for the first half-hour, controlling the game and barely letting City get anywhere near their penalty area. It was the exact start that was needed for United.
But then, just as it looked like United would be going into half-time with a precious lead, Rafael tugged on Bellamy’s shirt inside the City box. Just like Rio Ferdinand in the game in August, the Welshman had used his pace to storm his way around the outside of Rafael and he had no option but to try and stop him.
Penalty for City. And who else was going to take it other than Tevez? He made no mistake in sending Edwin Van der Sar the wrong way and smacking the ball into the top right-hand corner right in front of the United end.
The game was now City’s to lose. They certainly had the momentum going forward and 15 minutes into the second half they struck again. Bellamy’s corner was poorly dealt with and was only half-cleared towards the United box.
Pablo Zabaleta scooped the ball into a gap just outside the six-yard box towards Vincent Kompany who gifted Tevez with a simple header into an open goal from three yards out. 2-1 City. The Argentinian took great delight in cupping his ears in front of the United dugout.
Gary Neville, furious at his former colleague, raised his middle finger at Tevez from the substitutes bench which then provoked Tevez to go on Argentinian radio and call him a boot-licking moron two days later.
United had chances to equalise afterwards. Owen had a shot cleared off the line, Valencia missed a header from a tight angle and Shay Given parried away Wayne Rooney’s attempt from inside the box. City had done enough though and would go into the second leg at Old Trafford with a goal lead. Their hopes of a first Wembley final in 29 years were very much alive. This had now turned into City’s Champions League final.
The Tevez and Neville spat had been blown out of proportion by the media and therefore, 75 more police officers were on duty for the return leg at Old Trafford. Greater Manchester Police were now describing it as ‘the highest risk game of the season’ and 18 fans were arrested during the first leg, darts and golf balls were confiscated and Patrice Evra was hit with a lighter.
It was beginning to reach breaking point, so much that the FA warned both managers to do nothing to incite crowd trouble. There was now genuine hatred between both teams and it had turned into the biggest game of the season.
United made changes from their defeat in the first leg by dropping Valencia for Nani, Anderson for Paul Scholes and Ferdinand replacing Wes Brown after a return from injury. It was clear that Sir Alex Ferguson was relying on experienced heads to see his side through. An advantage that he had over Mancini who had picked the same team from the week before which included Dedryck Boyota and Javier Garrido, neither of which had played in a match as high profile as this one before.
United were spurred on by City’s chief executive, Gary Cook, who took it upon himself to claim that ‘City would supersede United as the biggest club in the world and it was a case of when rather than if’. This was brought up in the United dressing room beforehand according to Darren Fletcher who felt motivated by the comment, claiming that ‘it was important for us to go on the pitch and do the talking’.
And that’s exactly what happened. Fifty-two minutes in, Rooney collected the ball just inside the United half. He sent a perfect, pinpoint diagonal pass across the pitch into Giggs. With a bit of haphazardness, the ball fell to Scholes, who smashed it into the bottom corner. Given stood rooted to his spot. The noise was deafening inside Old Trafford. United just had to hold on and they were through on away goals.
Eighteen minutes later, Nani found Fletcher with a sharp ball through the City box. The Scotsman teed Carrick who stood six yards behind him. Carrick passed the ball through four City defenders in front of him and Given who couldn’t reach the ball despite it being agonisingly slow for him. The angle was perfect and it placed itself in the same corner as Scholes’ strike. 2-0 United. Twenty minutes to play.
Unlike previous City sides that would’ve collapsed at this moment in the game, this one was far from being out.
And five minutes after United got their second, Tevez of all people managed to get a flick off a cross from Bellamy after escaping from Ferdinand. Van der Sar was unable to get across to his near post couldn’t stop Tevez from levelling the score on aggregate. 2-1 on the night, 3-3 on aggregate. Extra time would have to determine who would go through unless either team could find a late winner.
Surely after the Owen winner in the 96’ minute in August, United couldn’t score another late winner in stoppage time to win a derby? You’d have thought City would have made sure that there would never be a repeat of that and figured out how to kill games off?
United got a corner in the 91st minute. Giggs played a one-two with Evra before whipping the ball back inside the City box. The pace on the cross meant the City players barely have time to see it as it flies past eight players in blue. Rooney, unmarked, knocked it on with his head. It wasn’t the cleanest of connections but it didn’t need to be because of the pure speed on the ball from Giggs. It accelerated past Given and landed in the net. 3-1 United.
City were devastated. Giving it the heads in hands and everything. Not quite like Sammy Kufour in 1999 but close enough. Once again, after being so close to achieving something, they managed to fluff it up for themselves. Another year without a major trophy, Another year of being embarrassed by their neighbours that by this point they so bitterly hated and despised.
United ended up beating Aston Villa in the final and City failed to qualify for the Champions League, finishing fifth. They also suffered further embarrassment when Scholes scored another late winner against them at Eastlands in April.
A year later, however, they enjoyed success, beating United in the FA Cup semi-final and then Stoke City in 35 years. Since then, the decade has been dominated by City and their riches as United slumbered after Ferguson’s retirement. It is that League Cup clash that is highly regarded as one of the most entertaining in recent times and if the upcoming matches are anything close, there are set to be a lot of fireworks.