So, here we are once again on the cusp of yet another Manchester Derby. However, this time the stakes are humungous. The two Manchester clubs, although separated by a few miles in distance, are oceans apart in terms of silverware, fan base and just about any criteria that encompasses a football club. Ever since the takeover of City by the mega rich Abu Dhabi group, there has been much ado about a power shift in the city but its hasn’t been realized just yet. City’s fortunes have changed dramatically since the Sheikhs took a liking to the blue half of Manchester. Nevertheless, the impact hasn’t been significant enough for the Reds in the city to even blink.

Circa 2008, Man City had just done the league double over Sir Alex’s United side that went on to win the League and Champions league double, there were hardly any noises of a upheaval to be heard, although City under the stewardship of their Thai owner had started loosening the purse strings.

Back in the 90’s and even in the last decade, the contests between the two clubs had been fairly evenly contested with City coming up trumps on many occasions. However ever since the high profile takeover, United have ruled the roost.

The reasons could be the fact that the ‘Manchester Derby’ as an event has risen in profile and in significance to gigantic heights, in a matter of years; it’s probably up there now with the likes of United-Liverpool in terms of media frenzy and fan interest. Such a spotlight has almost woken Sir Alex and his troops to the threat possessed by the hitherto dormant neighbors, and responding to war cries coming out from ‘Real Manchester’ became a necessity rather than an option. Man United have responded to the challenge and done so with utter aplomb. The Carling Cup semi final was a perfect example where United had put out an uncharacteristically strong side, not because winning the Carling Cup was a necessity but because keeping City at a bay was the need of hour.

The much publicized billboard that added fuel to fire

Statistics sometimes tell a story in a way words never can – United haven’t lost to City ever since the much talked about Blue Revolution. The only game Mancini’s City side won was the first leg of a two legged tie at the City of the Manchester Stadium, but United responded by winning the second leg in style, and in the process kept City trophy less for another year. It has been 35 Years now for the ‘richest club’ in the world since they could claim to be champions of anything. The wait could yet end this season, but if it doesn’t, the taunt would surely get louder and noisier from the Reds in the city.

City fans have been given a new lease of life ever since the Abu Dhabi United group took over the reins of the club. 400 million worth of player transfers later, have they really made it big? Not really, as City’s claim of being a “massive club” is still met with contempt and laughter, from Merseyside to London. They might be ridiculously rich but still lay a level below the leading lights in the English game.

This weekend provides an opportunity for the ‘Blue Moon’ to rise yet again – City take on their much despised rivals in the F.A. Cup Semi Final at the hallowed Wembley Stadium. Make no mistakes, Man United do have bigger fish to fry, a European Cup Semi Final and a #19th league title are definitely the priority. However, Sir Alex knows that the Old Trafford faithful cannot see their side on the wrong end of a result against City of all teams.  Ergo, rest assured Fergie will send out his strongest available X1.

The absence of the leadings lights – Wayne Rooney due to the much publicized suspension and Carlos Tevez due to his injury at Anfield, has added a new twist to this high profile duel. Mancini must fear the worst if his side once again comes a cropper against Ferguson’s Red Army – will the Italian survive yet another Derby setback? On the other hand, if his City side succeeds, that will surely give Mancini some breathing space, especially if they can end the trophy drought by winning the cup itself.

Sir Alex’s United side, despite criticism from pundits and fans alike, have once again shown the rare ability to bring out their ‘A’ game when the going gets tough. The midweek Champions league triumph over Champions Chelsea must have done wonders to the confidence of the whole squad. The club is buzzing with excitement after the recent turn of events as the big games keep coming thick and fast at the business end of the season. Whoever thinks that the schedule is too cramped up and is an extra burden on United’s title aspirations has probably got the definition of success all mixed up. Manchester United and Sir Alex pride themselves on winning every competition they enter into, or at least give their mighty best in trying to do so. So, for an F.A. Cup Semi-Final against arch rivals City, Sir Alex wouldn’t need much pep talk for his troops – these are the games every United player cherishes and such games are the reason they wear the sacred red jersey.  The gaffer would certainly look to rotate his players and despite the number of changes that the Scot might make, the team sheet will have a solid look to it.

For years, the city of Manchester has been dominated by the team in Red, while the Blue sides have largely lived in oblivion. Wembley provides a perfect backdrop to the fastest growing rivalry in world football, adding another chapter to its folklore. On one hand, there’s a club desperately seeking recognition, adulation and respect, more importantly looking to prove a point to their more illustrious neighbors. While on the other, there’s a football power-house trying to capture yet another silverware and in the process keeping in check the advances of their rivals. Roberto Mancini’s men must win if they are serious about their claims of world domination and establishing status quo in the city, while Ferguson’s Red Devils despite all their success and unparalleled achievements cannot afford to let their guard down.  This is as big as it gets – the Manchester Derby in all its glory. Heroes will rise and legends will be born. People in Manchester, the city, will be divided by the love for their club and united by the notion of wining.