Stunning goals. Drama and controversy. Heroic performances and memorable matches. The Manchester derby may not be the best city rivalry in world soccer, but it rarely lacks in entertainment value.
City can clinch this season’s Premier League title with a home win against United on Saturday.
With that in mind, here’s a brief list of just some of the memorable moments that have dotted this derby that dates back to 1881.
Francis Lee mocks George Best
The derby games of the 1970s were often foul-tempered and physical battles. There was also a fair bit of gamesmanship, like in this contest from Nov. 6, 1971. Manchester City forward Francis Lee chased down George Best in the middle of the field before the Manchester United star took a tumble. Lee was yellow carded, but he felt Best took a dive to earn the foul, going so far as to theatrically throw himself onto the pitch to demonstrate his point. The teams went on to battle to a 3-3 draw in what is regarded as one of the best matches in the history of the series.
Law relegates United – only he didn’t
The teams met at Old Trafford on the second-last day of the 1973-74 season with United needing a victory in order to avoid relegation. With the game scoreless in the 80th minute, Francis Lee played a pass to former United legend Denis Law, who rejoined City the previous summer. With his back towards goal, Law deftly back-heeled a shot past goalkeeper Alex Stepney. It turned out to be Law’s last touch, as he was quickly substituted out of the game and later retired. Contrary to popular belief, though, Law did not relegate United, who were also depending on other results to go their way that day, and is it turned out they would have gone down even if they beat City.
It took Roy Keane three years, but he finally exacted revenge on Alf-Inge Håland. In 1998, United captain Keane suffered a cruciate ligament injury as he broke in on goal while being chased by Håland (then playing for Leeds). As Keane lay prone on the ground, Håland, who barely made contact with the Irishman, accused him of feigning injury. The two met up again in 2011 when Keane raked his studs high across the knee of Håland (playing for Manchester City) in one of the dirtiest tackles you’ll ever see. In his autobiography published in 2002, Keane admitted that his horror tackle was a premeditated attempt to injure the Norwegian.
Rooney’s bicycle kick
It gets replayed time after time in the buildup whenever these teams are scheduled to face off against one another. Wayne Rooney’s stunningly majestic and breathtaking bicycle kick goal in the February 2011 derby not only gave the Red Devils a 2-1 win at Old Trafford. It also sent a message to the big-spending and emerging City side that United would not so easily be knocked off its perch as the kings of English soccer. United would go on to win their 19th Premier League title, but City would gain revenge the following season.
Even the most diehard City fan couldn’t have seen this coming. United was still basking in the glow of its title win from the previous season when the sides met at Old Trafford early on in the 2011-12 campaign. Although it would be a stretch to think of this as the changing of the guard, City’s 6-1 mauling of United was a clear indication that the Blues had reached level terms with their city rivals, and could no longer be dismissed as “the noisy neighbours.” City inflicted the worst-ever home defeat on United during Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign as manager, and the Blues went on to win the title on a dramatic final day of the season, ripping the crown from United’s grasp.