Despite being tormented in the second-half by Manchester United's young guns, City still have the best midfield in the Premier League...
Despite being tormented in the second-half by Manchester United’s young guns, Manchester City still have the best midfield in the Premier League…
City’s midfield is the league’s strongest
It’s easy to knee-jerk following a glorified friendly but Manchester City’s spine, although flawed in the defensive department and uncertain over which personnel starts further afield, is centrally superb. Nigel de Jong’s pugnacity is complemented by placid passing, Yaya Toure’s surges uplift City’s supporters and David Silva roams, dovetails with teammates and fools opponents with panache – his presence alone certifies that Manchester United need Wesley Sneijder far more than Manchester City. All three would walk not just into United’s side, but any team in the Premier League – City have a triumvirate on who much will depend on if they are to challenge for the title, while it is vital that they address De Jong’s contract issue considering how key a cog he is in the City machine.
Tom Cleverley should be starting for United – if a midfielder isn’t signed
Despite scoring at the Stretford End against Valencia two years ago, yesterday was Cleverley’s United debut and it was as worthwhile as it was belated. He should have started the Sunday’s curtain-raiser after a man-of-the-match display against Barcelona in Washington, and having replaced the ponderous Michael Carrick at half-time, the Bradford-born midfielder was swift, incisive and forward-thinking with his passing, which for United supporters is refreshing considering the midfield malaise in recent years. Impersonating City’s Tiki-taka expert Silva, Cleverley ensured that Roberto Martínez earned kudos for developing him at Wigan Athletic last season, while simultaneously ridiculing Stuart Pearce’s coaching ability and the FAs decision to award him a new contract to mastermind the ‘progress’ of England’s Under-21s. Furthermore, Cleverley’s introduction buoyed Anderson and suddenly City were threatened by United from the centre as well as the wings, demonstrated by his role in United’s sumptuous Barça-esque equaliser.
Carrick on the other hand, while a good footballer, is not going to contribute to attacks in the final third and is not only incompatible for Anderson, is a footballer tailor-made for a midfield three, despite sporadic success alongside Paul Scholes and then Ryan Giggs during his United career.
Kompany needs a partner to match him
Even when Kolo Toure returns from serving his sentence for a drugs ban, the Blues require a more suitable partner for their de facto captain. Kompany was at fault for Nani’s winner yet it was telling that he almost recovered to block the Portuguese’s goal-bound effort, for again Kompany was regularly the man halting United’s advancement. Defensive spouse Joleon Lescott, known by some as Klingon, appears as forlorn as an alien occasionally and still plays with the burden of a £24m price tag since he signed almost two years ago. Toure meanwhile, although a valuable squad player, is well beyond his peak and is arguably an inferior defender to Lescott. Kompany has been outstanding before against United, albeit earning mixed results, however like Rahul Dravid for India this summer, although his ‘wall’ is rarely breached, his partners are liable to being so carefree that opponents face as much stiff resistance as the Tottenham looters did on Saturday night.
Carrick-Anderson is a futile partnership
The raison d’etre for any midfield partnership is to complement one another and be coherent, yet this breakthrough will never happen with Carrick and Anderson. Their lowest ebb came against Liverpool in March 2009 when time and again neither detected, let alone tracked, Steven Gerrard, who caused havoc as Liverpool slaughtered United 4-1 at Old Trafford. The pair functions well with an on-form Darren Fletcher in a midfield three but trouble is inevitable for this double act whenever paired together. This was evident (again) in pre-season when renowned Americans ghosted in behind them to nestle between defence and midfield just as Lionel Messi had done at Wembley against the tame Carrick, so it must be maddening for United supporters to see Edin Dzeko, about as quick as a milk float, inconspicuously bypass two midfielders before rifling in a strike from over 20 yards.
