Manchester (Dis)United: Why Can’t City and United Just Get Along?

The noisy neighbors are making an almighty fuss once again.

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Manchester United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates as Manchester City Manager Roberto Mancini looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United on April 17, 2010 in Manchester, England

The noisy neighbors are making an almighty fuss once again. Manchester City, seemingly forever in the shadow of their more illustrious rivals from down the road, Manchester United, have tried to turn the heat up as the two clubs battle it out for supremacy atop the English Premier League.

City’s football development executive, ex-player Patrick Vieira (who briefly played for City but was far better known for wreaking havoc in central midfield to multiple trophy-winning effect for Arsenal and France), has claimed that United are benefiting from a host of generous calls made by referees at United’s home ground of Old Trafford.

(MORE: TIME Magazine on Man Utd. and Sir Alex Ferguson)

“When United play at home they get some advantage that other teams don’t get,” Vieira said. “I think when you go to United, Madrid, Barcelona or Milan, when the referees referee these kind of games, it’s always difficult to go against these kind of teams. This is the way it is. It’s something the teams who are used to winning get all the time. We need to win games so we have this advantage in the future.”

The incident which upset the former midfield maestro took place on Monday night as Utd. was clinging onto a precious 1-0 advantage against a Fulham side they were expected to dispatch with customary ease. Instead, entering the final minutes of the match, the Londoners claimed what looked like a pretty solid penalty when Danny Murphy appeared to be tripped by Michael Carrick. Michael Oliver (who, for what it’s worth, is the Premier League’s youngest referee) waved away the appeals, as he did in the first half (if you permit us to play devil’s advocate) when United felt Fulham’s Stephen Kelly handled Patrice Evra’s cross.

But perhaps Vieira decided to ruffle some red feathers, in the forlorn hope of striking a psychological blow ahead of April’s potentially pivotal title decider, which is being played at City’s home ground of the Etihad Stadium (the standings currently have Utd. three points ahead but City has the better goal difference).

If that was the case, he must have been prepared for the backlash. First out of the blocks was Utd’s Rio Ferdinand, who took to Twitter to state, “Why is Vieira so concerned with Man Utd…. c’mon maaaaaan let it go.” Indeed, it’s worth noting that only West Bromwich Albion have conceded more penalties at home in the top flight this season.

But if we’re talking master of the mind games, they don’t get any better than Utd’s wily manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who has been dealing with comments of this nature for as long as there’s even been football (well, that’s how it seems). “Someone said some years ago United always get penalty kicks at Old Trafford but when you go back through the 25 years I’ve been here it’s only averaged about three a year, or something like that,” Sir Alex said, while conceding that “I think maybe we’ve a point that the smaller clubs feel that way.”

Ferguson proceeded to turn the argument on its head, noting that “City could have had a penalty kick against them at Stoke as everyone saw,” which referred to Man City’s last league outing, before saying, “Tottenham could claim the same when Balotelli wasn’t sent off and then ended up scoring the winning goal.” (Man City snatched a last-gasp 3-2 win against Tottenham Hotspur at home earlier in the season).

Much like a rally in tennis, Vieira (and City) then went on the defensive, actually going as far as banning the BBC’s Dan Roan, who had spoken with the Frenchman, by claiming that his comments had been “completely taken out of context.”

Soon enough, the action will return to the rightful place of the pitch as Man City welcome Sunderland this Saturday before Utd. travel to Blackburn on Monday. The sparks had already been flying, what with¬†Vieira previously questioning Ferguson’s decision to accept Paul Scholes’s request to come out of retirement (Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has also joked about it), and the Scot firing back that City had shown more “desperation” by recalling the controversial striker Carlos Tevez, despite his “taking a five-month holiday in Argentina.”

The last word for now, naturally, goes to Ferguson: when discussing luck, he trotted out the well-worn clich√© that “it evens itself out over a season and that will never change. You get breaks here and there. Every club gets good breaks, bad breaks.”

But when you consider that Utd. have 19 league trophies to City’s miserly sum of two (the last coming in 1968, and even then Utd. burst their bubble by winning the European Cup), it’s all too evident why Vieira, Mancini and all associated with Manchester City football club are desperate for every good break to go their way.

MORE: Sir Alex Ferguson Persuades Wayne Rooney to Stay at Man Utd.