• Thu. Sep 21st, 2023

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The Athletic

Manchester City Fans will be rejoicing over Sir Alex Ferguson’s ‘Not in my lifetime’ joke from 2009, when he dismissed the idea that the club from the blue side of town would ever go into a home game against United as favourites.

For those keeping track, City have finished above United in all 10 Premier League a season since Ferguson stepped down as manager of the latter and they go into Saturday’s FA Cup final as overwhelming favorites to win it.

What’s more, if they were to beat United at Wembley, it would put them just one game away – a chance to win Inter Milan next weekend The Champions League final in Istanbul and complete the treble.

This is history in the making, days in the life of City supporters. Never mind navigating their way to Turkey via the most complicated but cheapest route possible, it’s hard enough for them to get to London, given the nationwide rail strikes.

The travel planning, the searches for game tickets, the stress that just comes with it everything, all while the sun shines on the land, even in Manchester, may all be looked back on so fondly in years to come. These are days to cherish for those watching from afar too, City’s golden era unfolding before their eyes.

This is what it’s all about.

Only in hindsight, though; it’s not so much fun nowadays. As the seconds tick down to kick-off, after motorway service stations have been skipped and Wembley Way avoided as far as possible, the game itself is about to feel bad.

Perhaps it is their status as overwhelming favorites that adds so much pressure to Saturday’s final for City supporters. There is so much at stake, so much recent history to live up to.

City have had plenty to cheer for from Manchester fans who went back even before Ferguson left Old Trafford at the end of the 2012-13 season.

The FA Cup semi-final against United at Wembley in April 2011 is the day the landscape changed forever, in short. “It was payback for everything,” as one fan said, on his way home from the same venue last month after City won. Sheffield United in the semi-finals of the season.

City beat United in the 2011 FA Cup semi-final in a tense, tense atmosphere (Image: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

The score was 6-1 soon after as Roberto Mancini’s side won their first title of the season. Manuel Pellegrini then continued the new tradition, his City sides laying waste to some of Ferguson’s successors. Pep Guardiola’s side have done the rest, arguably even topping 6-1 in some of their games with United, such was the dominant nature of last season’s performances.

United have suffered humiliating defeats this season, but they haven’t always gone quietly.

Louis van Gaal took charge at the Etihad Stadium. Jose Mourinho spoiled City’s party in April 2018 when a home win in the derby would have secured their first ever title. Ole Gunnar Solskjær beat City much more than expected – and took us back to the danger of the favorite brand.

These results provide tangible confirmation of the fears surrounding Saturday’s final for many City fans. Again, this is City’s time in the sun. They are the better team of the two by a distance, with these supporters themselves happy to cheer every minute of the year – apart from the week leading up to the tie, when the panic begins.

There are two years that stand out when looking at the journey of Manchester football over the past 30 years: 2011, and that The FA Cup the semi-final and 1999, when United won their treble four days before City were relegated from the third tier of English football. Inevitably, 2023 will soon be standing by their side.

The idea of ​​City winning the league and thus finishing above United has become completely natural over the past decade, but did anyone expect those 1999 parallels to turn out so horribly like this? Never mind going into the derby as favourites, never mind finishing above United every time, City could actually win the treble too.

“You’ll never win three in a row,” chant the United fans Chelsea, their main rivals for the title in the first decade of this century, but City now have — the only club other than United to do so in modern times. And in just over a week they could have repeated United’s greatest achievement, that legendary treble of the FA Cup and the European Cup.

It’s talked about so often because some great teams have come close— LiverpoolThe last four games of last season, for example, saw them win the FA Cup and then finish second in the other two competitions – but this excellent City side could certainly do it. And they could do so by beating United in one of the two finals.

It doesn’t get much sweeter.

The flip side is that defeats don’t get any bitterer.

And before this article is accused of putting an overly negative spin on things, try telling that to the countless City fans who would be winning at the weekend more than seven days later if they had to choose one or the other.

It is ‘only’ the FA Cup, as the modern status of the competition suggests, and City have never won club football’s biggest trophy; the trophy their manager and players are desperate to win; the trophy that Guardiola says is needed to give them the credit they deserve after all these years of home rule. And yet a significant number of their fans can’t bear the thought of losing to United – losing to United at Wembley, losing the treble to United – preferring to come so close to glory and then fall at the third and final hurdle.

There’s a sense of dread in these games, not just because of everything that went into Saturday’s game itself, but also because of how that semi-final was played 12 years ago. It was a momentous day on the pitch, one that will forever be remembered fondly by all City fans, but it is also one that is talked about in the dark by many of those who were there.

The atmosphere was dark, they say, as pockets of trouble erupted on the way off the field. It seems anyone who was at Wembley that day is pretty sure it will happen again this weekend.

It is easy, in that mind, for City to worry about the smallest details, such as a ‘niggle’ affecting Ruben Dias and Jack Grealishthe fact that City’s last real competitive game was the win over Real madrid more than two weeks ago, or the fact that United fans, players and manager are completely open about being so determined to stop City’s treble.

City may joke that the Manchester derby is United’s cup final these days, but on Saturday that is literally the case and that is the worry.

Of course, there are enough City fans who realize that even the pain of losing to United in these circumstances would be somewhat assuaged by winning the Champions League a week later.

The trophy parade would be enjoyable with the two biggest trophies on the bus.

United fans would bemoan City’s failure to win the treble but it would certainly be difficult to think too much about that after the winner in Istanbul.

Then again, who’s to say they’ll win the Champions League final?

That’s the thing about this time of year, especially about these two games: you don’t dare get ahead of yourself. Why dream when you can fear?

And yet all those dreams could come true – it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.

(Top photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images)

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