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Manchester Derby – Two Days On: Deconstructing the Wreckage


For “Collymore closing in…” in 1996, you can read “It’s Michael Owen…” in 2009. Both games were littered with brilliant goals, pathetic defending and some of the most exciting football the Premier League has seen. Now though, two days on from “The Greatest Manchester Derby in the History of Anything Anytime Ever”, it is surely the time to look back on it with a more tactical eye. The time has come to peer reluctantly into the wreckage.

Looking at the two formations on show, it was clearly a battle between United’s 4-4-2 against a City 4-3-3 (or 4-2-3-1 depending on your outlook on life). Following Rooney’s early goal – caused by a Micah Richards error, not to be the last – City, after a nervous five or ten minutes, and especially following Barry’s equaliser, started to establish control: De Jong was by far and away the best player in the first half, on either side, and dominated the midfield with his smooth, unerring passing complementing his strong, robust tackling. He was helped a lot by United’s eagerness to play the ball towards their two front men rather than using the flanks – one of the major problems with a 4-4-2 is its requirement to play the ball out wide and minimize the numerical disadvantage left in the centre of midfield – and De Jong could therefore just mop up any loose balls from the front. From there he could either give it to either Stephen Ireland or Gareth Barry; if Darren Fletcher and Anderson were blocking that route, he had the time and space to pick out a ball to Carlos Tevez, Craig Bellamy or Shaun Wright Phillips, whose job it was to create havoc. Even with Park Ji-Sung doing his customary harrying, there was still an easy ball to Wayne Bridge on offer if all else failed.

When City had the ball in United’s half, City’s mobile forwards were interchanging effectively, coming short and running in behind, leaving United’s undermanned back six (defenders, and central midfielders) stretched and leaving the centre halves and middle two too far apart, creating space for Bellamy, Barry et al to pick up the ball in space. Carlos Tevez, whose return to Old Trafford was typically hard working (creating Barry’s equaliser by pouncing on Foster’s indecision), was guilty of not further making use of City’s dominance by missing a guilt edge chance just before half time.

With City dominant and United picking out the wrong passes, the last thing they needed was a goalkeeping error from Ben Foster, whose position as United’s Number 2 has started to come into question: His handling from crosses – once a major problem – now rarely seems to raise its ugly head, but his lapses in concentration and poor judgement cost his team twice yesterday. It is too early to make a sure judgement, but he may join Tim Howard, Fabien Barthez and Massimo Taibi on the “Talented Keeper, Not Great at United” list. A further issue for the Champions was the Park/O’Shea combination on the right flank – Park is an excellent defensive option on tough away trips, but at home, and especially in a 4-4-2, the onus is on the flanks (either the wingers or the full backs) to create another option rather than straight down the middle, and Park doesn’t offer the attacking threat of a Valencia or a Nani. This coupled with John O’Shea’s at times comical crossing ability means that while Patrice Evra and Ryan Giggs were running riot down one wing, it was not until Valencia came on until there were three attacking options (right, left, centre), and City’s defence was truly stretched.

Giggs himself was unbelievable. After a poor first half where he saw little of the ball, he was given more possession in more attacking areas. Linking with his fullback beautifully, he gave a lesson in rounded left wing play: When Evra bombed on he would not be afraid to cut inside and create a third man in midfield; when Evra stayed back he would dance past all and sundry, jinking, nutmegging, crossing with calculated genius. United’s Left Wing Delta Force forced Wright Phillips to almost abandon attacking duty – if the same had been true on the other side, perhaps Bellamy would not have had the space, nor the chance to score his brilliant first goal – and forced City to defend crosses, a quality for which they are not famed: Berbatov was good without being great, but even he was having headed chance after chance from Giggs’ crosses. And after The Other Welshman seemed to have had the last laugh, it was Giggs’ calm, cool, precise pass that gave Michael Owen his moment of glory. Darren Fletcher’s willingness to put his head on the end of two Giggs’ crosses showed just how much that United’s channelling of play down the flanks in the second half made City’s central, numerical advantage almost negligible.

This was partly down to United’s exploitation of Giggs’ genius, but also down to City suddenly starting to sense something special in the offing. Like so many clubs who come to Old Trafford, and are within striking distance of a result, they started to retreat: Their dominance in the middle in the first half was negated, as De Jong, Barry and Ireland would only receive the ball in their own third, and so could not risk a short ball to a team mate in case of interception. They went long up to their front three, and with Tevez, Bellamy and Wright Phillips (i.e. three very small guys) up there, they kept losing it cheaply; so United could give the ball to Giggs, who, much further upfield, could work his magic again, and again, and again. City just couldn’t cope. If City could’ve held their nerve, and held their backline at a reasonable height, then there would not have been such a level on intense pressure on the backline.

