Uncontainable drama at the EtihadBy: Ian | December 10th, 2012
As you will have guessed from the title of this post, this is the news that Manchester United are to play in Australia on the 2013 pre-season Tour for the first time since 1999. Moving swiftly on, there was the slight matter of the Manchester derby yesterday afternoon, which maybe one or two of you might have watched. Utd went into the away fixture with a three point lead, somewhat incredible given the season’s defence performance thus far can be at best politely described as ‘having a few gaps’. Utd have obtained the lead thanks to some pretty impressive firepower, but they met a City side who may have drawn a bit too often to be top, but who were yet to lose this season, or indeed at the Etihad Stadium for 37 matches.
Despite reports saying otherwise earlier in the week, both Valencia and Cleverley started, along with Carrick, Rooney, Young and Van Persie in the attacking positions. De Gea was to sit between the sticks, protected (perhaps) by Evra, Evans, Ferdinand and Rafael. City lined up with their usual fantasy football team containing Gareth Barry, but there were a few surprises: a young defender called Nastasic at the back and Balotelli at the front. And it was to the Italian that the first chances were to fall, including a free kick that, despite being poorly hit, did enough to convince De Gea to tip it around the post. That was followed up by a ball from Silva over the top, Clichy just managing to keep it in, and Balotelli firing wildly over.
The first forages may have been made by the home side, but Utd soaked up the pressure and countered brilliantly on the quarter hour mark. Evra, out on the left, played the ball to Young, who headed it onto RVP. The ball was chested back to the winger who powered forward with the City defence retreating. Rooney was to the right and, at precisely the right time, received the ball in enough space to hit at goal. A clean connection it certainly wasn’t, but the ball trickled past the defence, and more importantly, past Joe Hart, who could only look at it. A very pleasing 1-0 to Utd.
Kompany then left the fray to be replaced by Kolo Toure, just before Aguero displayed a magnetic touch and a sprinkling of luck as he raced through a medley of Utd players. Fortunately, the shot was tame and easily saved. Counter-attacks were the order of the day for Utd though as another then came from the right side this time. Valencia found Rafael who kept the cross low. Nastasic was off-balance and failed to prevent Rooney latching onto the pass and directing it home for 2-0. Things were all going rather well, and the only remaining chance of the half was nothing to worry about as Barry put the ball wide.
Evans had to be replaced by Smalling for the second half, an injury prompted change, while Balotelli had to replaced by Tevez, an incompetence prompted chance. The Italian’s performance was clearly frustrating Mancini, with the change noticeably improving City’s performance. The Argentinean put the batteries onto max power once again, chasing around in his terrier’s role, producing chances for City to move forward with intent. Aguero came close with a dipping effort and Ferdinand showed his defensive qualities in diverting away a Nasri cross.
The next action saw Van Persie display his magic act, splendidly finding space away from the defenders in the City box. The shot, on his wrong foot, looked to be curling gracefully in, but instead it smacked the post with Hart well beaten. Young then put the ball in the net past the scrambling keeper, but the flag went up for offside. I can only assume that the officials were too busy watching the stunning Van Persie effort to notice Young’s positioning, which was clearly onside. If Young was the same distance the other side, it would be an obvious offside, but reverse the positions and it’s still controversial. In rugby, the TV would be checked, but hey, football’s still in the dark ages with regards to technology and sport.
Sadly, this move fired City into devastating action on the hour. Tevez found space wide and fired in at De Gea, who parried to Silva, yet produced a fabulous second save. Tevez then calmly found Yaya Toure whose effort went in at the bottom corner, with the keeper helpless to reach it. The deficit was halved and a game that should have been 3-0 was now 2-1. The game became end-to-end with a penalty call against Toure on Evra (seen them given, seen them not) and Tevez being a nuisance at the other end. Van Persie had a snap chance after being fed the ball through Cleverley, but the header went wide. Silva was then denied the equaliser by De Gea’s shoulder, as the ball was deflected against the woodwork. Utd were holding.
Dzeko replaced the powerhouse of Yaya Toure, and the big striker caused a different kind of problem with his strength. Valencia was off for Jones in a Utd change as well. Then came a scene of horror as a City corner was headed out by Van Persie. Zabaleta, in free space, hit it first time back towards the net, and found it. A great roar went up from the home crowd, and after working so hard for the lead, it looked like Utd’s first draw this season. I was imagining Fergie ranting about the disallowed goal, but the players had other plans. City tried to press, but so did Utd, Tevez clipping Rafael to give away a free kick. Van Persie stood over it, with two minutes of extra time gone. Last chance. The ball was swerved in, Nasri (for reasons best known to himself) hid behind the rest of the wall, stuck out a foot, deflecting the ball right past Hart into the corner of the goal. Cue chaotic seasons of euphoria and despair, and unfortunately, some of aggression, with Ferdinand struck and bloodied by a thrown coin. Other projectiles had been thrown earlier too, with Rooney showered with what looked like bottle caps when taking a corner.
This didn’t overshadow a brilliant game of football. So often big games fail to live up to their billing, but this was not one of them. The first half showed Rooney at his brilliant best, and Van Persie cleared away most of the game’s corners. Such energy and willingness was great to see. City, to give them credit, showed their quality to get the two goals back, but I think it was summed up best by the fact that City probably had the overall better team of individual players, but Utd’s individuals played better as a team. The City games last season decided the title in terms of points, so let us hope this remarkable victory, with the six point gap it has now generated, is built upon with a title-winning run over the rest of the season.
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