Defined by derby success, Manchester City’s faltering ‘golden generation’ could soon be consigned to history

Ahead of the derby, Manchester City's ailing 'golden generation' need to reprise their past heroics or face an uncertain future, writes Richard Jolly.

Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany was regarded as the best defender in the league. Now he struggles to warrant a place in City's starting line-up. Alex Livesey / Getty
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It is the end of an era. Manchester City’s greatest team in more than four decades are declining together. They need to be broken up.

Or so the theory goes. It is one that is heard increasingly frequently.

What is true is that City’s 21st-century golden generation have been defined by their exploits against Manchester United. They could do with reprising past heroics if they are to convince the world they still possess the hunger, unity and big-match brilliance to flourish on such occasions.

Because while City have lost five of their past seven games, they have won on their three most recent trips to Old Trafford. These are games that have provided career highlights for even decorated, distinguished players.

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Consider 2011’s 6-1 win away at United, which remains probably the Premier League’s most extraordinary result. David Silva has been the most consistent of City’s otherwise slumping superstars this season, but his laser-guided pass to Edin Dzeko ranks as one of the great assists in the division.

Dzeko scored two goals at Old Trafford then; he mustered another double away at the local rivals 13 months ago, when he struck after just 43 seconds. Yet a man capable of scoring twice in a game on enemy territory has now mustered just two goals in 22 games.

The 2-1 win in 2013 was notable for a slaloming solo run from Sergio Aguero for a decider that drew comparisons with George Best. The Argentine has delivered six goals in his seven Manchester derbies, but none in his past six City games. The most clinical finisher in England has been strangely profligate.

The other scorer in the 2013 victory was the unheralded James Milner, the oft-overlooked expert in the defining games. He is an exception in other respects: if others have to illustrate they deserve a City future, the club has to convince the out-of-contract midfielder to stay.

But while City have won on their past three trips to Old Trafford by an aggregate score of 11-2, their most significant victory came in 2012. The 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium served as a title decider: Vincent Kompany provided the definition of inspirational leadership by heading the only goal.

Now 2015 has become the captain’s annus horribilis, a year in which he has been dropped and when his every mistake has led to a goal. He has lost his unofficial title as the division’s best defender.

Yaya Toure was long regarded as its outstanding central midfielder, a reputation he helped earn in his dominant displays against United. His capacity to overpower them was most apparent in April 2012 when his virtuoso display of force in effect ended the United career of Park Ji-sung, a supposed running machine who found himself overrun.

If much of the speculation that surrounds Toure’s future is inaccurate, it is nonetheless notable that he was taken off in recent defeats to Barcelona and Burnley when City required a goal. A year ago, that would have been unthinkable.

Then there is a man whose personal derby high came, paradoxically, in defeat. The sight of an impassioned Pablo Zabaleta, wearing the captain’s armband, galvanising his side with an equaliser in 2012 underlined the Argentine’s affinity with City. One of the great triers has found himself displaced of late by Bacary Sagna.

Finally, there is the case of the manager whose path to acceptance was smoothed by a thrashing of United.

Roberto Mancini was a cult hero among the City fans. As his successor, Manuel Pellegrini faced a task to win over the critics. An emphatic 4-1 win in 2013 marked the moment Mancini was finally consigned to history.

The Chilean now has a 100 per cent record from his three derbies, but neither form nor the beleaguered Pellegrini’s fortunes suggest he will maintain that. He, like others, has happy memories from this fixture.

Legacies are secure, some positions less so. This is about the past and the future.

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