It was a pre-season game and a friendly as well, but the competitiveness of the players and the reactions of the managers, after each goal said it all. No team was content on being the second best, especially when it was to their arch rivals and city neighbours. At the end of it all, it was United, who came out winners after yet another astonishing comeback from a two-goal deficit to silence their ‘noisy neighbours’ and cast their supremacy, which has allowed their fans to continue with the chants of Manchester being Red. The gauntlet has been thrown by Sir Alex’s men, as they showed that they are still the team to beat in the Premier League.
Although the fact cannot be denied that this was only a pre-season game, the victory does give a psychological edge to United, as was the case last season, when the Red Devils beat Chelsea and then went on to win three out of four games during the season en-route to winning the League as well as knocking the Blues out of the Champions League.
The Red Devils came in to the game after being under a lot of scrutiny by the fans and media alike as to how they would cope with one of the biggest squad overhauls under the management of Sir Alex. As the first half ended, the fans were left reeling with their team trailing to their bitter foes by 2-0 despite dominating much of the possession.
The second half, however, was a contrast to the first, as the Reds put on an exhilarating display of free flowing football that enabled them to turn the game around and clinch it by yet another injury time goal against their city rivals. The lingering doubts were all gone and the fans once again believe that their team is still one of the best going into the new season.
The Match At Wembley
United started the first half brightly as they had a lot of the ball, which kept City pinned in their half for most of the first 25 minutes. Anderson and Carrick kept the ball well but they were unable to feed the forwards and Rooney and Welbeck looked more and more frustrated as the half went on. City got their lucky break as they scored somewhat against the run of play, first, through Lescott and then through Dzeko via a goalkeeping error from De Gea.
United went into the break with the fans looking frustrated due to the lack of chances created, as the inevitable thoughts of not signing a quality creative midfielder started to cross their minds. However, the manager had not given up as yet, as he made the changes after half-time with Evans and Jones replacing Ferdinand and Vidic and Cleverley coming on for Michael Carrick. There were a couple of tactical changes made as well, with Rooney now playing in a withdrawn role behind Welbeck and Ashley Young took over the set piece duties from Nani.
The changes proved to be inspiring as Cleverley and Anderson started to breach the City defence with their movements and good vision, which started to find Nani and Young in behind the City defence. Rooney was also more involved in the second half, as he dropped back to make it a three man central midfield for United. The front-six then played with aggression and great pace, which made it a lot harder for City’s back four. Also, United’s youngsters hassled their counterparts by constantly pressurizing them, which made it very difficult for the team in blue to keep the ball. An early goal in the second half acted as a catalyst, which galvanized the team further and help them come out on top.
Performance Of Man United’s New Signings
All the three signings made by Sir Alex during the transfer window were on display as Young and De Gea were handed their first starts while Jones came on as a substitute at the start of the second period.
Ashley Young looked lively from the outset as he went tirelessly up and down the wings, showing great movement and ability with the ball. His pace was a constant threat for the opposition as time and again he was able to get behind the City defence. Young, unlike Valencia, can play on both flanks as well and was often seen swapping his position with Nani, which gave the manager flexibility in his attacking formation. Young also looked good on set pieces and it was his free-kick which enabled Smalling to score the first goal that brought United back into the game.
David De Gea, on the other hand, will be a topic of debate in weeks to come, as he was found wanting on one or two instances with his clearances and was certainly to blame for the second City goal, where he let in a speculative shot from Dzeko from thirty yards out. De Gea conceded most number of goals from outside the penalty area in La Liga last year and looking at Dzeko’s goal, it certainly seems to be a weakness in the goalkeeper’s game. On a positive note, De Gea’s distribution was very good overall and he also made couple of excellent saves in the second half, which showed his strength of character as he was unfazed by his first half mistake.
Phil Jones also had an impressive debut as he looked solid at the back in the second half and showed good presence on the ball. His distribution from the back was excellent as well, which helped United maintain the pressure on the opponents. However, to be fair, he was not tested to the full extent as City created few and far between in the second half.
A Look At The Young Breed
Chris Smalling: The young Englishman had a good last season and was rewarded this year with an improved five-year deal in the summer. He was named in the line-up as a right back despite Rafael being available on the bench, which probably gives a sign of things to come with Sir Alex using him as a cover for Evra and the Da Silva twins for the full backs position.
Smalling repaid his manager’s faith by giving an excellent performance both defensively and offensively. He was involved in a lot of moves down the right hand side linking well with Nani on the overlap and he capped it all off with the first goal, which showed that he can be a useful weapon on set-pieces.
Tom Cleverley: With United lacking the creative edge in the first half, the onus was on Cleverley to pull the strings from midfield after half time. And he did not disappoint his manager one bit, as he showed brilliant ball control and excellent range of passing, which started to create cracks in City defence. His exceptional off the ball movement and ‘give and go’ playing style created panic amongst City defenders, which helped create spaces for other United players as well. Although the comparisons with the irreplaceable Scholes are imminent, but Cleverley has his own way of playing and looks to have a bright future at Old Trafford.
Danny Welbeck: The former young player of the year was handed a start ahead of Berbatov by the manager and overall had a good game. His work rate was excellent as he was running constantly like a tireless engine until the moment he was substituted in the 88th minute. He linked well with Rooney and Nani on several occasions and his off the ball movement was showcased when he pulled Lescott, which created space for Nani to go on to score United’s second goal.
Never Say Die
Sir Alex would, no doubt, be pleased with the performance and the result but the thing that will impress him the most would be that the new players have also imbibed the never-say-die attitude of the club that has seen his teams make astonishing comebacks in the past. The determination to fight back was visible in young players such as Cleverley, Welbeck, Jones and Young and the fact that they came out winners in the end will boost their confidence and build upon the belief that they can come back from any situation in the match.
Strength in Depth
The manager would also be very pleased about the performance and the impact of the young players in the second half, which shows the strength in depth of the squad. With the likes of Giggs, Fletcher, Valencia, Chicharito and Owen among others not even being on the bench, it really shows that Sir Alex has a plethora of options at his disposal. The Champions League and the Carling Cup will start in September and having such a good squad will certainly help United challenge on all fronts.
All in all it was a very good first day of the season for Manchester United as they not only won against one of their fiercest rivals, but they proved the fact that despite so many changes in their squad, they are still amongst the finest in the country.