For only the second time since Pep Guardiola’s arrival in the city, Manchester United are above Manchester City in the Premier League table.
Judging by some of the celebrations on Twitter on Saturday, you’d have thought that was a much more important fact than it actually is. Maybe it is important, or maybe it’s a reminder of how much both teams must improve this season.
United’s sluggish 1-0 victory over West Brom was coupled with City’s equally sluggish 2-0 defeat at Tottenham to send Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men to the dizzy heights of ninth, while Pep Guardiola’s side are 11th, having never been lower than fifth after any matchday in any of the Catalan’s previous four campaigns.
Yet the fact that United had finally ended a Premier League gameweek ahead of the Blues was heralded as something of a success in some quarters of social media, and a signal of how poor City have been by sections of their fans.
A look at the bigger picture possibly shows why this might be such a big deal to some people. It was 1,117 days, or 117 games, since United were last above City in the table, and that was after five games in 2017.
The early stages of a season are often an anomaly for big jumps up and down the table as clubs are congested, so you have to go back a further 68 games, or 712 days for the last time United were ‘better’ than City after a reasonable amount of games. That was 1,829 days ago, before Guardiola arrived at City, when United briefly moved into second ahead of third-placed City exactly five years ago this weekend.
United would go on to finish fifth that year, illustrating a valuable point – league positions don’t really matter at this stage of a season. Unless, of course, it’s been so long in the shadow of your neighbours.
It would be unfair on United not to point out their recent improvement over City when the sides come face to face, with Solskjaer guiding his team to three wins over City in four meetings last season, even if it was the Blues who prevailed in the two-legged Carabao Cup semi-final.
Already, the first derby of this season is looking to be pivotal to both sides’ ambitions this season.
City need to start a winning run as soon as possible, with their upcoming fixtures providing a perfect opportunity to do just that – they face Burnley, Fulham, United, West Brom, Southampton and Newcastle in their next six league games. The trip to United is clearly the most difficult of those games, and City know they can’t afford to slip up like they have done already against Leicester and Spurs.
United could also do with a few wins of their own, especially at home. This season is a perfect opportunity for someone to crack City and Liverpool’s recent dominance. On their early form, United look a bit too wobbly to do that, but who knows what a win against City could do for a team capable of long unbeaten runs under Solskjaer.
So maybe the best barometer of whether the power has shifted in Manchester should wait until full time of December’s derby. Not a weekend where both sides struggled, and are languishing in mid-table. Ninth place is not something to celebrate.