Well, the derby we were all waiting for has been and gone. Manchester City hosted Manchester United on Monday just, second vs first, both teams separated by three points in the league – it had long been billed as a title decider. A title decider which involved two of the fiercest rivals in English football. And, much like we all expected, the game itself proved to be something of an anti-climax. It was a tight, niggly affair – chances at a premium and defences largely on top. The game itself was settled by a solitary Vincent Kompany header bang on half time, 1-0 to City, title destiny now firmly in their hands.
So, where was the game won and lost? Well, firstly it seems that Sir Alex Ferguson (for once) may have got his tactics and team selection wrong. Two key players in his side this season have been Antonio Valencia (arguably the best crosser of a ball in the league) and Danny Welbeck, a striker who isn’t an out-and-out goalscorer but whose movement and link-up play works well with United’s brand of quick, attacking football. These two, however, weren’t in the side – Ferguson opted for 4-5-1 with Wayne Rooney as the lone striker and Ji-Sung Park drafted into the centre of midfield for extra bite (Ferguson loves selecting the Korean for the big games). United, despite a bright opening ten minutes, were generally quite flat, not incisive enough with their passing and failed to penetrate City throughout the game. City, on the other hand, looked bright throughout – constantly probing and pressing, not creating much in the way of clear opportunities, but certainly the more adventurous of the two sides, the only ones wanting to win the game.
Their performance was epitomised perfectly by the two men operating in the engine room, Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure. Barry, England’s defensive midfield lynchpin was the scourge of United for most of the evening – never giving their players a minute on the ball and keeping everything organised and simple in the centre of the park. His partner Toure, the giant Ivorian, was an absolute revelation – full of energy, endeavour and craft – the qualities that United were sadly missing. The astounding thing about Toure on Monday evening was that at late stages of the game he looked absolutely shattered yet somehow was always able to find a second gear from somewhere. He was unlucky not to score with a late run and shot and how City’s deadly rivals could’ve done with someone as dynamic as him in the centre of the park. Samir Nasri showed a lot of skill and guile, Vincent Kompany lead the troops superbly but Toure, I would argue, was the real matchwinner for City on a night when they really stepped up to the plate.
In contrast, United’s midfield looked limp and stale. Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes, normally so reliable in possession, were unable to dictate the play and were kept very quiet by their more spirited counterparts. While it’s no doubt been a great decision by Ferguson to lure Scholes out of retirement, you would have to argue that the Champions need some fresh blood in the centre of the park – a real box-to-box midfielder, one to provide support for attack and defence. Whilst he was enjoying some jostling with Roberto Mancini in the second half of the game, Ferguson would have no doubt been keeping an eye on the performance of Toure and how he was able to break up infrequent United attacks and quickly spring them for City. This type of player must be earmarked as a transfer target for the Reds come summer because this is where they lost a very important football match.
Up next for City is Newcastle United at the Sports Direct Arena on Sunday whilst United host Premier League surprise package Swansea City at Old Trafford later on the same day. The Toon Army will be buoyed by their midweek win over Chelsea and are eyeing up a top four finish themselves so Mancini will not be taking this one lightly, quite the opposite in fact, still insisting that United are favourites for the title following City’s derby win. You would expect Ferguson’s men to overcome Swansea who have looked indifferent recently despite already securing their top flight status – an achievement well earned. There is still plenty of football to be played yet so, on reflection, was Monday’s derby really a title decider? More of a slight title indicator – there are plenty of twists and turns to come yet, I’m sure. It wouldn’t be the Premier League if there wasn’t.
Introducing the neat little app that’ll pay you to view content tailored to your interests:
ThisisFutbol.com are seeking new writers to join the team! If you’re passionate about football, drop us a line at “firstname.lastname@example.org” to learn more.