After a disappointing showing against Chelsea in the FA Cup, Manchester United resumed duties in the Premier League with a Monday night derby game against second-placed rivals Manchester City. With many writing off the title race and focussing on other battles in the league, some were looking at this as a game of pride, another mark in the continuing and escalating rivalry between the red and blue sides of Manchester.
For the game at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson started with David De Gea in goal, with Phil Jones and Rio Ferdinand paired in front of him. Patrice Evra and Rafael Da Silva occupied the left and right sides respectively. In midfield, Sir Alex went with a central pairing of Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick, with Welbeck and Young as the wide men. Up front saw Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie together.
The first half kicked off in fast paced fashion. Both sides looked to get the early advantage in what was end to end in the early exchanges. In time, City began to establish greater possession, but United’s threat was evident, looking to cause trouble on the break and catch the visitors off guard. That said, despite the positive play, it could be said the first half was short on big chances to open the scoring. Both sides appeared to lack the clinical touch at the end of their plays to test either keeper. Indeed it was the case that the first half ended scoreless, with City the more comfortable of the sides.
The second half took a matter of minutes before the deadlock was broken. Giggs gave the ball away carelessly in the middle of the park, Barry got hold of it and pushed forward, before teeing up Milner, who’s shot took a deflection to beat De Gea and give his side a 0-1 lead. There were questions over whether offside could have been called over players that may have been “interfering” with play, but the goal was given nonetheless and United found themselves behind.
However, the hosts responded and just before the hour mark they were back on level terms. A free kick was given in a dangerous position out wide on the right. Van Persie lined up to take it, his delivery nodded on by Jones, the ball coming off Kompany on it’s way to the net, bringing the game level with an own goal.
Both sides were in the game at this point, City threatened but game up against some solid defending, City, though, looked the more threatening, pushing forward more and finding themselves with more possession. With 20 minutes remaining, Aguero was introduced to join Tevez up front. Less than 10 minutes later, the change paid off, as the striker picked up the ball 20 yards out and running across unchallenged, as he fired a shot at the near post with Jones attempting to block, beating De Gea to give his side a 1-2 lead.
Sir Alex responded by taking off Welbeck for Valencia an with 5 minutes left, Rooney was pulled for Hernandez. United tried to push forward but struggled to find a way through against a City defence ready to defend their lead. A couple of efforts threatened, but Hart was never troubled as the visitors saw out the remaining time to win the game 1-2 and cut the gap to 12 points.
With that in mind, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) City deserved to win
United had their moments on this occasion, and although it was an open game, played with energy, it would be hard to argue that United were the better side. City dominated possession and although chances for both sides were sparse at times, the visitors had the better of them. Aguero’s goal in particular was the pick of the goals, although some may question whether the defence could have done better to stop him in his run.
From the start, City came at United and for the most part, the home side defended solidly, coping with much of what City put forward. However, getting forward, United appeared a little blunt. They countered well but at times the final pass was lacking and ultimately did not seem particularly sharp up front.
As a result, the gap has been reduced to 12 points. With United needing 10 points from 7 games, it must be said that the odds are still hugely in their favour, but Monday’s game perhaps served as a reminder that complacency must be avoided, and the title still needs to be earned if they are to end the season as champions.
2) Phil Jones in his natural position
With Vidic, Evans and Smalling not in the side, Phil Jones was called upon to play in a position that he originally held, in the centre of defence. ON a night when few players really shined, Jones was the pick of the bunch for the hosts. He showed great determination in defending, putting in strong tackles and doing his utmost to challenge for every ball and do his job effectively. Added to that, he was an influence in United’s equaliser, that will get chalked up as an own goal.
In all, an impressive showing for the England defender.
3) Wayne Rooney rusty?
After a number of games without starting, Rooney was given a start alongside Van Persie. It was a quiet game for the striker, he seemed off the pace and struggled to have an impact in a team performance that was not firing on all cylinders at times. With previous speculation about his future at the club and doubts over his fitness, it is Rooney more than anyone, who will need to use the Summer break to his benefit.
Of course, with the season’s end approaching, he can still have an impact to help the side cross the finish line, but he needs to use the break to recuperate and put to rest, the doubts that have continue to get aired at the moment.
4) Should Kagawa have started?
With that in mind about Rooney, would it have been better to start Kagawa in his place behind Van Persie? Of course, the speculation would have been rife had Rooney been left out again when deemed fit, but it would have been interesting to see what might have occurred had this been the case, or even with Rooney playing in another position.
With Kagawa on the bench, he was not introduced until very late in the game, when Young picked up a knock and a quick substitution was needed rather than waiting for treatment. In truth, his introduction was needed a lot sooner to help change United’s fortunes on a night when they struggled to break City down.
5) The game only added evidence to existing complaints
A final point on the game is that for United fans, it only really gave weight to criticisms that have persisted all season. The midfield, while containing quality, lacks someone to dominate and break up play and allow it to control games when up against tougher opposition. It also highlighted the weaknesses on the wings right now. Although Young and Welbeck worked hard, the wide play was ineffective on this occasion and merely reminded fans that it is out of form somewhat. One might question the introduction of Valencia given his recent troubles and his appearance did little to the cause in the end.
United have some tough games coming up towards the season’s end. All that needs to be done is to see it out professionally. Sir Alex knows what needs to be done to see out league and win the title and one can be sure he knows how to handle the situation. Although there are undoubtedly things fans want to see change for the summer, the job at hand now needs to be seen through, before they can look to the future.