Derby day won in true United way!
There was an air of inevitability when Robin Van Persie stepped up to take that free kick in the 93rd minute with the score tied at 2-2. Strong belief that, no matter how little a time is left in a game Manchester United will score, is the hallmark of this team for over a quarter of a century now. As expected, Van Persie scored to make it 2-3 in the favour of United and thereby settling a dramatic derby in true Manchester United style. Some habits are just hard to break.
Prior to the match, Sir Alex Ferguson had said that it would be one of their greatest ever results if they managed to beat City in their own backyard. Indeed it was, as Manchester City had set the standards over the last couple of years, especially at their home, where they had gone unbeaten for 37 games with their last defeat coming in December 2010.
If that record alone was not daunting enough, last season’s double loss, both home and away and especially the 1-6 humiliation at home against City just confirmed the magnitude of the battle facing Sir Alex Ferguson’s team. One thing that all United fans felt last season in matches against City was the lack of attacking intent shown by their team. Sir Alex Ferguson set up his team to just soak up the pressure from City, which backfired and cost United the title last season.
However, there was nothing of it in yesterday’s match. United employed the strategy which they are best at; a traditional 4-4-2 with speedy wingers on either side of the pitch going forward at every opportunity and terrorizing the opposition full backs. The plan was not to concede early, soak up the early home pressure and hit them on the counter-attack. As expected, City dominated the early possession, though without really creating any clear cut chances. United players hardly had a touch of the ball in the first 10-15 minutes, until they produced a classic counter-attacking move from back to front at blistering pace that caught City by surprise and Rooney opened the scoring with United’s first attack. Ten minutes later, almost the same move, just the opposite flank and Rooney doubled United’s lead. The plan perfectly executed. The game would have been over in the second half had the linesman not flagged Ashley Young offside, when he was clearly onside in putting the ball in the back of the net after it had rebounded off the bar from Van Persie’s shot. However, justice was done in the 93rd minute and there was a special United style to it. A 3-0 win would have sounded really convincing and satisfying, but it could have never matched the drama and ecstasy of that 93rd minute winner at the away end.
The United players’ commitment and desire to win the match was there for everyone to witness and applaud. All the players gave more than their 100 percent, whether it was defense or attack, if anyone got out of position, others duly filled in and negated any threat. Special mention to Rooney who did almost everything in the match apart from taking the goal kicks, and in the process becoming the overall highest goal scorer in the Manchester derby, overtaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 9 derby goals.
Sir Alex Ferguson clearly won the tactical battle which started with surprise starts for Cleverley and Valencia in the midfield, after declaring them out injured for ‘few weeks’ in midweek. Rooney was employed to play just behind Van Persie, but he was playing a much deeper role, and along with Cleverley, was keeping a check on Yaya Toure’s burgeoning midfield runs which had been the major thorn in the side for United in their previous meetings. Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia provided much needed cover to their fullbacks whenever required, to negate any threats posed by Samir Nasri or David Silva. Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans and later Chris Smalling produced their best defensive play of the season and didn’t give Aguero or Balotelli a sniff of the United goal. Michael Carrick as underrated as he has ever been, provided the perfect shield in front of the back four by making some very crucial interceptions and at the same time distributing play up front at every opportunity. The rest as they say, is history.
The unsavoury events that happened at the end of the game, with Rio Ferdinand being hit by a coin, are a part and parcel of such high intensity derbies. When you celebrate the way Ferdinand did in front of the away fans, you should be ready for the consequences. The fans are as passionate as the players, and if Ferdinand’s ecstasy got the better of him, the same was the case with the fans’ agony. FA might punish the people involved, but these things can never be eliminated, and after all, these things are what fuel the rivalry and the passion involved. The best way is to just move on, as has been done by Rio Ferdinand expressing his thoughts through his tweets.
“what a result, 3points! Sweet! Whoever threw that coin,what a shot! Can’t believe it was a copper 2p….could have at least been a £1 coin!”
All said and done, it was a perfect derby day which had almost everything with goals, drama, ecstasy, agony, passion, commitment and above all, the beautiful game. Well, United might have won the battle and gone 6 points in front, but the war is still on until May. But for now the bragging rights remain in the red half of Manchester.