Intense pressure took its toll on Micah Richards, who had an awful game, and was put under duress time and again by Giggs and Evra. He still is young enough to recover from such poor games, but he has to work on his defending before he can ever think about being involved in Fabio Capello’s England set up. He was backing off a 35 year old (admittedly playing superbly), allowing him time and space to cross, before then closing down Evra, who would whizz on by. It was a remarkable display, for all the wrong reasons.

On a positive note for City was the second half performance of Shay Given, whose really good saves seemed to have gained a point after Craig Bellamy’s goals. Both of which were brilliant. His first, a cut in and shot from nearly 30 yards, could have been prevented by O’Shea either a) learning how to defend, or b) remembering that the Welshman is weaker on his left foot and showing him that side, instead of just letting him have the space do what he pleased. It still took some finishing however, and he did with unerring accuracy and incredible power for such a small man. His second goal was a similar story – this time it was Rio Ferdinand’s mistake – the Englishman didn’t look fully fit at all on Sunday, and questions may need to be asked if he either breaks down again or puts in a similarly lacklustre performance after getting some more match practice – and Bellamy again finished with deadly accuracy, especially with such a tight angle to work with.

Unfortunately for him and City, the whole world caved in from that moment: Owen scored coolly in the 96th minute (forget the timing issue for a moment, where was the marking?) and he appeared to push a detained fan in the face, after he (the fan) had run on the pitch afterwards. The former moment was about no defence, the latter, allegedly, about self defence. What a strange day.

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  1. Huh

    September 24, 2009 at 6:35 pm



  2. Carlos Tevez

    September 23, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    True to say that most goals result from defensive errors. United’s errors (imo) were howlers from a less-than-fully-fit Rio and a sub goalie. City’s errors (imo) were shortcomings of their first choice defenders and midfielders. That’s why you will hear United supporters claiming “had we not made those errors, the score would have been…” because a reasonable person can conceive of a situation where VDS was in, and Rio was fit, and those two goals (both 100% against the run of play) would not have happened. But it’s a bit harder (imo) for City supporters to concoct a universe where United’s goals wouldn’t have happened, considering Utd’s 2nd half dominance and the fact that City had no players missing that have a recent history of being part of an impenetrable defense.

    Hopefully I have inserted enough “imo’s” to stave off attacks from mental midgets whose full time jobs appear to be patrolling this blog and attacking perceived City haters.

    • Huh

      September 23, 2009 at 9:40 pm

      Carlos or whoever you really are,

      Don’t you really think that if Richards wasn’t having a go at Toure that he would of picked up the quick throw to Evra, therefore not letting him pick out whoever he wanted with no pressure at all? Or how about the fact that Given was open arms to show Flecters headed 2nd was going out of play for a goal kick( look at this he could have got to this ball comfortably), is this not a huge clanger on his behalf? Granted not as bad as your fully caped England keeper, but VDS has made similar errors. If Ferdinand was not fully fit as you say why did Ferguson play him? I think you mean he didn’t have 100% match fitness these are 2 different things. Don’t forget about Tevez who was told by the AFA’s Doctors that he wouldn’t’ be able to ply for 3 weeks 1 week earlier, but he took the chance cos he didn’t want to miss this game.
      Rio made his mistake because bellamy put him under pressure as Petrov moved fast to cover O’Shea this was a forced error he was under pressure it was City’s work that got them this goal. It looks like you have analysed the goals against to an extent but only watched the goal for Utd. Have a closer look. Also don’t forget that this defence is just getting to know each others play as they have hardly played together, unlike your own.

      The dominance of the second half is correct but we still hit you on the break twice, this in the English game is the way that most away teams play soak up pressure then break when they can. Most of the play in the first half was ours by the way, granted not as many shots on target or off as you had in the second but could this have anything to do with that £65m+ of missing talent? And you were the home team so it is usually the case that the home team have the home ‘advantage’.

