As statements of intent go, it couldn’t have been much bigger.
“If we only consider this season,” Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini said, “there is just one club in Manchester – and it’s ours.”
That comment – an attention-grabbing one from a coach usually reserved in front of the media – came last month ahead of a Champions League game against Barcelona.
To some, it was a mere statement of fact, with City 12 points ahead of United in the Premier League at the time and still in contention for trophies on four fronts.
To others, it was unnecessary goading. And it no doubt will have hit a nerve over at Old Trafford, where the reigning English champions have ruled football in the city for the past three decades.
For that reason, you would expect United to take even greater pleasure than usual if they can beat City in tonight’s Manchester derby at Old Trafford.
“Well, Manchester United had lots and lots of seasons of domination,” Moyes said when asked about Pellegrini’s comment ahead of this match. “I don’t think if I was a manager I would have turned round and necessarily said that we were the only club in Manchester because football does change, it goes in cycles.
“I think it’s important for us to show the level we’ve got and that we’re not as far away as many people would have us.”
For the first time in a generation, City will head across town as favourites to beat their fiercest rivals at Old Trafford. United are down in seventh place in the standings after a turbulent first season under Moyes and City, to many, are the team most likely to be raising the Premier League trophy on May 11.
Pellegrini’s side are six points behind first-place Chelsea with three games in hand. If they win their remaining 11 games, they cannot be stopped.
“We always expect to go and win,” said a confident Pellegrini, whose first Manchester derby ended in a 4-1 victory for his side in September. “It’s not just because Manchester United has had a difficult season (that) we are going to go there and win.”
That derby defeat was United’s first crushing loss under Moyes this season – and a few more have followed over the interceding six months.
But what a difference a week has made for the United manager.
He woke last Monday to scathing headlines after an embarrassing 3-0 home loss to Liverpool, with suggestions abounding that his time could be up if United were eliminated from the Champions League.
Seven days later and bolstered by two victories in a four-day span that kept the team in Europe and got them on track somewhat in the league, Moyes was clicking his fingers as he walked cheerily through the club’s training complex and sitting a little comfier in his chair at the pre-match news conference.
It’s been that kind of season for Alex Ferguson’s replacement – a massive low one week followed by a high the next. There has been no consistency and of the many alarming statistics to blight Moyes’ short reign, one perhaps stands out – United have just one win this campaign against a team in the current top nine.
“We want to try to perform better in the bigger games than we’ve done, I’ve got no doubt about that,” said Moyes, whose team are 18 points behind Chelsea. “I’ve got no doubt it will improve, and I want us to show we’re still in there fighting.”