Manchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2|Match Report|Aguero Masterclass Lights Up The Etihad

Pretty routine that. City gently toyed with Bayern Munich, lulling them into a sense of false security, and then pounced when necessary.

Ok, maybe not. Another euphoric Aguero moment breathed new life into a moribund season.

So with everyone squabbling with what would be the best result in the early kick-off, it turned out that a day of late drama in the group might well shape who eventually qualifies. With CSKA grabbing a late equalizer (and an undeserved one if the highlights are to be believed), it meant that amazingly City could still qualify even if they lost to Bayern. God bless the Champions League. It still sucks.

An interesting team sheet once more, with Fernando predictably screening the defence, but more surprisingly Sagna preferred ahead of Zabaleta. Mangala was trusted in a big game ahead of Demichelis. I have no idea on what basis Pellegrini makes such decisions. This is not a criticism, I just have no idea. Press reports had hinted that the manager would try something different, and so it proved. Lampard’s experience was called upon too with Milner starting once more.

And so to the game. It was nip and tuck but it was clear to see from the start the class of the opposition. They passed it around sublimely, but created just one half-chance. And then City broke and the game seemingly turned on its head, as City won a penalty for the clearest of fouls and Benatia was rightly dismissed. Stupid rule, but it exists, so he had to go.

If that penalty had been turned down, then I would actually begin to believe that football is bent. It was nice to have an agreeable referee for once, to the extent that he even managed to award a goal-kick to City after Hart tipped an effort round the post early doors.

A good penalty by Aguero, unstoppable even though Neuer went the right way, and all looked good. City had Bayern where they wanted them, and it was a great opportunity to assert our authority and make a bold statement. Sadly, it didn’t quite turn out that way. A free-kick conceded by Managala in a dangerous position, and you know what followed next.

For that goal, the blame has to go to Hart – after-all, the ball rolled past his feet. You can blame the wall, but then it is his responsibility to build that too, so whichever way you look at it, he messed up. He clearly didn’t see the ball in time and once Dante stepped out of the way, there was a gaping hole that should never have been there.

As for the second goal, it’s not great defending by Kompany who can’t get to the ball, nor Sagna who was out-muscled by Lewandowski too easily, but the goal was lucky, as it looped off his shoulder to the one place that Hart couldn’t get too. I’ve seen Hart get criticised for this goal too – I’ve no idea why. Yeah he was a bit out of goal, and he does have a tendency to make a small foot movement in the wrong direction sometimes, but I doubt he would have got to it if he was on the line anyway, so I don’t see how it’s relevant.

So onto the second half. City huffed and puffed, but couldn’t find a way back a well-organised team who continued to pass the ball around with ease despite their numerical disadvantage. It was frustrating as we didn’t seem to have the guile to break them down – more on that later. But ten men inevitably tire, and it told in the end, just as I had given up hope – that’s once more the prelude to a 3-2 Aguero-inspired win.

Apart from the obvious brilliance of his goals, extra points to Aguero for flattening Neuer in the net after the equalizer. Further bonus points for scoring that winner despite being barged in the back – such strength in that tiny frame.

Three shots, three goals, and only the second ever player to score a hat-trick against Bayern.
90 goals in 138 games.
He does alright does Sergio.

And if the late goals proved anything besides Kun’s majesty, it’s that Bayern Munich players are not deities, and if you pressure them, then they can make mistakes too.

Articles can come back to haunt you (and I should know). Prior to the game, I read an interesting article by Michael Cox, of Zonal Marking fame, commenting on how City have regretted letting Jerome Boateng go. From my memory there wasn’t much choice. He played poorly, even if he was played out of position and seemed homesick too. It still seems ridiculous of me to say, but despite all the trophies he has and will win, I am still not convinced by him, and think if Bayern do have a weakness it is in central defence. But what do I know? Still, it was Boateng who handed City victory, a nice bit of karma for his flukey goal in the first match.

Before we deal with City “papering over the cracks” in the game, let’s deal with simple facts so that we don’t have to discuss it much further. Ready? Well, basically Bayern Munich are better than us. We knew that before the match, and we knew it during the match. They are supremely talented, their movement, guile and incessant pressing making light if a man disadvantage. There’s nothing new to discuss, they have perhaps the best manager and some of the best players in the world, they are extremely experienced in big games, in all competitions, and have a style that is ingrained through all their squads. We aspire to this and have spent heavily and won domestic success off the back of that, but we all know, and nothing that happened tonight could change that, that we have a way to go to match the likes of Bayern or Real Madrid. You can argue amongst yourselves as to whether we should be there already, there’s no right answer. Our owners obviously want a similar ingrained style running through all squads and ages groups and we are beginning to reap rewards in the kids’ teams, but it will take time to ingrain itself in the senior team and more tinkering and removal of deadwood will be required along the way.

