Pablo Zabaleta revelled in the agony that was etched on Wayne Rooney’s face during Manchester City’s 4-1 win over United on Sunday, after the England man had claimed Liverpool fixtures were bigger than the derby.
Rooney was one of the few players in red to emerge with any credit from Sunday’s Etihad Stadium humbling, scoring a superb late consolation, but Zabaleta felt City had already proved their point, per Simon Stone of the Daily Mail:
I saw Rooney. He was one of Manchester United's main players and tried more than anyone else in their team.
He said Liverpool is still the big game but when I saw him working so hard it probably proves this game is just as important to him and United as Liverpool.
Prior to kickoff, Rooney had given an honest appraisal of United’s chief rivals, claiming City’s 2012 Premier League triumph was not enough to dislodge 18-time winners Liverpool as the team they most like to beat. ESPN provides the quotes:
City have had their success recently, but I would probably say that United and Liverpool is still the biggest game.
They're all big games, but obviously United and Liverpool has been a massive game over the years. I'd say it's still the biggest game.
Historically, Rooney’s view is on par with many of the club’s fans. Liverpool remain the country’s most successful side in European competition with five European Cup wins to United’s three.
When the two teams meet, the atmosphere often turns sour with both clubs guilty of singing about the disasters suffered in each other’s histories.
However, City are undoubtedly the greater current threat to United’s domination of the English game, proved by their powerful 4-1 weekend triumph, courtesy of goals from Sergio Aguero (2), Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri.
Zabaleta highlights what the game meant to Rooney as he tore around the pitch, trying to restore pride in the second half. However, it was equally clear in the frustrations shown by United boss David Moyes and veteran Ryan Giggs.
Moyes spent the majority of the first half debating decisions with fourth official Michael Oliver and the nearside assistant referee, while Giggs reportedly shouted at Oliver as they entered the tunnel at halftime.
Ian Ladyman of the Daily Mail reports that Giggs yelled: “Man up and do your job.” The frustration was said to be rooted in the officials’ collective failure to dish out harsher punishment to Matija Nastasic, who ploughed through the back of Chris Smalling during the first half.
Nobody at United is attempting to hide how stung they are by Sunday’s result, with Nemanja Vidic confessing via Ladyman’s article: “It hurts. You don’t want to lose derby games in this way and trust me, no-one will want to remember this.”
Ironically, United must now face their greatest rivals—in the eyes of Rooney—when they host Liverpool in the League Cup this week.
Defeat is almost unthinkable for Moyes, who has already been beaten by the Reds and City this season.