Ferguson has weeded out expendables in their thirties and legends have retired, so the gauntlet has been thrown down to the young trio of summer acquisitions
City supporters’ mentality will never change
For long-suffering City supporters, 2011 has been a great year. They won their first piece of silverware in 35 years and qualified for the Champions League. “Thirty-five years and we’re still here” they used to boast prior to exorcising their demons against Stoke in May, so why was their third tier conspicuous by thousands of empty seats? United supporters, short of sardonic City chants since Yaya Toure slammed one in past Tomas Sorensen, gleefully chant ‘The city is yours, the city is yours, 20,000 empty seats, are you f****** sure?’ and the credence was again displayed. Because irrespective of whatever excuse (one City fanzine editor blamed the club’s poor turnout for a Sunday FA Cup game against Notts County due to the club’s vast amount of church-going supporters), their noisy neighbours have done little to dispel the small-mentality tag Sir Alex Ferguson slapped on them two years ago.
Ferguson would be daft to consider selling Nani
All summer Nani has been earmarked as a potential makeweight in the stultifying Sneijder saga, given that the Portuguese is said to relish a return to Mediterranean culture. Yet as welcome as Sneijder would be at United, sacrificing Nani would be detrimental because he is United’s best winger. Named the players’ player of the year for last season, his contribution was superb up until a tearful nightmare at Anfield and the return of Antonio Valencia in March, but Nani is two-footed, creates and scores goals with such efficiency that Ashley Young’s arrival was rightly described as a ‘Nani-light’ acquisition. He comes with baggage (the injury feigning and proneness to erraticism) but his composure for both goals was exemplary and a further reminder from a player who thrives when he ostensibly has something to prove.
Dropping Balotelli would be unhelpful
James Milner may have again questioned his worth to this City squad, but Mario Balotelli, so impressive in the club’s Wembley dates against United and Stoke last season, trumped him in the abysmal stakes. Sergio Agüero will undoubtedly lead City’s attack when deemed match-fit and given Dzeko’s goal, it would be the typical knee-jerk act to drop Balotelli on the basis of his anonymous display. If you believe Western society (which you shouldn’t), he reaches adulthood on Sunday and like many of the under-21 players gracing the Wembley turf is a work in progress liable to produce the unpredictable. Yet despite his major contribution surmounting to squaring-up to Nemanja Vidic, he is one of City’s top three most talented individuals and Roberto Mancini should bestow faith in, rather than risk aggravating the restless rogue with a stint on the bench.
Mistakes will benefit David de Gea
If De Gea was due some slack for Lescott’s opener due to the lax defending of Rio Ferdinand, he was culpable for reacting startlingly late to Dzeko’s effort – which still should have been stopped. At 20 years of age, he is a rough diamond – Ferguson has effectively acknowledged this – who will make mistakes, but in the cutthroat union of the goalkeeper, ‘whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ is the pertinent motto to live by. And ironically, De Gea’s Kuszczakitis (averse to coming off of one’s line) and his leisureliness are invaluable learning curves which will have been easier to acknowledge for the Spaniard following a couple of smart second-half saves and United’s stunning comeback.
‘Typical City’ returns
With some City supporters literally on their own in Wembley’s third tier, when they took to their traditional celebratory act that is the Poznan, some took to it despite being unable to link arms. It was as humorous as it was unfathomable that pockets of City supporters remained in their seats as United collected the shield, possibly regaling in the sadomasochism of recalling United’s Maine Road comeback in 1993, when having been 2-0 down at half-time Roy Keane slotted in an injury-time winner for 3-2. Along with the fact that this was the fourth United stoppage-time winner against City in under two years, like the residents of Amity Island fearing the return of a Carcharodon carcharias, just when Blues thought it was safe that they were no longer ‘typical City’, they were just that.
Youth may trump experience for United
When Vidic, Ferdinand and Carrick were substituted at half-time, United’s second-half XI had an average age of just 23 and although the Reds had a decent first half, the piercing play in the second period was aided by youthful exuberance left, right and centre. Although the move smacked of an effort to play down a then expected defeat to City, it invigorated United so much that it was no wonder Patrice Evra, the sole 30-years-or-over player in red, was disappointed to be withdrawn for another young buck in Rafael da Silva. Ferguson has weeded out expendables in their thirties and legends have retired, so the gauntlet has been thrown down to the young trio of summer acquisitions (De Gea, Jones and Young) and the returnees from loan (Cleverley and the developed Danny Welbeck) to not just play a bit-part role, but to be pivotal in United’s charge for a twentieth title.
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