History will be made in Texas on Thursday when two of the world’s biggest clubs face off in the first Manchester derby outside the UK.
Manchester United and Manchester City have met 174 times over the years, but never on foreign soil - until now, when they go head to head at NRG Stadium in Houston in one of the most eagerly-awaited fixtures of this year’s International Champions Cup (8.30pm CT).
City captain Vincent Kompany told reporters on Wednesday that the team aims to give fans in the Bayou City a taste of the competitive spirit that’s evident whenever the sides clash at Old Trafford or the Etihad Stadium.
“For us the main thing is to export a little bit of the feeling that you can have when you play in a derby,” he said. The veteran defender offered a personal anecdote that sums up the passions this match-up always stirs:
“My situation is pretty simple, my wife is from Manchester, she’s a blue and her family is divided between blue and red and when we go together at Christmas for dinner it’s an issue sometimes. So that’s what it means, that’s everything about the derby really,” he said.
The Kompany family's mood at the final whistle might well be influenced by whether he can keep his fellow Belgian international, Romelu Lukaku, quiet. The striker scored his first United goal against Real Salt Lake on Monday after a big money transfer from Everton that is one of the most eye-catching deals of the summer so far - along with City's acquisition of England right back Kyle Walker from Tottenham.
Like any manager in a high-profile pre-season encounter, City’s Pep Guardiola has several aims: win the game and develop teamwork in a squad that’s undergoing an expensive overhaul after finishing third in the English Premier League in 2016-17, his first season in charge.
“These games are very important,” said the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich head coach. “People will want to see how we play, it’s a very important game for us to try new things.”
Prolific since his 2011 arrival, Sergio Aguero is still at the club, with Guardiola dismissing talk on Wednesday that the hugely gifted forward may leave. He could cause United’s back line headaches on Thursday; a potential member of that defense is new signing Victor Lindelof, a 23-year-old Swedish international.
Up front for United, 19-year-old English striker Marcus Rashford is looking to cement his rising star status for club and country, especially now that club icon Wayne Rooney has rejoined Everton. “It’s a different feeling playing the derby in a different place, we’re so used to it being in Manchester,” Rashford said in United’s pre-match press conference. “It’s good to bring it elsewhere and let the fans see a different game.”
This is the first match of City’s US tour. United have already faced the Los Angeles Galaxy and RSL, with Real Madrid in California and Barcelona in Maryland to come in the ICC. “Now it’s time to raise the level, and now we get three of the best teams in Europe,” said United manager Jose Mourinho, who praised the facilities Stateside:
“The conditions are phenomenal, the organization is phenomenal, so let’s play the game.”
Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku started together for the first time and fired Manchester United to victory in the first Manchester derby played outside the UK.
Clubs whose stadiums are separated by less than five miles recreated their crosstown rivalry deep in the heart of Texas and delivered an open, chance-laden International Champions Cup clash that saw United edge Manchester City thanks to sharp first-half goals from the young forwards.
United manager Jose Mourinho said he was pleased with the night’s work. “Good intensity - players tired - I’m really pleased,” he told reporters. “It was good. [City] have very good players, they play quality football, we had to play well.”
His City counterpart was pleased with the performance. “It was a physical test,” said Pep Guardiola. “I saw many, many good things,” he added, citing the runs his players made in attack. “We played quite well especially in the second half.”
After a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner - not something they’re used to in northwest England - the match got underway, with the official game ball presented by Drake, the rapper and singer-songwriter. Manchester’s symbol, a worker bee, was displayed on the players’ jerseys for the occasion in tribute to the victims of the May concert bombing in the city.
Even at a distance of nearly 5,000 miles from England, the 67,401 crowd at NRG Stadium - with most fans decked out in City blue or United red - did their best to make the teams feel at home.
Both managers picked strong line-ups. City included the likes of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Stirling and Sergio Aguero and gave debuts to summer signings, the Brazilian goalkeeper, Ederson, and English international defender Kyle Walker.
Captained by Antonio Valencia, among United’s high-profile names were David de Gea, Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Daley Blind.
This was City’s first pre-season game but the third match of United’s US tour, following victories over MLS sides, Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake. It wasn’t surprising, then, that United started the brighter, with Ederson called on to save a fizzing shot from Herrera and a stinging drive from Mkhitaryan.
But Guardiola’s men grew into the game and De Gea was twice called into action to deny Stirling, while 17-year-old homegrown starlet Phil Foden impressed going forward, his manager giving him a rave review afterwards: “I don’t have words,” he said. “His performance was another level."
After 30 minutes the best chance of the half fell to City youngster Patrick Roberts, who looked sure to score from close range but Chris Smalling made a vital block.
Lukaku gave United the lead nine minutes before the break. The costly new arrival from Everton beat the onrushing Ederson to a through-ball, rounded the goalkeeper and finished coolly with his left foot from an acute angle.
It was 2-0 moments later as another United breakaway was finished with aplomb, this time by Rashford. Set clear on the right he lashed his shot low into the net.
In the second half, Lukaku thundered a shot off the crossbar while at the other end Foden tried a lob that fell just over. Late in the game, substitute United goalkeeper Sergio Romero made a flying save from Fernandinho as City pressed for a goal.
It was not to be and the 13-time Premier League champions bested a team that finished above them in last season’s standings, with the strains of “Glory Glory Man United” echoing through the arena at the final whistle.
United now head to Santa Clara to face Real Madrid on Sunday, while City meet the Spanish giants in Los Angeles three days later as the ICC continues.