After the embarrassing home defeat to Cluj in the Champions League earlier this week, Sir Alex Ferguson was looking for some big performances from his senior players who had been rested in preparation for this away trip to Man City.
Going into this fixture three points ahead of their local rivals, United knew a defeat would not be the end of the world – however a marker needed to be laid; especially as last term City took all six points and ultimately won the league from the goal difference gained from those two fixtures.
Leading 2-0 at half-time from a Rooney double, United were in complete control.
Defensively sound and strangely untroubled by an incoherent City strike force. Winning the battle the middle of the park and looking dangerous every time the ball was in the final third…. yet one incident can change a game; and that it did when Ashley Young had a goal ruled out for offside when it should have been given.
Within minutes of this decision preventing United going 3-0 ahead and completely out of sight, Yaya Toure had the ball in the back of the net to make it 2-1. Then followed a siege upon the United goal.
When Zabaleta made it 2-2 with minutes left on the clock, a horrible feeling of deja vu passed over most of us. Were City going to win it late on? It seemed unfair as every player in a red shirt had performed. Not one player disappeared from the game for a moment; everybody desperately wanted the win and every United player won their own individual battles across the park.
De Gea was commanding in the air and made some fine saves.
The partnership of Ferdinand and Evans (then Smalling) kept the City threat at a minimum.
The combinations of Evra/Young and Rafael/Valencia down each flank were proving extremely effective defensively as well as offensively.
Valencia continued to get the better of Clichy and Young worked tirelessly, with a noticeable improvement in backing up Patrice Evra.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man – and in the 92nd minute Robin Van Persie struck a freekick which took a deflection to beat Joe Hart; win the game for United and end City’s 37 game unbeaten league run at home.
I could pick any United player for my Man of the Match, and he would be a deserving winner – but my choice goes to the calmest man on the field, Michael Carrick.
This boy has his critics.
For years he has played understudy to Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard at International level. For years he has gone about his job and never made the headlines. For years he has played the simple pass where everybody around him tries the ‘Hollywood’ ball – but today at 2-0 up; at 2-2, and at 3-2, Carrick never changed his game and it was all to the benefit of the side.
He protected the defence; he read and broke up the play in the middle of the park and he fed the wingers and front men.
A big day in the title race, and a big game from an underrated yet great footballer.
Well done Mr Carrick.
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