Tuesday’s Manchester Derby, doubling as the first leg of the League Cup Semi-Final, was sleepy for certain stretches but produced plenty of encouraging highlights for supporters of both sides, including:
- Antonio Valencia. After receiving a gorgeous pass from Patrice Evra, thoroughly embarrassed Craig Bellamy, first with a neat nutmeg, then with a sensational step-around to set up Man United’s first goal. Valencia can be spotty, as evidenced by his absolute howl of a miss in the second half. But he’s shown enough flashes of brilliance flying down the right wing to make United supporters optimistic about their future midfield. Now if only West Ham could produce another dominant centre-back for them to poach.
- Should it have been a penalty or not? The red half may label the penalty call on Rafael Da Silva “controversial,” but we’ll leave it at “arguable.” No doubt, a wide-eyed Rafael tugged at Bellamy’s shirt outside the box, and at least tried to do so again inside the box before being shoved off. Replays seemed to show that no infraction occurred inside the box, but at full speed it seemed like a continuous offence that eventually led to Bellamy’s tumble inside the area. Again, at full speed, the call is justified. Would an additional assistant referee by the goal or a video assistant made the right call? Have at it.
- Carlos Tevez. Correct call or no, Carlos Tevez showed the proper way to take a penalty, a no-doubt-about-it hammering. His powerful shot could have doubled as a defibrillator and certainly must have sucked the flavor right out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s gum. Unlike Tevez’ former teammate Ronaldo, infamous for his twinkletoe-stutterstep penalty attempts, Tevez played his shot, not the keeper.
- Brazilian failure. Wither Robinho? Subbed in and out of Sunday’s desultory loss to Everton, he enjoyed Wednesday’s match from the City of Manchester Stadium’s priciest seat: ?32 million pounds.
- Three’s Company. Vincent Kompany did well to keep the ball alive for his flick to an unmarked Tevez. Well, sort of unmarked. Patrice Evra was there, but chose to try and toe at the ball, which could have easily resulted in an own goal had he gotten a touch on it.
- Bosom buddies. Michael Owen did a fantastic job consoling Valencia after his aforementioned howl of a miss. Touching.
- Wayne Rooney. United-haters will point to his flops, but it was remarkable to watch Wayne Rooney’s ability to fend off attack-after-attack to stay up with the ball, displaying his usual bulldog tenacity, as United upped the pressure late.
- Fun for the whole family. Fun propositional bet for you and your pals. Pool your money and pick a date by which you think it will be too warm for Roberto Mancini to wrap himself all snuggly in his sky blue-and-white scarf. Closest without going over wins.
The second leg will be played Wednesday, January 27th at Old Trafford.