Peter Schmeichel - usually one of the more neutral ex-professional pundits - has made huge waves in the press ahead of today's Manchester derby by putting his neck on the line, and describing City as "the bigger club... in terms of results" in a feature for ESPN.
This has sparked outrage amongst the bolshy United faithful, who have decried the Great Dane's comments and claimed that new money remains no substitute for footballing heritage. However, as uncomfortable as it must be to accept, the plain and simple fact is this: Schmeichel's right, and United are very much the secondary Manchester club.
Football is intrinsically a results game, and while nobody is doubting United's historical credentials, they do not match their brothers in Blue. Let's examine the facts: so far this season, the so-called Gaalacticos have earned 13 points from their last 9 league games, one point less than their first 9 games under the calamitous rule of the much-beleaguered David Moyes. Of those 9 games, only one has been against any of last season's top four, with their stolen last-minute draw against Chelsea last weekend. Furthermore, United have played all three newly-promoted teams, managing a meagre win, loss and draw against QPR, Leicester and Burnley respectively. Defensive frailties and unconvincing football, coupled with an injury record Raymond Verheijen would completely lose his s*** over, have left United looking a spent force thus far in the season, continuing to erode the aura of invincibility they held under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Meanwhile, City have taken 5 points from last year's Top 4 in their opening games, as well as racking up several domineering victories against Liverpool, Hull and Tottenham. They enter the season as champions, and continue to play like it. Sergio Aguero remains imperious, assuming the position of the league's best player with the loss of Luis Suarez. Yaya Toure, currently on blistering form for both club and country, only continues to establish himself as a truly unique player in world football, seeming to have literally every attribute you could wish a midfielder to have. They already have a 6 point lead over their Stratford End counterparts, and on current form, it looks like a lead they will only maintain if not continue to further.
United fans, however, would be quick to point out that the title count is very much on their side, and furthermore, that United's title cabinet was earned, and not bought. It has to be said, alas, that City can at least buy success. In the time since Alex Ferguson left the club, United have spent an incredible £213.2m on players across three transfer windows (without accounting for the loan fee of Radamel Falcao). They have broken the British transfer record with their purchase of Angel di Maria from Real Madrid, as well as hurling themselves above City and Chelsea in terms of the wage bill by handing astronomical weekly sums to Falcao, di Maria, Van Persie and Rooney. And yet, United have found themselves falling considerably short, having failed to purchase any solid defender in amongst their lavish spending, and opting to play out-of-their-depth youth defenders such as Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair instead. As a result, United's defending has looked comically amateurish at times this season, with the 5-3 loss to Leicester perfectly embodying the failings of Van Gaal's top-heavy approach to tactics.
City, on the other hand, have spent their (admittedly exorbitant) riches very well in the same space of time. Signings such as Fernandinho and Fernando have added further steel to the grace and poise of the City midfield, allowing Nasri, Toure and Silva to flourish in the knowledge that their defence is being covered. Similarly, City have looked for top-class bargains such as Fernando and Bacary Sagna to give their squad greater depth, and to ensure that they would never be found to be lacking in the same manner United have. It is in the strengthening of their firepower, however, where City have seemed to do the greatest business. In the knowledge that their star man Sergio Aguero is prone to injury, Pellegrini added Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic to the side last season alongside Edin Dzeko, giving City the most formidable attack in the Premier League, and arguably one of the strongest frontlines in Premier League history. It was this embarrassment of riches in every field that made City champions last year, and has kept them appearing an insurmountable force for United this year. Furthermore, City have displayed an intelligence in their transfer dealings that United have failed to, proving that spending big does not necessarily mean spending wisely.
As it stands then, United enter this Manchester Derby as the underdogs, with the previous seasons' results supporting that notion. United's routine humiliation by their noisy neighbours is almost a given in modern times, and whilst Van Gaal may now be at the helm with an array of very expensive players at his disposal, United's total lack of an experienced, fluid defence seems to point towards yet another City victory. As for the issue of status, Peter Schmeichel has passed on a very inconvenient truth to United's fans: their era of dominance is over, and it is Manchester City who have knocked them off their perch.
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