A Vincent Kompany goal during first half injury time was enough for Manchester City to claim all 3 points against a massively below par Manchester United. In what was billed as the “title decider” City’s victory took them back to the top of the table on goal difference, with just two games remaining.
Following the collapse at Everton in the previous match, Sir Alex Ferguson rang the changes. Rafael was dropped to the bench with Phil Jones coming in to replace him. Chris Smalling was also back in the United defence as replacement for the injured Johnny Evens. Ferguson unsurprising opted to play five in midfield, with Rooney as the lone striker. This lead to Ryan Giggs starting, and more surprisingly, Park. The inclusion of Giggs and Park meant that one of our regular wide man would miss out. Nobody would have expect the unlucky party to be Antonio Valencia.
The 4-5-1 formation that United lined up in was never in doubt. The midfield would be packed, not allowing City to overwhelm, as is often the case in that area of the pitch. It was expected that The Reds would try and contain City and then flood forward when in possession. So it may have been a surprise when united started the more attacking side.
For the first 15 minutes the match was end to end, United looking most likely to get the early goal. There were good numbers in attack and there was space out wide, and between the City midfield and defence. Naturally the pace and intensity that was shown, by both sides, could not last. By the 20th minute the game had settled. As it did, City began to dominate and win the vital midfield battle.
City now found themselves with the ball far more than United. The system, however, looked to be working as City were forced to play in front of the United team. But City were still dominating and United struggled to win possession. Scholes and Park closed down but were ineffective, Park I’m sorry to say was woefully so. Jockeying wasn’t enough, there was always an out for City.
When United did have the ball there was very little sign of the early promise. Rooney had become isolated and for a time and looked to be more concerned with a personal ball with Kompany. Nani was also becoming a passenger, constantly on his heals and slow to react to lose balls. Jones and Evra were always getting up to support. Evra looking our most likely source of creating something, Jones however was wayward the majority of times. Yaya Toure and Milner were too strong for Park and Scholes. Perhaps Jones would have been more suited to the physical battle with Toure.
Though United were holding City off, the amount of possession they were having began to take its toll and Evra was exposed a number of times towards the end of the half. City were starting to get in behind The Reds defence. It was only down to the number of United bodies in and around the box, along with some desperate defending which frustrated City.
The deep defencive and midfield lines, however, offered few options for United to counter when a City move broke down. Passing had to be quick due to the congestion in the middle of the pitch. Uniteds passing was poor, if it wasn’t poor the recipients touch was. United found themselves with their backs to the wall for the final 15 minutes of the first half.
To have gotten to the break goalless after being under such great pressure would have been a more than reasonable half. We would have taken that before the game. Get in goalless and Ferguson would be able to build. It came agonisingly close to being 0-0 at the break, but a flurry of injury time City corners changed that. Smalling, though short on match practise, was making a good account of himself but a momentary lapse in concentration during one of these corners allowed Kompany to rise totally unmarked in the box and head City in to the lead.
With half time upon us, it was still too early to change things from a United point of view. The game plan was still the same, contain and grab a goal when the chance arose. Though this half we had to create a chance. Credit where its due, United started the second half well, seeing much more of the ball than they did for most of the first period and looked to get forward more regularly.
Once again though Uniteds promising start wouldn’t last. City soon regained control of the game and the pattern was that of the first half. Changes were now required. Chasing a goal in a game that we could ill afford to lose, we had not looked like scoring. Off went Park, on came Welbeck. With United now at 4-4-2 Mancini brought on De Jong for Tevez to close the game out. It was City however who came closest to adding to the goals, but the United defence somehow mnaged to close Nasri down before he could get a shot away, just 4 yards out.
City were still the dominant force and now with the added body in midfield United continued to struggle and still created nothing to get the pulse rate up. Even the introduction of Valencia and Young did nothing to worry City. Joe Hart in the City goal was as redundant as any ‘keeper would dare to dream of being. United had put in a performance so poor it is barely believable, especially in a game of such magnitude.
As the clock crept down the game became more niggly as the pressure on both sides increased. Niggly it may have been on the pitch, but on the side line it was at boiling point, resulting in a furious confrontation between Ferguson and Mancini. Brought on by a De Jong tackle on Welbeck, which would later see the United striker leave the stadium on crutches, Ferguson and the City manager had to be separated by staff and stewards.
Hope sprung for the ever desperate United players when 5 minutes of injuty time was announced. But typical to the woeful performance on the night there was very little evidence of a reallying call. City had sat back for the final 15 minutes but poor build up play and final ball, Jones in particular, meant that City were untroubled.
The match had gone. The performance was shocking. The fault must lie with those on the pitch. Every player, bar maybe Ferdinand, second best. There was a lack of commitment and sad to say a lack of hunger from a number of the team. The fact that when we are 1-0 down in game we need to at least draw and not have a shot on target speaks volumes. Ferguson had set the team up correctly, though the inclusion of Park and omission of Valencia must be questioned.
But lets get some perspective. First of all, if the title has gone it is because of results at Wigan and at home to Blackburn. Secondly, we have a mixture of experience and inexperience. Those lacking in the experience will undoubtedly feel the pressure, but having now been here will become stronger for the disappointment of recent weeks. Finally, it’s not over until it’s over. We must fight and ensure victory in the final two games to keep City under pressure.
We have been here before, most memorably in ’92 and ’95. United, and our fans, dusted ourselves down and came back stronger.
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