Having said that, I did comment in the second half that there seemed a lack of intensity in our play. We seemed almost resigned as we ran up against brick wall after brick wall. Pellegrini does deserve some credit this time around for not playing two upfront and for trying lofted balls into the channel to catch out Bayern’s high line and pressing but we just couldn’t retain the ball enough to make it count. We did well to completely cut off Bayern’s threat in the second half, but they were probably quite comfortable knowing we weren’t threatening enough either. I commented to a friend that they were comfortably winding down the clock – 3 seconds later and Alonso misplaced a pass to Stevan Jovetic.

Still, let’s take the win, whether it was deserved or not. Bayern won the first game with a deflection, we should have had a penalty prior to that and CSKA’s equalizer from the penalty spot was one of the worst decisions I have ever seen, so despite all our abject play, we could have had a much higher point count prior to the game. Being in a three-way fight for qualification is probably fair.

The substitutions worked quite well. Milner did his usual job but wasn’t hurting Bayern, and Jovetic made a difference, as did Zabaleta, who gave extra energy down the right, though he almost got himself sent off in that time. Sagna did ok without excelling, Mangala was generally excellent, though conceded the free kick that led to the goal with a needless foul and was nowhere to be seen for the second goal, though he shouldn’t have been needed anyway. Still, he did better than our other summer defensive target Benatia.

As for Navas, I’ve no doubt he’s being slated as we speak, but it was normal business for him – he offers a lot, our attacking threat often came down the right side, but he frustrates in equal measure and often made the wrong final pass – again, a mixed bag.

Some extra observations: the atmosphere was still muted, but the drama that lifted the decibel levels shows that sometimes it needs players to lift a crowd – they too have to play a part, and when they do, the results are instant. There’s little surprise at the lack of atmosphere when you consider that as Aguero stepped up to take the penalty at least two people in front of me were recording the game on their phones, more concerned about uploading a Youtube clip than actually watching the match and celebrating what could have been a crucial goal.
Sergio managed to speak some English after the match – about time. As for Joe Hart’s moustache – he’ll be counting down the days until December 1st.

A large paranoia section this week – yay! It was as clear as a Scholes mis-timed tackle that as the “ginger prince” sat in the studio with a face like a slapped arse that had been dragged backwards through a nettle bush (you get the gist) that Adrian Chiles would comment on how the game didn’t matter to Bayern Munich. City and Bayern stand at three victories each during their Champions League duels, but of course some would have you believe none of City’s three wins mattered. It’s b***ocks, because Pep Guardiola is a perfectionist and his team would have loved to have beaten City and dumped them out of the competition. As Guardiola said after the match – “we didn’t come here to holiday, we came to win.”

Perhaps there is the smallest of drops in intensity, but to say they weren’t trying is laughable. His team selection showed that he wanted a win, and their effort in defending their lead with 10 men added further weight to that argument. History is full of teams playing other teams at opportune times, and United won plenty of titles winning games at the “business-end” of seasons playing teams who had nothing to play for and they didn’t get called lucky and nor should they – the law of averages gives you situations like this. It’s been a tiresome narrative from some ever since City “spent a billion” on the team (another lie, naturally) that every triumph has a caveat to it. If it’s not the fact that they have bought success, it’s something else. I have read endless times that City won both league titles only because other teams threw it away, these dimwits struggling to comprehend the concept of a league, whilst conveniently ignoring the fact that on both occasions City put together a winning run when it really mattered under great pressure. The Liverpool narrative is especially ridiculous as it has been painted that they threw it all away despite the fact that they lost just one game to a rather useful team named Chelsea – a game they could hardly expect to win. Their collapse against Crystal Palace was irrelevant – City would have won the league anyway.

Rant over – for now.

Oh no, there’s more. An additional argument is that Bayern Munich played a weakened team. Needless to say, not starting with Silva, Toure, Fernandinho, Zabaleta or Kolarov is neither here nor there it seems.

Oh god, another rant. I should be happy today! The description of City as a “one-man team” is up there with phrases like “there was contact”, “I’ve seen them given”, “you can’t raise your hands” and “you can’t send him off, it will ruin the game”. So well done Sergio, for your brilliant goal keeping last night, those three goal-line clearances, the way you marshalled the midfield, the three assists for your goals and all that superb wing play. We’d have been lost without you. Where would we be without Aguero? Where would Barcelona be without Messi? Where would Real Madrid be without Ronaldo? What would I call my aunty if she possessed two testicles?

So, report after report stated how City were outplayed, and I too have mentioned how good Bayern were. But it’s hard to accept you have been outplayed by a team who didn’t create a clear-cut chance. How does that work? This is all part of the modern obsession with statistics as a guide to how well a team has done, in this case possession stats. Chelsea won at Liverpool in April with 27% possession. Real Madrid beat Bayern last season with 31% possession. No one called them lucky, because they weren’t. And City weren’t lucky either, because they scored more goals than Bayern Munich, games last for 90 minutes and the away team scored from two of only three forays on goal. There were no controversial decisions in the game, so the result is fair. Bayern Munich tired, made mistakes, and paid the price.

