Manchester United v City, the League Cup and the battle of a banner

The old rivals go head-to-head again on Wednesday and manager Solskjaer will be hoping for a repeat of a famous Red Devils semi-final victory in 2010

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It was the night before second leg of the 2010 League Cup semi-final. The crew from an officially sanctioned Manchester City feature Blue Moon Rising filmed several United fans in a cafe by Old Trafford. They had requested to film inside the stadium but were turned down when the subject matter became clear.

City had won the first leg 2-1 with two goals from former United player Carlos Tevez. The filmmakers focused on the banner which the group had hung from the upper tier of the Stretford End stand.

An odometer, the tally increased every year which Manchester City did not win a trophy. By 2010, it was despised by City fans and perceived as a symbol of United’s sneering arrogance towards their neighbours.

Manager Roberto Mancini vowed to put an end to the banner by winning a trophy and his team were placed to reach the final after overcoming United.

The filmmakers wanted to know how the group would take the banner down and if it would be possible to record it. The assumption was that it would be very soon and a perfect ending to the movie, due to be released later that year.

The following night, Manchester United won 3-1 with a late goal from Wayne Rooney giving them the aggregate victory. Apart from 9,000 City fans, Old Trafford erupted in one of the best atmospheres of the last decade.

The banner stayed up, the film had a different conclusion than planned. United fans were soon singing ‘35 Years’ to remind City how long it had been since their last trophy.

The banner would come down the following year when City won the FA Cup after knocking United out en-route. City have won plenty of trophies since – even more than United.

Such a scenario could not have been envisaged when the banner started out saying ‘17 YEARS’ and was passed around United fans at a European Cup game in Budapest in 1993. Five of those trophies have been in the last seven years in the League Cup.

City have another chance to reach the final of a competition they have dominated on Wednesday in a one-leg game at Old Trafford.

The Blues prevailed last season at the same stage over two legs, doing their damage in the first half of the first tie when they went 3-0 up.

They showed they can still do that to their rivals by overwhelming Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, but United are much improved and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's record is not a bad one against City. Of the six derbies since he took over, United have won three, drawn one and lost two – including the one which led to that semi-final elimination a year ago.

Aside from the results in those derbies, United's performances have also improved, though they started with United counter attacking with limited possession. Those attacks were clinical in the 2019 away win at the Etihad, a moment Solskjaer described as his finest as United manager. But in the turgid 0-0 draw last month, United were up to 47 per cent possession. These are small mercies, but few teams have so much possession against Pep Guardiola's sides.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 14:  Manchester City fans show off a banner to Manchester United fans at the end of the FA Cup sponsored by E.ON Final match between Manchester City and Stoke City at Wembley Stadium on May 14, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Manchester City fans celebrate with their own banner after beating Stoke City to win the FA Cup in 2011 - their first major trophy in 35 years. Getty

"I've seen progress," Solskjaer told The National. "Sometimes the results don't show the whole picture of the game. Some of our counter attacking goals in the wins that we've had have been brilliant.

"Away in the league when we won [December ’19], we could have scored four or five in a 10-15 minute period. Some of the counter attacks were out of this world, but we’ve had less control of the ball. We defended fantastically.

“The last game [last month] was more or less 50/50 in possession. It was a maybe a more cagey game from both teams but still I felt that was a progression staying more in the game."

He is well aware of what City can throw at their opponents. “You never know what type of system he [Pep Guardiola] is going to try and come up with but you know you have to defend really well against Man City no matter what.

"It’s hard to keep the ball in their half when they’ve got it because they’ll find a way of overloading. You have to be brave, be compact, trust your players. Then again, when we have the ball we have to keep it and play out of their press because they’re one of the quickest teams to put the counter pressure on and they want to win the ball high up.

"It’s a balance that we found but we didn’t have the X-factor in the last game. Maybe they were a little more cagier and set up to counter attack.”

United, he observes, have not quite got there yet. “There have been some fascinating games and I feel we have got closer and closer but results sometime you can’t control.”

Both Manchester teams have improved recently. City concede fewer goals and defend better than last year, but they had found scoring more of a challenge until they put four past Arsenal away in the last round. United impressed beating Everton away two weeks go at the same stage.

When Blue Moon Rising was released in September 2010, the film makers did invite the United fans who appeared in it with the banner to a 'blue carpet premiere'. Strangely enough, they did not attend.

There will be no similar odometer banner appearing at Old Trafford for some time yet, if ever, but United fans will be hoping they can once again spoil a happy ending for their derby rivals.