An epic battle between two titans of the English game ended in the most dramatic of circumstances and, barring some unsavory incidents at the end, left fans heart broken or jubilant in equal measure depending on their allegiance. A Robin Van Persie free-kick settled the contest in United’s favor but not before City had come from the dead to parity and threatened to steal United’s thunder.
Wayne Rooney’s incredible first half brace was cancelled out by goals from Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaletta as City launched yet another characteristic comeback. But the Red Devils were not to be denied as Sir Alex maintained his proud record of never having lost a Premier league after leading by two goals or more in all of his 26 years in charge of Manchester United. Importantly and infinitely more pleasing from the United point of view was the fact that the victory at the Etihad ended City’s two year unbeaten run at their home turf and it had to be at the hands of United of all teams.
The result meant United now have a six point advantage over their closest rivals City and with important players due back, things are looking rosy for Fergie’s men. City, though, cannot let their shoulders drop as larger leads have been overcome in the past; last season Mancini’s Citizens won back the title after trailing United by eight points at a much latter stage in the campaign.
Here are some of the talking points from a spectacular derby:
Team line ups: Fergie 1-0 Mancini
As the team sheets were read out, the mood among the United fan base turned from hope to expectant. Ferguson was once again up to his old tricks as Antonio Valencia returned from nowhere to the surprise and delight of the Red Devils. Furthermore, Tom Cleverley, who had been all but ruled out also earned a starting berth and the first eleven was met with a nod of approval from United supporters.
Mancini, on the other hand, went with the pairing of Balotelli and Aguero upfront when clearly the maverick Italian striker was having a mere in midweek at Dortmund and looked to be anything but sharp. Needless to say, the gamble didn’t pay off for Mancini as Balotelli yet again failed to live up to the hype.
Tactics and game changing moments
Fergie loves his wingers and almost demands that his side play with width. At the Bridge earlier this season, United displayed what wide players can do against teams that deploy a narrow formation. At the Etihad, United lined up in a 4-4-1-1 with two traditional wide man as the team was set up to hit the Citizens on the counter. City lined up in their customary 4-2-3-1 with two holding players looking to dominate possession while full backs looked to try and provide any sort of width to their game play.
Now, City started off well but without much penetration as the pattern was set with the home side looking to hog the possession while United would try to stretch the game and attack with pace and precision. For a counter attacking approach to work perfectly, United couldn’t afford to go behind. The plan worked as United took the lead with a clinical move against the run of play as Ashley Young fed Rooney and the Englishman’s scuffed finish left Hart rooted to his spot.
With a goal to the good United gained more confidence as Rafael and Valencia now turned threatening down the right wing and the Brazilian fullback’s accurate cutback was clinically finished off by Rooney for his 150th league goal and his 10th Manchester Derby goal. Rooney’s positioning was too much to handle for City throughout the first half as the Englishman yet again proved to be a big game player.
Substitutions: Mancini redeems himself
Roberto Mancini, after 50 minutes of the game, finally saw what everyone had already noticed – Mario Balotelli hadn’t turned up all game. Carlos Tevez was summoned and the introduction of the hard working Argentine paid rich dividence as Tevez linked up well with his compatriot and United looked vulnerable for the first time in the match.
Man United had to make a forced substitution with Evans coming off injured as Smalling now partnered the hitherto composed Rio at the heart of the defense. Although Smalling and Rio didn’t put a foot wrong individually, the pairing of Evans and Ferdinand perhaps looked the more solid one or it could just be the fact that City finally took the game by the scruff.
Spanish magic as David Silva and David De Gea sparkle
Manchester City were a much better side after the break and largely due to the growing influence of one David Silva. The Spanish maestro pulled all the strings and orchestrated the comeback as United failed to control his trickery. Silva showed the knack of making space were none seem to exist and turning and twisting his way into the opposition half. Brilliant effort from the former Valencia man who did not deserve to be on the losing side for his belligerence.
Sacrificial lamb turned tenacious ferret as the much-maligned De Gea produced three match-defining saves as his critics were made to look rather foolish. The Spaniard’s shot stopping abilities have never been in question but what was more heartening from the United point of view was the fact that De Gea commanded his box better and dealt with the crosses into his box with élan. De Gea might have delivered a career defining performance as Lindegaard went away on a paternity leave.
Man Utd have won top-flight away games at Chelsea, Liverpool & Man City in the same season for the first time since 1913-14. Sixteen games down and a brilliant beginning for the Red Devils as they head for a busy festive period where they traditionally perform very well. Confidence is flowing through the squad and major players are on the brink of returning to first team action.
Already out of Europe and six points behind the leaders, Man City have a lot to think about. The Citizen’s must win the next game away against the Magpies and perhaps go on a run to claw their way back. Worryingly though, the African Cup of Nations is on the horizon yet again and the Toure brothers are likely to miss out on games. Furthermore, inspirational captain Vincent Kompany sustained an injury during the game and that could heap further misery on an already under pressure Mancini.