Football fans watching the Community Shield on Sunday witnessed a truly great spectacle. In what was “just another friendly” according to Sir Alex Ferguson, the match itself was fitting for a FA Cup Final. He further stated that he wouldn’t get too “emotional” about the showdown, but his joy was clear to see after Manchester United won the match in typical Manchester United fashion.
From the very first blow of the whistle, Manchester United controlled the match, passing the ball around confidently, whilst Manchester City adopted Mancini’s favoured defensive approach. It was particularly pleasing for United fans to see Ashley Young, their £16million signing, looking comfortable on the left flank despite being pitted against the powerful Micah Richards.
Nevertheless, even though the Red Devils dominated possession, they were rather toothless in attack. The attacking wave kept breaking against the strong levee that was Manchester City’s defence, who were under the captaincy of Vincent Kompany.
Manchester City’s attack wasn’t any better. The experienced Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic easily nullified the Sky Blues’ offensive threat. Plus, without Carlos Tevez’s bulldog-like approach, the City forwards failed to hound down the ball allowing Chris Smalling and Patrice Evra to join United’s attack on several occasions.
However, in an unsuspected twist, it was Manchester City who drew first blood. David Silva, who grew more influential as the first-half grew older, whipped in a delightful free-kick from the right side and there was Joleon Lescott, who rose like the Blue Moon itself, to dispatch the header over the debuting David De Gea. Lescott, who scored similar goals during his Everton tenure, swaggered to the corner flag to celebrate with the delighted City fans. 38 minutes played, 1-0 to Manchester City.
It seemed all too familiar for Manchester United fans. Once again, at Wembley, United had started the game off brightly against their bitter rivals, yet they were the ones trudging back to the centre circle to kick-off again. Post-match, many have argued that De Gea should have dealt with David Silva’s cross. Even though this may be harsh, he certainly was at fault for City’s second goal.
With the wind in City’s sails and Manchester United still reeling from the aftershock, Edin Dzeko picked up the ball and freely smashed a shot from 25 yards out. The shot should have been followed by a routine save, but the young Spaniard failed to react quickly enough to the movement of the ball. As disappointment was written all over De Gea’s face, Dzeko was grinning from ear to ear after a confidence-boosting goal.
Soon after, the referee blew for half-time. Both sides walked down the tunnel and the battle was handed over to the fans. For Manchester City fans, it was joy to behold witnessing their team beating Manchester United for a second consecutive time. On the other hand, Manchester United fans were facing the daunting prospect of watching the Premier League champions lose at Wembley for the third time in 2011 alone. I imagined that the Manchester United message boards were crammed with the words, “WE NEED A WORLD-CLASS MIDFIELDER!”
Sir Alex Ferguson, looking for a positive response, rang the changes with Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley coming on for Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick respectively.
Manchester United may have been down, but they certainly were not out. Displaying their never-say-die attitude, United kept surging forward with City players hesitantly charging out of their positions attempting to snuff out the attack.
As a result, Manchester City conceded a free-kick on their right side. Up stepped the impressive Ashley Young, who delivered a teasing ball into City’s box. Consequently, it was the unlikely source of Chris Smalling who duly punished the Sky Blues after some lacklustre defending. The Manchester United faithful rose from their seats, sensing that the tables were turning. The big screen read 2-1 with just 7 minutes of the second-half clocked.
United’s second goal, shortly after, left football fans purring. The introduction of Tom Cleverley had evidently injected more gusto in Manchester United’s assault and the youngster played a crucial part in the equalising goal.
Cleverley started the move with a short pass to Welbeck, who quickly found Rooney. As soon as Rooney picked it up, he squared it to Nani. Now, if you blinked you missed it. Nani gave it back to Rooney, Rooney with a smart flick to Cleverley, Cleverley with a touch onto the onrushing Nani, Nani with a sublime finish past Joe Hart. My words don’t do justice, but it was Barcelona-esque.
The subsequent celebrations showed just how much it meant to the Manchester United players. This was no longer “just another friendly”. The Red Devils sought redemption over the FA Cup Semi-Final defeat. A win over your rivals is always a sweet victory no matter what the occasion.
Immediately after, Roberto Mancini replaced Mario Balotelli with Gareth Barry in order to weather the United storm. Predictably, ‘Super-Mario’ wasn’t best pleased with the decision, even though his personal highlight was a failed pirouette. The induction of Barry seemed to pay dividends, as Manchester City didn’t become too overwhelmed. However, their attack was now non-existent.
Mancini brought on Adam Johnson in order to provide more attacking flair. The England international’s best chance was a shot, which was well saved by David De Gea. The former Atletico Madrid keeper may have had an underwhelming debut, but the save was crucial nonetheless.
Much didn’t happen afterwards. Both teams were cancelling each other out and penalties beckoned. However, the superb Nani had other ideas. With the seconds ticking towards the final minute of injury time, it was City who had one last chance to pump the ball into the box. After a game of pinball, Rooney cleared the ball down field with Nani being United’s only chaser. The Portuguese winger caused Vincent Kompany to produce a rare mistake, which allowed Nani to rush on goal.
Manchester United fans stood up. This was the moment. Nani, Joe Hart and around 35-40,000 screaming United fans. One touch and he was past the City goalkeeper. One touch and the ball nestled in the back of the net. Jubilation. Nani scored in the 94th minute and the remarkable comeback was completed. Sir Alex Ferguson celebrated gleefully, whereas his Manchester City counterpart looked desolate.
So, for the fourth time in five years, Manchester United lifted the Community Shield and dispelled their Wembley voodoo. Despite the fixture holding no real significance, Wayne Rooney sent out a warning to Manchester United’s Premier League rivals stating, “We are the champions and we are the team to beat.”
After that enthralling contest, the Premier League can’t come soon enough.