      A reasonable person can also conceive of a situation where £65m+ worth of talent injured or banned would have also made a difference in this game no/yes? Regardless of fault

      Many Utd fans like you self seem not to be interested in the fact that Flecters 3rd goal should not have been, they seem to think they have a divine right to get decisions that are extremely questionable and that’s how it should be. The foul given to Valencia is clearly not as Richards knocks the ball to SWP after which he go’s down and then for a reason only known to this ref you get a free kick, which is headed in. I’m not saying that these thing don’t happen simply that this was a bit of luck that most Utd fan on here think they should have and don’t see it as fortunate! If you still have the game on a hard drive or whatever look at it its not even close to a free kick, but all you mention is how you made 2 errors or in Tyson’s case 3. The 1st Bellamy goal was no mistake. We all no about, I’ll call it slice of luck for the 4th. That Universe isn’t that hard to concoct after all, eh. But you will probably dismiss everything wrote.

      This may upset you but you last point regarding City haters is not so true. Utd fans on here in general have the same blind arrogance, it seems who ever it is they play they only ever see what there lot do. Just read some of Tyson’s posts to give you the idea of what I’m talking about. They should ‘not of coincided’, they ‘were unlucky’ they ‘should have had 4’ there ‘goals were terrible errors’ etc. Unfortunately this guy is not alone with his attitude on this sight, I live In Manchester and have to say that most of the Utd fans I know have took the piss since the final whistle, and so they should, because other way round I would. Its all friendly banter though, but they also know that they were a bit fortunate as well . I feel that some people on here just mirror what they read take this as gospel instead of thinking for themselves, because most of these journalists and have no more in fact probably less experience of football than you or me! Oh if you can’t understand this ask the grammar Nazis above to correct it and repost!

      • Cam

        September 23, 2009 at 10:28 pm

        WTF??? “Utd fans on here in general have the same blind arrogance”…Pot calling the Kettle black i think!

        I for one, am happy to say that United got lucky on the weekend! Funny thing about Football though is that a lot of results are based on luck. Does it mean that we deserved to lose? No. When the whistle is blown for a goal you’d be hard pressed to find a ref that would over turn his decision! So at 3-3 and momentarily switching off to let a goal in, especially in the dying stages, shows that City may have a few problems in defence and also seem to have problems with comunication in the last 3rd. As for the goals against United, I have openly praised Bellamys goal on this Blog, it was an absolute cracker! I can’t defend all the other United supporters but maybe all this “arrogance” has come to light due to the arrogance Man City showed before the game (and even before the season started)

        • Huh

          September 24, 2009 at 3:45 pm


          In regards the reference I think there is a bit of a case, as I haven’t seen many Utd fans saying anything other than ‘we should of had more’ or ‘City’s goals shouldn’t have been’ or totally justifying the time added that never really happens like this, but this is not the case as on some other sites. Is this arrogance?
          I feel that this problem lies with the fact that there are many more of certain fans (top 4) than others here, therefore opposing opinions are few and far between and when they are put forward there are many against the few. Therefore helping to reinforce the many belief that they are 100% right.

          Your missing my point I have no problem with the result and know that a ref will not change his mind (unless he consults with other officials). I don’t believe that any of the teams deserved to lose but they did and that’s life. If I understand you correctly the final third as you mention is our attack , our play there was swift, which as has been pointed out below we scored 3 out of 4 shots on target against the best defence in the league, doesn’t look to bad to me! The defence, it’s to early to really say there is a problem although I see what ur saying.

          Your last part is my biggest problem, you can only really take this view from your own teams manager or the press. Because all the city fans I know think we can get into the top six and that we MIGHT, JUST MIGHT creep into the top 4. The Chairman has said he wants the top 6 and the manager must deliver (or he’s history) after spending unprecedented amounts of money. Do you think this is arrogant? The club can’t help the press talking rubbish can it? Or maybe you are referring to the Tevez poster that set Fergie round the bend, you must know that Utd have in their stadium a poster that takes the micky also many years before our Tevez poster, its changed every year. Is this ok and ours just not cricket?

          You have pulled me on other posts regarding the bellamy and Ade incidents its now Known that the ref would have done nothing about this also the police weren’t even looking at it. On here its a punch or a slap (mirroring the hysterical British red tops) even though it is clearly neither. Not 1 person seen this XXXXXX thrust his head towards Bells face aggressively and getts it shoved back with a clear open hand while he was trying to get the game restated ASAP after an incredibly late goal. Or the Ade stuff not the red card ban he got (3 matches same as any other card of it‘s kind)but the absolute mania that followed a goal celebration, which was insane and I’m now sure that after the Neville thing at the weekend people may see this in a different light (or some will) as well as the F.A. Don’t get me wrong this was a silly thing to do but this is part of the game. It’s the kind of thing that endears players to the fans even more showing their emotions. I don’t mind what Neville did 1 bit, but if ade s getting hung why Shouldn’t Neville or many many others, double standards?

