Neutrals and the fans of both Manchester clubs alike had hoped for a game to remember as the Premier League’s top two sides battled it out for local and national supremacy. The match, in the most unforeseeable way possible, certainly did not disappoint with a 1-6 away win for City that will stick long in the minds of supporters and followers of football alike.
In my previews during the run up to derby day I questioned the authenticity of City’s team ethic and morale, and the influence and abilities of their commander-in-chief, Roberto Mancini. Even if they were in anyway aware of my existence, the Italian and his expensively assembled squad would care little for my opinionated conjecture, but as City tore United asunder throughout the second half, it was as if every single charge I had raised against them was answered totally. My criticisms leading up to today’s match were wide of the mark and have been utterly repudiated.
Whilst United had fought well throughout the opening exchanges of the match, attempting to burst down the flanks to take advantage of their strengths out wide, their off-key passing and over-rushed plays meant that any real penetration and composed purpose was lost in a hazy noise of wasted exertion and panic. It was almost as if the spectacle of the day had got under the skin of those wearing red.
In comparison, City reacted to the pressures of the occasion with solidarity and a teflon-like clear headedness. Fresh from his comically seasonal accidental arson attempt, Mario Balotelli stood tall in the face of personal adversity to win the first half for Mancini’s men with a single goal advantage going into the break. His eagerness to sally forth to battle, to stand be counted, was the embodiment of City’s spirit and approach. There was no wild child petulance on show today.
As United attempted to spring out of the traps early on, the team in blue held their nerve, making use of every scrap of possession to slow the play down and form themselves into small, disciplined triangles. Their quarry were punished and made to work for every passing glitch. At the back, Joe Hart and his defenders rebuffed every threat thrown at them. Kompany and Lescott made excellent use of their superior height and strength to outmuscle United’s attackers, feeding their clearances and forward balls into Mancini’s meticulously planned supply-lines that sprawled out into their red opposition’s half. The red’s left flank looked especially brittle with Micah Richards gallivanting past Patrice Evra with seeming impunity. Every potential danger was recycled into a multi-fronted counterattack.
Whilst Silva was the epicentre of City’s creativity and ideas (and hard working, fanatical battling), James Milner was the willing transporter of the Spaniard’s hand-crafted ammunition. He executed the role of delivery boy perfectly and, alongside Yaya Toure, dominated United centrally and on the borders of the midfield flanks. It was blue domination in the midfield as their appetite to fight, ferocious energy and tactical potency saw their coherent technicians ran amok. Anderson and Fletcher just couldn’t to live with them.
Could it be that today, Sunday the 23rd, will become the momentum shifting breakthrough for Sheik Mansour’s October revolution? Sir Alex Ferguson is the most prolific team builder in the business, and his adaptability to react to new challenges has been one of the pillars of his widespread success and longevity. The league is far from lost but this is surely a brutally sobering moment for the wily Scottish master who declared today’s result as the lowest point of his career.
It can be claimed that City have won the sugar daddy lottery, and that any progress and succes has been bought with oily financial doping but today they were a team built on skill, enterprise, grit and determination. United, with their vibrant history and self-created riches had no response.
Jonny Evans is the obvious scapegoat for supporters and pundits alike, but he is far from alone in guilt. His red card was purely the most dramatic of blunders in a shockingly inept miss-showing by the reigning Premier League champions. There could perhaps be some tainted positives to be divined but it would be woefully contrived and hackneyed to suggest any considering that it wasn’t just the red’s fans who left the stadium with 20 minutes left on the clock. Darren Fletcher’s goal, whilst pretty, is hardly worthy of a mention.
It wasn’t a consolation. It was a 6-1 defeat to Manchester City.