The highly anticipated Manchester Derby took place Saturday with frustrating and mixed results. Both teams seemed satisfied to sit back and not risk over-committing attacking players while each team was still able to enjoy decent spells of possession, but minimal quality attempts on goal. Not that a reason was needed, it being a local derby and all, but the three points on offer were highly desired by both sides as they hoped to continue their respective pursuits. The match itself largely had that big game, boxing match feel one would expect to see with so much on the line.
Of course we all know the late drama that closed out the match when Paul Scholes headed home a Patrice Evra cross in stoppage time. Emphatic celebrations from United fans and heartbreak for City supporters. Such is football.
It was a match where neither team really deserved to win, but either team could have.
United went with their classic big match formation as Wayne Rooney found himself up front alone with wingers Valencia and Giggs (and Nani later in the second half) in support. City went unchanged with the formation that’s seen them score truck loads of goals recently – the attacking monster that is Tevez, Adebayor, Bellamy and Johnson, were mostly quiet.
In all the pre match hype, largely emanating from last September’s 4-3 classic, it was obvious both teams set up to not concede multiple goals – keep it tight, keep it close and close down opposition players quickly. 1-0 was always going to win the match. United’s creative players were overall a bit poor on the day, Rooney was frustrating and frustrated. In my opinion, he’s not 100% match fit. A fit Rooney would never be pulled off with 15+ minutes left in a derby. Giggs was mostly poor, miss hitting passes all day and Valencia was good, but is still unable to carry United when others around him aren’t at their best.
The football purists may question City boss Roberto Mancini’s decision to pull off the attacking winger Adam Johnson for the defensive minded Patrick Viera midway through the second half. However, as the 80th minute approached, both sides had used all three available substitutes, the pieces were set in the chess match that was to be the last portion of the match in hopes someone could snatch that all important goal that would likely win the game.
On the day, it just wasn’t to be, at least until stoppage time. The final ball for both sides is what was absent. Too many decent spells of possession and counter attacks fizzled out when the last ball was played, usually into the waiting arms of the keeper, or out for a goal kick.
There were some good individual performances from both sides that are worth a mention:
- Darren Fletcher for United has been one of their best players all year. Strong in midfield, willing to work his pants off and full of energy. All three attributes were on display Saturday.
- Gary Neville for United was solid in defense all afternoon. He did his job containing Craig Bellamy in a professional manner. Love him or hate him, he’s an asset when on form.
- Carlos Tevez for City is always a leader on the pitch. Maybe not at his sharpest in this big match, yet still valuable even when not scoring goals.
- Vincent Kompany for City did a top job dealing with Wayne Rooney before Rooney was pulled off. The Belgian defender won all the mini battles against Rooney yet lost the war.
The title race is without a doubt still on. United will rue their 0-0 draw with Blackburn last weekend and wonder what could have been. I think it’s safe to say, there are still some massive fixtures remaining in the Premier League that are sure to provide football fans with drama, passion and desire.
As for Manchester City, I still believe they’ll finish fourth. It’s going to be a tough scrap though. What I’m looking forward to over the next few weeks is how well mentally and physically Tottenham and City hold up as the rigors of the Premier League season take hold of both sets of players and attempt to suffocate them.
I for one won’t be missing a match.