      • Carlos Tevez

        September 24, 2009 at 10:06 am

        You’re right – I should have said “match fitness”. I’ll take another look at the United goals from a neutral (or, shudder, even a City) perspective. I’m sure from that perspective I’ll see more City errors that could have been prevented, and maybe goals that wouldn’t have been. But, come on, I heard a stat yesterday that City got 3 goals from a total of 4 on target. Other than Arshavin v. Liverpool, you just don’t see conversion like that, and you have to admit that United were deserving of the goals they got.

        • Huh

          September 24, 2009 at 1:55 pm

          3 out of 4 on target is probably right but dont forget Tevez hit the post as well as the slightest touch by Ricards would have been a goal from 2ft out. Also surley the stats you mention shows that citys attack to be quite leathal?

  3. Arsenal14

    September 23, 2009 at 1:05 am

    Bellamys first goal was a f n bullet! what could United have done to stop that? Nothing! they made no mistake on that goal, they gave him space and he hit a screamer! and to the 6 -7 Nil united win and the noisy neighbors that Forgotson comments on after the game.. Forgotson is just pissed that City has come into money and are the only REAL CLUB OF MANCHESTER..I’m going to love it when they finish ahead of United in the future year after year..and that Future looks like it’s here!

  4. Huh

    September 22, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    U have already red it prick cos ya put ya thumb down as usual, you do this unless someone tells u Utd are great.
    Have u looked at your own posts retard. Typical of you to not to notice your own complete fxxk ups. Go and call people child molesters with your new non punctuating friend sausage.
    You both must think ur writing dissertations, well not yourselves cos your own posts are a mess in this respect but u want other people 2. Hilarious

  5. Tyson

    September 22, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    LOL typing like a retard really helps you make your point.

    I’m not going to bother reading that drivel. Take some grammar classes it may only be the internet but thats taking that principle too far. You sound like an angry 12 year old off some poor estate.

  6. Tyson

    September 22, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    It was an interesting derby really.

    As a United fan I thought we did inexcusably bad and we only won because we were vastly superior when we had the ball in our posession.

    The second half for the first 25 to 30 minutes was when we were at our peak and to be frank those minutes City might as well have not been in the game. We were literally all over them.

    If the entire match had gone that way it would have been incredible but for the big plus side there was a huge downside too.

    The three goals United gave away were absolutely inexcusable. I mean everybody makes mistakes and thats fine there is nothing wrong with that but the fact of the matter is those mistakes were a little too amateurish to be made by a team of that caliber.

    Even with Rio Ferdinands current problems it was too much of a throw away. The match could have ended up 6 or 7 nil if United didn’t make defensive mistakes and played a little better in the box.

    You can’t really blame Rio much though I mean this is the worse game hes had in god knows how long. Thats not something you see a lot from United and they are also playing with a sub goalkeeper at the moment.

    Either way though it was a good match and at times United were just ever so dominant. At one time during the second half United approached 80% possession. Another time the ball had only been on Uniteds side of the pitch for 9% of the overall time. Just staggering figures not to mention 11 corners they got and other statistics that add up to paint a picture of pure domination.

    Still though despite all that 3 flawed mistakes threw away all those incredible stats like 80% ball possession and 11 corners.

    United need to do better next time IMO. Our performance should have been much better overall.

    • Huh

      September 22, 2009 at 3:39 pm

      How gracious, it could never have been 6-7 nil u total dick. Don’t u understand that’s just like a City fan saying the same. It could not have happened. I cannot be arsed going into why because its blatantly obvious except to you, yes even Fergie knows this he simply wants to try and put City down (because they ave pissed him off) by saying this (6-7 nil) He more than knows that he was in a game as you can tell by the celebration on the final whistle. Were Utd’s goals not City mistakes? or lack of concentration etc? This is how practically all goals are scored some by some sort of error Tyson you surely don’t really want everyone to think that you are this much of an Dick. Yes Utd won the game but buy the slimmest possible margin (1 goal) and you can say Given made saves but that’s what he’s there for same as Foster. By saying 6-7 nil you are saying City’s goals should not have stood and you should have scored with practically every shot you had and that our other chances should also be dismissed, sort your head out man! I’m sure there are many Utd fans on here who think you talk utter nonsense and are embarrassing.

      • randomsausage

        September 22, 2009 at 3:43 pm

        Seriously, dude. Punctuate.

        • Huh

          September 22, 2009 at 4:09 pm

          Why don’t u understand?

          • Gaz

            September 23, 2009 at 9:46 am

            i understand u good-like.

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