A much anticipated Manchester derby lived up to the hype yet again, as United snatched a victory from under the nose of Roberto Mancini’s men. City looked the stronger side for the slight majority of the match, but United created more clear-cut chances. A draw would have done both teams justice, but yet again United find a way to steal a win in a classic performance. A great game was darkened by the actions of a Manchester City fan who threw a coin at Rio Ferdinand, cutting his eyebrow. It was a reminder that much remains to be seen regarding the evolution of the game in England.
City’s lineup was pretty expected with the only real surprise coming up front, as Mario Balotelli started instead of Carlos Tevez. They set up in the usual 4-2-3-1 formation with Sergio Aguero sitting just behind the Italian maverick and Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry sitting deeper.
Antonio Valencia and Tom Cleverley both started amid speculation and reports that they would miss out through injury. Johnny Evans coupled Ferdinand at the back in what has, in truth, been a sub par pairing as of late. United set up in what seemed a 4-4-1-1, although at times Wayne Rooney dropped deeper to make it essentially a 4-5-1. United’s use of width was essential in this game, and turned out to be one of the decisive factors.
City Start Strong; United Steal a Goal
City began the match looking the stronger side, pinning United back and keeping possession. Silva sprayed pass after pass over the park but the home side didn’t create any real chances during the opening fifteen minutes. After about seven minutes, Young and Valencia switched sides, with Young moving to the right and Valencia coming over to the left side. At first this had little impact, and City maintained possession and United struggled to find and outlet. After about twelve or thirteen minutes had gone by in the game, Young and Valencia switched back to their original flanks.
United’s first goal came completely against the run of play, but it was a swift move which carved City open on the left side of the pitch. Ashley Young showed great awareness to flick the ball on to Van Persie who chested down for Young, spinning off, to run onto and leave Zabaleta and Kompany badly out of position. Rooney drifted outside towards Young and then back inside, taking Nastasic and Barry away from him before trickling one to Hart’s ride hand side.
Wayne Rooney was due for a big performance, and he delivered at the proper time. Not only did he net two of United’s goals, he was also the centerpiece of their attacking threat. He also defended well during City’s spells of pressure and acted as an outlet in what was a less conventional manner.
Tom Cleverley linked superbly with Wayne Rooney throughout the game, and the two seemed to have an understanding together than allowed United to kickstart their attacks. On several occasions, when United won the ball in their end, Cleverley and Rooney would perform quick one-twos or link up play to create space to get the ball out wide. This partnership was crucial, as the majority of the United threat going forward came from the flanks and Wayne Rooney was the catalyst for a great part of the attacks.
His second goal was classic Rooney; charging from a deep position to sidefoot a cutback from a wide area. Barry failed to communicate with Silva when he left Rooney to go help out wide, and consequently, the Spaniard was caught trailing four yards behind the goalscorer. Indeed, the goal started with Tom Cleverley winning the ball in midfield before Carrick swept it out wide.
While City’s response to the two goals being scored was not ideal, they could have handled it in a far worse manner than they did. They recognized that it wasn’t yet the time to go mindlessly attacking and when in possession they looked less reluctant to go forward, and more intent on settling the pace of the game down.
United on the other hand were effectively trying to end the game before the half, and they continued to look dangerous on the counter, although they did begin to see an increase in possession. City were not helped by a sloppy Mario Balotelli, who looked as though he had accepted the notion of a substitution even before the half, and as a result, became totally useless and uninterested. The Italian did little to justify Mancini’s selection of him ahead of not only Carlos Tevez, but also Edin Dzeko. Nevertheless, it was crucial for City to see out the half without conceding again, and they were able to do that.
Shortly after the interval, Tevez replaced Balotelli; a move which saw Aguero pushed higher up the pitch as the striker, and Tevez playing in behind him. The move changed the game, as City again looked the stronger team with a ragingly determined Tevez keeping Chris Smalling (on for the injured Johnny Evans) more than busy. Smalling was not helped on a couple occasions when De Gea seemed reluctant to come out and cut off balls into Tevez. Instead forcing Smalling to try and hold off the bullish striker. The move worked however, as City scored just eight minutes later. Yaya Toure got in the box for what was seemingly one of the first times on the afternoon, and scored a goal similar to Rooney’s second after two excellent De Gea saves.
It is worth noting that Yaya Toure was not his normal self. He is usually seen charging forward, running at midfields and defense and creating space for others. He was given more of a holding role alongside Barry, particularly early in the game. Perhaps Mancini thought that City had enough going forward to cause United problems and therefore felt it was more important to protect the back four. On the other hand it could have been an attempt to nullify Rooney who was always going to be dropping into a deeper position. Whatever the reason, it backfired, but after Tevez came on, Toure started getting forward a bit more.
United look panicked (but still dangerous) as City turn it On
Just prior to, and following Zabaleta’s goal, City really started to put United under pressure. Samir Nasri began to get into the game more so than had previously and city looked more fluid in possesion and on the attack. City though, still struggled to deal with the pace of Rafael, Valencia and Young as Zabaleta was caught badly fouling the wide men on more than one occasion.
Just before Zabaleta scored, Jones came on for Valencia in a deep midfield position. Ferguson would have been furious, as the goal basically rendered the substitution pointless and ineffective. Ferguson responded promptly by bringing Danny Welbeck on for Cleverley in a move that ended up winning United the game. On one of their rare counters (at this point in the match, it was rare) United lost the ball high up the field, but Welbeck was able to win it back before it was given to a charging Rafael who was clipped by Tevez on the way through. It was harsh on City, and harsh on Tevez who had gotten back so well to help his team defend in the dying minutes. Van Persie scored the free kick, and the match ended 3-2 to United.
While City were hard done by, it is fair to say United deserved the win, considering Young had a goal called back for offside that was not offside. City’s inability to defend Wayne Rooney and United’s counters at the start of the game well and truly cost them. Mancini will need to take a good look at the way his team performed, as well as his decision to start Balotelli. While I would not go so far as to say Mancini’s decisions lost City the game, it was his decisions combined with the clever ones of Sir Alex, that gave United the extra edge.
Man of the Match: Wayne Rooney