My thoughts on: The Manchester derby
Yesterday’s fixture at Old Trafford was billed as being an early measure of who may go on to lift the Premier League title this season; a spicy fixture that has new added meaning with the emergence of Manchester City as credible championship contenders.
Both sides have been guilty of casting aside opponents nonchalantly this season although have equally shown lesser performances in the Champions League; an issue most notably recognised by the media with reference to Manchester City and the suggestion that when facing a more organised and credible opponent, their free-scoring and open attacking play is stifled and they struggle. This I think was the tag-line to this match; could City dispel these early season claims that they only sit at the summit due to their fixture list and this was alleged to be their first major test. I would argue this but this general view surely would only inspire a team and manager who clearly possess a lot of quality (and winners may I add).
Sir Alex Ferguson has never shied away from making surprise team selections, as shown by his defensive attitude at Anfield last week, and I think there was a general raise of the eyebrow with the inclusion of Johnny Evans partnering Rio Ferdinand and the omission of the Mexican predator Hernandez who has proven already to enjoy these occasions. Equally, the question for Roberto Mancini was; should he adopt a cavalier approach similar to Chelsea, who although lost at Old Trafford, proved to cause a number of problems for the home team. Or, should he revert back to a more solid-looking side with two deeper midfielders which he was often accused of being too negative for previously?
Mancini got his selection right. Players such as David Silva are often referred to as luxury items; those only the most successful sides can possess as the notion with such a label is that defensively they may not ‘put in a shift’. That was not the case on Sunday as David Silva proved what an outstanding, and dare I say it, world-class performer he is.
Manchester City defended stoutly; and they had to as the home side had the majority of possession early on which although the onus was on Manchester Utd, I was a little disappointed in what I was seeing and questioned whether this was going to show City up for what they are. My concerns however were unfounded. City grew into the game and although some may point to the sending off as being the catalyst to the final score, I disagree.
The sending off (and it was pleasant to hear that Ferguson didn’t question it) obviously opened up a bit of space, however, Manchester Utd’s defending was atrocious. Defenders were too inclined to bomb forward despite there being no cover and midfielders, and in particular Ashley Young, were guilty of not raising their game, and were far too often caught ball-watching.
Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and David de Gea are young, so some may exempt them from poor decision-making; I would point to their transfer fees and international notoriety and counter that despite their relative inexperience, more should be expected. I would however point a harsh finger at Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra, both who are seasoned internationals, have captained club and country and have won numerous accolades. For me, Ferdinand’s performance highlights why he shouldn’t be in the England squad. He looked slow, lethargic and poor; often being pulled out of position and appeared to lack the energy or desire to recover sufficiently. I’m sure he would have been very disappointed with his contribution.
The scoreline was emphatic. Three goals in injury time could be argued as over-elaborating City’s dominance; however, how easily Utd rolled over will be uncomfortable for Sir Alex Ferguson. Utd ordinarily have a number of leaders across the pitch and yesterday I felt this was more absent as the game wore on. The sending off proved, in my eyes, not the catalyst for City to believe they could go on and win the game, but it shook Utd and they never looked like they thought they could recover. This is unusual and not a facet of their make-up that we are used to. Manchester City inevitably picked them off with a simple pass-and-move philosophy and I thought were thoroughly deserving of the width of their victory margin. It could have been more and that I think is what is frightening. City looked to have a hunger to not only win the game, but to win it convincingly. They wanted more goals and the three post 90 minutes is evidence of this; if Edin Dzeko showed the finishing prowess displayed at White Hart Lane, City easily could have ended with 7 or 8.
I think this result is great for the Premier League. I think it shows the distance Mancini’s side has come in terms of development as a team and has quashed any doubts about them being ready to mount a serious title challenge. I applaud their manager’s and captain’s comments post match; this was a result for the supporters; in terms of their title challenge, this was only 3 points and is the same amount of points they will get for winning with less style.
I think to say the shift of power has moved is premature. Let’s not forget that Manchester Utd have been incredibly successful for nearly 25 years and I think it is fair to say that they have dominated the Premier League since its conception. Manchester City have a long way to go to achieve such heights but this was a significant step in the right direction. I am sure Sir Alex Ferguson is wily enough to not linger on the past; what is important is what happens now and in the future and for both clubs, for different reasons, the interesting thing is how they will react next weekend to this memorable result.