For many a decade Manchester City were little more than an annoyance to their cross-town rivals, with Manchester United the dominant force both on their own patch and in the Premier League.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had become the powerhouse of the Premier League era, winning the top flight in its inaugural season and lifting eight of the first 10 titles of the division’s first decade.
City, meanwhile, had struggled in their shadow. The blue half of the city had been more accustomed to hardship than headlines, with a rollercoaster ride across the turn of the millennium having seen the Citizens drop from the Premier League to the third tier, and back again.
In August 2008, the Mancunian rivalry would change forever. Investment from Abu Dhabi catapulted City into the financial elite, giving birth to a new Premier League superpower. United had faced big-spending threats before, with Jack Walker’s Blackburn Rovers and Chelsea, under the ownership of Roman Abramovich, becoming big players in both the Premier League and transfer market.
This, however, was different. This was City – and a little too close to home.
In came big name signings. Robinho was the first superstar signing to arrive, albeit with mixed success. Then came a transfer that would ignite the touch paper between the teams, as Carlos Tevez – a key component in Manchester United’s 2008 Champions League win – crossed the divide.
City fans gleefully celebrated the capture of the Argentine international, depicted arms outstretched on a billboard with the now famous ‘Welcome to Manchester’ tagline.
The first sign that City were a real threat to their neighbours came weeks later in September 2009, in a thrilling Manchester Derby that saw the teams go toe-to-toe at Old Trafford. Michael Owen’s last-gasp winner won it for United, with Ferguson remaining defiant in his dismissive stance of the big-spending blues.
“At the moment, we have a neighbour, and sometimes, the neighbours are noisy,” Ferguson quipped. “You can’t do anything about them, you gotta go on with your life.”
Fast forward two seasons and City had beaten Manchester United in the semi-finals on route to FA Cup success in 2011, a first major trophy in 35 years. The following campaign saw both teams make a strong start in the Premier League, ahead of a seismic showdown at Old Trafford.
This was the first time in history that a Manchester Derby had taken place with the teams first and second in the top-flight table, City two points ahead after an unbeaten start. Distraction in the blues’ build up came from Mario Balotelli and his ability to create self-made headlines, with the fire brigade called out in the early hours after the forward had accidentally set fire to his own home with the use of fireworks indoors.
Roberto Mancini chose to start the striker despite his off-field chaos and, fittingly, he exploded the derby into life. James Milner’s cutback found the forward, whose side-footed finish found the bottom corner.
‘Why always me?’ was the message on Balotelli’s undershirt, revealed in celebration. It was always him centre stage, though this time it was for the right reasons.
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Half-time arrived with City in possession of a one-goal lead, having edged the opening 45 minutes against the reigning Premier League champions. If the first half had been a tight-fought contest, the second proved anything but. Jonny Evans was sent off two minutes after the break for hauling down Balotelli, with the red card the catalyst for City to truly take control.
Balotelli doubled the lead on the hour after turning in Milner’s cross, before Sergio Aguero added a third for the visitors nine minutes later.
Darren Fletcher’s fine strike pulled a goal back for Manchester United, but it proved only momentary respite from a City side in cruise control. City scored three goals inside the final few minutes, rubbing salt into the festering wound of their shell-shocked neighbours.
Edin Dzeko bundled in a fourth after Joleon Lescott’s header back across goal, before releasing David Silva to race away and roll a fifth through the legs of David de Gea in the Manchester United goal. There was still time for a stoppage-time sixth, as the two reversed roles to put the finishing touch on a Manchester Derby masterclass.
Silva – given the freedom of Old Trafford – cushioned Chris Smalling’s headed clearance into the air just inside his own half, before volleying a sensational pass between the Manchester United centre-back pairing of Smalling and Rio Ferdinand.
On galloped Dzeko, who struck the sixth past De Gea. The Bosnian raised six fingers to the air as he wheeled away in celebration, an almost disbelieving nod to City’s derby destruction.
😲 One of the #PL‘s most unforgettable matches@ManCity scored 𝐬𝐢𝐱 at Old Trafford #OnThisDay in 2011 pic.twitter.com/Lw65yXOgqh
— Premier League (@premierleague) October 23, 2020
Out poured the Manchester United fans from the stadium, with the City contingent celebrating an unforgettable win in full voice. If the neighbours had been noisy before, they were deafening now.
It was the first time United had conceded six goals at Old Trafford since 1930, and the club’s heaviest defeat of the Premier League era. It was embarrassing, emphatic, and signalled a shift in the balance of power.
City went on to win a first Premier League crown that season, snatching the title from Manchester United on goal difference in the final seconds of the season. Aguero’s golden goal against Queens Park Rangers is the defining image of their success, but their 6-1 win was a momentous moment in the club’s championship campaign.
Read – The Premier League’s Greatest Games: Manchester United 4-3 Manchester City
Read Also – Five of the most memorable Manchester Derby moments
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