First Half-Blitz Aside, Manchester United Are Miles Behind Manchester City
For all the pre-match talk of Scholes’ return to the United fold it was the omission of Joe Hart that put this game harshly into context and also possibly bore a significant influence on the result.
The surprise ‘resting’ of a fit and pivotal figure – despite a long list of enforced absentees already weakening City’s chances - was a clear indication as to where this F.A Cup tie lay in Mancini’s January list of priorities and unquestionably the decision would have fed into the team as they attempted to hype themselves up to a derby day fever pitch.
United meanwhile were bang up for this from the off, the spittle from Ferguson’s pre-match bombast probably still sprayed across their cheeks. While it is true to state that City enjoyed more possession in the opening ten minutes it was the reds who looked sharper – hungrier – and it was with immense hurt but little surprise to see them go ahead early doors.
Moments later Kompany slid in with a magnificent clean challenge and I turned to remark upon an unrelated matter to a friend of mine. When I looked back Chris Foy had stopped play and was walking over with purpose after discussing the incident with his assistant Wayne Rooney.
The fact that he had deemed the tackle worthy of a free-kick was baffling enough. To then see the red card brandished sent shockwaves through the stadium and TV land.
Yes it resembled a scissors tackle but that was because Kompany first connected with the ball with one foot and then brought the other around to make contact with it again. In effect TWO clean challenges. Crucially he also made no contact with the opposition player who just happens to be the biggest diver in the whole Prem. Nani continued playing until the whistle sharply parped and seemed a bit confused when it did.
On a greasy surface near the start of a derby game full of ferocity and passion Kompany displayed his usual zen brilliance and executed a composed, clean interception. To be punished for that – and to essentially award the entire game to United and deprive City of a fair chance of retaining their trophy – is another cut to the thousand that is contributing to the death of football as it should be. When such a crucial fixture is decided upon by an official because a challenge ‘resembles’ a dangerous tackle we really are in peril. Lessons have patently not been learnt from Jack Rodwell’s farcical dismissal in the other north-west derby earlier this season.
A goal down and man down – their inspirational captain to boot – with nearly eighty minutes to play it would require a herculean effort for City to claw themselves back into the game. This task seemed ever-more impossible when Wellbeck volleyed home a second. Lost amongst the Kompany debate and the incredible second half that later ensued the sheer quality of the strike deserves due merit.
United sniffed revenge for their 6-1 humiliation and drove forward mercilessly for the remainder of the half, Aguero a lone threat to their back-line who still looked shaky even in these idyllic of circumstances.
Rooney, it has to be said, was magnificent, dropping into the spaces and looking very much back to his ruthless, potent self. Thank you and screw you Independent for your weekend ‘exclusive’ that evidently psyched up a formerly forlorn player who, on days like this, borders on the unplayable. It was the newly thatched one who again dropped deep (where the hell was De Jong for the first and third goals?) and created the opportunity for a stonewall pen.
The defeated meanwhile – from a derby no less – went home bolstered by pride and surety.
At half-time my only thoughts were of damage limitation (dear God don’t let them get anywhere near six!) and Mancini made two dramatic changes during the break that suggests he was thinking likewise. Looking back, following an exhilarating, rousing two-goal fightback, the substitutions of Silva and Johnson for Zabaleta and Savic has been deemed a tactical masterstroke by the gaffer. In reality though it was a ceding of the game and a pragmatic attempt to stem the tide.
In the event belief was swiftly awoken by a Kolorov pearler but with Nasri ineffective throughout what more could have been achieved with United’s fragile confidence far too easily shattered and Silva still on the pitch assisting Aguero’s monumental effort?
On came Scholes to the derision of most. Desperate times calls for desperate measures. United have tried to play the field with a bimbo or two, been messed around, and have returned tail between legs to the ever-dependable missus. As for the old man’s cameo again I disagree with the majority view here. Granted he was at fault for City’s second (on the only single occasion he was put under pressure which must be a concern for Ferguson) but conversely he also had the experienced nous to realise that the only way to deprive City of a barn-storming finish was to deny them of possession. To that end he kept things simple and made tired legs chase.
And chase they certainly did. Richards busted his lungs. Aguero was a one man war. Not only was there the undeniable scent of a glorious and memorable comeback on the cards but it was startlingly apparent that United were imploding under pressure they would have previously dealt with nonchalantly. Despite their first-half blitz make no mistake about it they are a team in trouble; a shadow of former glories.
It was a surreal, breath-taking, exhausting game and strangest of all was that the victorious supporters left deflated at the unpalatable truths that were revealed. The defeated meanwhile – from a derby no less – went home bolstered by pride and surety.
The United fans celebrated still being in the hat. The City fans applauded the champions elect.
Ste is the Editor of the Daily Cutter, the football newspaper that honestly lies. Click here for more information...
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