Last minute winners and bloodshed on the pitch, welcome to Manchester!!
It is a Red day in Manchester as the league leaders extended their three point lead to six points over their derby rivals in an enthralling game at the Etihad.
City’s two year unbeaten home record came crashing down as the Red Devils turned in an incredible display of clinical finishing and strong graft to overcome their “Noisy Neighbours”. Two first half Wayne Rooney goals were cancelled out by second half Yaya Toure and Zabaleta strikes. RVP struck home a deflected free kick in the dying moments of the game to take home the three points.
TEAM NEWS: FERGIE’s MIND GAMES
After confessing his doubts for Cleverley and Valencia before the matchday, Ferguson played them in the derby clash taking everyone by surprise. In retrospect, it should not have been that surprising as SAF is well known for his mind games prior to big matches.
A fit Valencia allowed the use of a regular 4-4-1-1 wide system in place of the pre-thought 4-2-3-1 narrow formation.
Mancini decided to go one up over Ferguson in terms of squad selection surprises as he fielded the volatile and unpredictable Balotelli whose first goal against United in Old Trafford last season still remains (in)famous.
BEFORE THE FIRST GOAL
City dominated the first fifteen minutes, with the possession stats looking dire for United. But they rarely threatened David De Gea. The United players played with a resolutely well shaped defence waiting for their moment of counter attack. They could afford such a strategy as their attack was strong enough to get a goal in minimal attempts. That went on till United struck.
Clever play between Young and Robin Van Persie set Young forward and who found Rooney just inside the box. Three touches were all he need before he somehow worked the ball into the bottom left corner away from the direction of his momentum; Hart was literally rooted to his spot, completely wrong footed due to the unpredictable nature of the shot as the ball rolled slowly into the corner. For all of City’s domination, it was United that had a vital lead.
CITY SHUT DOWN
After the first United goal, another blow for City soon followed. Their influential captain Vincent Kompany was subbed off injured, replaced by Kolo Toure.
And soon after the Reds doubled their money; Rafael thundered down the right as he did throughout the match to send a low cross to Rooney, who once again was in a similar position in the box to slide it home. United were in dreamland.
Rooney’s goals are indicative of United’s strategy; both goals resulted from overlapping runs down the flank, a low pass cut into the middle and a run across the front line of City’s defenders.
United did take the lead against the run of play, but it was Ferguson’s sound tactical calls that worked for them. He picked his battles on the pitch correctly by letting City have the advantage they wanted without conceding a goal and played to his side’s strengths.
The Citizens were dangerous with their movement and fluidity, but the United defence stood firm. Ferdinand and Johny Evans were colossus at the heart, and Evra looked like an old star back to his former glory, continually blocking crosses down the left.
TEVEZ INSPIRES CITY
The next tactical change in the match came after half time when Balotelli was taken off for Carlos Tevez. Aguero was shifted forward to lead the charge while Tevez took up a role quite similar to Rooney’s, dropping back to midfield to bring the ball up.
While City’s formation remained the same, they were more direct, which is due to the difference between Balotelli and Tevez (or Aguero) when they receive the ball.
Balotelli tends to pick up the ball with his back to goal, which implies that he will need time and space to direct play forward. On the other hand, Tevez likes to receive the ball at his feet facing goal on the move, which results in him only needing a touch or two to bring the play forward.
The game opened up for both sides by now but Tevez’s presence invigorated the City attack which resulted in more shots for them, 18 in total against United’s 10.
THE FINAL TWIST IN THE TALE
City had squared the scores by the 85th minute courtesy of Yaya Toure and Zabeleta, the former having been excellently found by Tevez after a fine double save from De Gea.
The 2nd City goal could have been entirely avoided. A corner which was half cleared at the front post, fell in the semi circle at the edge of the box to Zabaletta who powered the ball home. Phil Jones had come on just minutes earlier for Antonio Valencia, who had been marking that area. The confusion left the City Right Back with all the time in the world to hit home.
It was all City after this. They poured forward and De Gea again had to show great hands to not spill solid shots. De Gea had a generally nice outing, notwithstanding the two goals, he was confident on aerial balls and never spilled any shot.
The final goal if at all it would come had to be City’s as United were stretched deep in the defence with Rio marshalling the last line with everything he had.
Welbeck came on for Cleverly. And it was him who harassed Clichy to win the ball deep in City’s half. That led to Rafael being fouled. And that led to RVP dispatching a free kick home, via an outstretched leg of Samir Nasri on the end of the wall.
The ending was marred by City supporters throwing coins onto the field, one of the projectiles hitting Ferdinand near his eye. Luckily it seems he was only cut.
The result could have gone either way in the end with both sides showing their level but the manner in which City and United played out the derby could prove more significant than the result in the long run.
City showed that their central midfield partnership is still a force to be reckoned, while Silva still has the magical pass to slice defences open.
As for United, they only had 3 shots on target in the match with lesser possession but it was their clinical edge that proved too much for the Citizens to handle.
If the two of them can carry on to play like this and knock up a more consistent run in the following weeks, it will be a tall order for any other team in the league to catch up to them.