Manchester United came on the back of Van Persie’s injury-time equaliser against Chelsea last week that built trust. It felt like the kind of moment that has been missing from Manchester United for some time. While neighbours Manchester City suffered a difficult week in the league against West Ham United (L) and against Newcastle United in the League Cup (L). Manchester City just need to change their mood. Manchester United need to build on theirs.
Both side’s made changes: skipper Rooney stepped-in for Mata and injured right-back Rafael was replaced by Valencia, injured David Silva who’s out for 3 weeks was replaced by Jovetic as Hart, Kompany, Aguero, Navas, Zabaleta, Fernando and late introduction Clichy who replaced Kolarov (injured himself in the pre-match warm-up) all featured in the starting XI for ManCity. Both teams had underperformed to their expectations coming into the Derby. Pellegrini wanted 3 points, and so was Manhester City’s approach to the game – Jovetic played behind Aguero with Navas on the right-wing and Milner on the left-wing as Yaya Toure and Fernando played in the middle of the park. ManUtd played with Van Persie up-front with Rooney-Fellaini in the midfield along with Blind in front of the back-4 – Januzaj played on the right-wing and Di Maria on the left-wing.
Inside the first few minutes Manchester United were quite nervy and sluggish with their possession of the ball – misplacing passes consistently. Rooney certainly had a more defensive approach to the game as he worked as the link in the middle of the park alongside Blind with Fellaini moving forward while United has possession of the ball inside Manhester City’s territory. De Gea was bombarded with some shots earlier in the game, as Januzaj missed as opportunity of his own on the other end. As the match progressed United enjoyed better share of possession and looked more composed and comfortable in midfield. There was a lot of space between the two United centre-backs Smalling and Rojo as they covered spaces left behind by Valencia and Shaw with Blind dropping between the two CBs. As Manchester United pressed higher up the field there was a lot space to operate in-behind the United defence – Manchester City exploited these gaps quite a few times in the 1st half but failed to produce a goal. Although gained a great advantage with Smalling’s dismissal on the 40th minute mark. Smalling received two yellow inside 40 minutes – with his 1st yellow card was a result of a very stupid of his as he stopped Hart from taking the kick inside the Manhester City box and the 2nd yellow card as a result of Manhester City’s attack down the right-flank as he fouled Milner ferociously as Milned tried to pull as cross-in (earning the England international his red card).
Keeping in mind Smalling’s stupidity Van Gaal said in the pre-season: “I train players in their brains and not their legs. It’s about brain-power.” Well, at least, Smalling was certainly not aware about the brain-power Van Gaal mentioned. Before Carrick stepped on the field for the first-time since June Fellaini slotted into Smalling’s role and Rooney paired alongside Blind in the MF as Van Persie went isolated up-front. Carrick started his first game last-season at CB and so does this time as United’s defensive vulnerabilities continued to grow.
For the last 5 minutes of the first-half Manchester United’s defence consisted of a winger playing at RB (Valencia), a CM playing at CB (Carrick), a CB/LB playing at CB (Rojo) and a 19-year-old LB (Shaw) in the heat of the Manchester Derby. Manchester United switched to a 4-4-1 formation as United went compact leaving Manheser City’s wingers to operate from the flanks. At the cusp of half-time Manchester City had a huge penalty shout but was it a penalty? Did Rojo foul Yaya Toure? Other-way-around Yaya Toure certainly got kicked by Rojo, as he suddenly puts his body in front of the ball and Rojo. Similar to Nani’s foul on Arbeloa vs. Real Madrid.
Concerning from much Manchester United lose their composure once something goes against them – It’s been the theme for the season. Mancester City were an edge better side in the first-half. The 2nd half kicked-off with Manchester City having one gameplan to put this game to bed as ManUtd awaited their chances from set-pieces and counter-attacks. Tackles were flying in as Manchester City threatened the Manchester United’s goal. As Rojo lunged into his Argentine teammate Demichelis he injured his shoulder and was substituted for the only centre-back on the bench for United: 19-year-old Patrick McNair who earlier featured in games against West Bromwich Albion and Everton with his match-winning back-header in the dying moments against West Bromwich Albion still fresh in the minds of United fans. Well, both United CBs didn’t last for 60 minutes, and remember Sir Alex talking about United his defenders playing week-in-week-out. Another appeal by Manchetser City for penalty as Carrick clipped Aguero’s heel in the box.
The hour mark is always crucial, and as Yaya Toure pulled a through-ball into Clichy (an extra attacker in the United half) who passed the ball into the path of Aguero as he guided the ball into the net, breaking Manchester City’s persistence and Manchester United’s defensive resilience. Di Maria failed to the intercept Yaya Toure’s pass to Clichy who surged forward from LB, with Clichy finding the perfect pass to Aguero as he scored the match-winner and the 100th Manchester Derby goal. Pellegrini wanted more goals and decided to add some fresh legs onto the pitch as he replaced Milner for Nasri and Jovetic for Dzeko. But, ManUtd didn’t shut-up short a Wayne Rooney run in the last quarter of the match lifted the team up as ManUtd made ManCity look the team who were down to ten-men as Pellegrini replaced Aguero with Fernandinho in the later stages. Manchester United didn’t lack the edge or charisma to move forward and score even when they were down to ten-men – they just failed to capitalise and convert their chances. Yaya Toure enjoyed his best spell of PL action against the ten-men of Manchester United. Manchetser City should’ve put the game to bed, and shouldn’t have allowed Manchester United to pressurise them in the dying moments. Van Gaal used his last substitution as Wilson replaced Van Persie – Creating and influencing the match to a narrower extend. The most disappointing was Di Maria two failed corners in extra-time – poor, poor corners from a player with such huge quality. Clearly there was some plan with putting flat driven corner but what was the plan? No idea.
As Michael Oliver blew the full-time whistle Manchester City had won 4 games in a row against Manchester United since the 1969-1970 season. Liverpool is the only team than Manchester City to win 4 head-to-head matches against Manchester United. Manchester City earned their 3 points, deservingly as United were left hopelessly 9th in the League table (13 points behind leaders Chelsea) with no away win since April ’14 in the Premier League. Shaw, Rooney, Fellaini and Blind performed well for United as Yaya Toure, Aguero and Kompany guided ManCity to another Derby victory for Manchester City. United still have issues throughout the structures of their team, and real deficiencies in defence. Those problems are going to take hard work and likely signings to resolve. With some encouragement and good vibes for Manchester United and their supporters there was nothing Manchester United took this weekend. A standout performance from Carrick at CB was particularly terrific. Manchester City’s defence is still in a mess. But, a Derby victory will certainly lift the players in the Manchester City camp.
Sergio Aguero’s goal was the 100th Manchester Derby goal in the Premier League. Manuel Pellegrini’s reaction on the full-time whistle summed-up Manchester City’s desperate need to win today’s Manchester Derby.
Photo Courtesy: BBC Sport