Bless Clive Tyldesley for trying to recreate the Agueroooooo moment in his own 3-2 moment. It didn’t really work, it never could, but credit to the normally pointless Andy Townsend for yelping “get in!” as Aguero stroked home the winner.

In the end, that winner might not matter at all. The permutations for the group have confused most media outlets it seems, and confused me too yesterday when I got it all wrong, but the fact is that a win in Rome should see us through as I think it rather unlikely that the perfectionist Pep Guardiola will allow a team to his to roll over, especially at home. What’s more, their third team should beat CSKA. Defeat in Rome and we know we’re out of Europe altogether. A draw should see us stay in Europe, but in which competition? A score draw would see us through, a goalless draw won’t. So let’s start with the basics – we need to score in Rome.

Is this a turning point in our troubled relationship with the Champions League? Only time will tell, as in two weeks’ time we could all be disillusioned once more, but you only had to look at how the drama of the game had buoyed everyone’s spirits as they streamed out of the stadium to realise that at last, the competition had delivered something special for us all to saviour. About bloody time.

Congratulations to Jamie Jackson for mentioning the atmosphere at the Roma game in his “five talking points”. He never disappoints.

Manchester City 2 Swansea City 1: Match Report from the Etihad

To sum up – that was moderately better. Better football, better atmosphere, better result. Though having said all that, considering Manuel Pellegrini has won 21 of his 25 league games at the Etihad, have things really been that bad?

Vincent Kompany’s name thankfully appeared on the team sheet, alongside Martin Demichelis, and the rest of the defence, for one reason or another, picked itself. In midfield, there were few surprises either as once more absences picked the team, though Navas was favoured over Milner, which will no doubt have annoyed a few (more on that later) and Fernandinho got the nod over Fernando, which was less surprising.

The international break had actually been welcomed by many, after sluggish form and talk of a crisis (City, the team with four trophies in the last four years, are seemingly in a crisis more often than DFS have a sale on), but the sun was out (sometimes) and it felt good to be back with renewed hope, almost like the opening day of the season.

That didn’t last long. Swansea started well, passed the ball about beautifully, and punctured all our optimism with a well-taken goal by Bony, as part of the defence considered playing offside. Yet again there was a lack of communication in the back four on this matter, and it cost the team dear, though you have to say it was a nice goal, but Bony’s run should surely be tracked by someone.

So yet again it was a case of seeing what the team were made of. And I’m glad to say they responded well. Swansea’s threat evaporated, City saw more and more of the ball, and whilst much of the passages of play once more saw pointless sideways passing, the screw was slowly turned as Swansea sat back. City were finding endless joy down the right, with mixed results, but eventually a beautiful Navas cross found Jovetic and it was all-square.

It was a pattern of play that continued for most of the following hour. Clichy’s thunderbolt was tipped onto the woodwork, City pressed, restricted Swansea, but couldn’t find the breakthrough.

And likewise in the second half. Swansea were by now sitting very deep, which allowed City possession but made finding that opening in front of goal difficult. Fabianski was in fine form, but eventually a sublime back-heel from Fernandinho found Yaya Toure, and the rest is history. City continued to press, the goal was peppered, especially by Toure, but City couldn’t find a goal to relieve the pressure.

And so, as sure as night follows day, City had a late wobble. Somehow Gomis put the ball wide when through on goal, though credit must be given to Hart who narrowed the angle leaving no space to his left, which probably explained why the ball was spooned right on the attacker’s right foot. Then a late free-kick deflected just wide of the post, and City hung on. Credit ti Swansea though, who play some excellent football, as they have for many years.

But what a quite pathetic decision that late free kick was. It seems a given that defenders standing still now equals a “blatant block” as one commentator called the yellow card for Kompany earlier. The yellow card for Demichelis was laughable as he was actually fouled himself – he had no time to get out of the way (and why should he?) and made no body movement to block Bony. It was a joke of a decision.

Not surprisingly, Navas once more came in for criticism, the man sat in front of me spending 90 minutes slating his every touch. For a man celebrating his 29th birthday, it’s probably too late for the player to change, and he will always frustrate, but he was at the heart of virtually everything City did in an attacking sense, stretched the Swansea back four, and got an assist. His late shot saved by Fabianski was a good shot, but shows sometimes his lack of awareness, as Lampard was free in the middle, and too often flat crosses were cleared, but perhaps part of the problem is that the team may not be ideally suited to his talents, as when he looks to cross we are hardly a team likely to have three attackers on the six-yard line or a wealth of good headers of the ball.

Man of the match was given to Nasri. Hmmm. Great control of the ball as always, great keeper of possession, great passing, but he’s not David Silva and you don’t see the final killer ball as much. He’s more of a Modric – the man who supplies the pass to the goal-assister, but he had a good game. But for me, there were thankfully plenty of other contenders. Fernadinho was more like his old self, Toure too, Demichelis a rock and Kompany was almost too fired up. See, they do care.

Aguero had a frustrating day, which is why it is so important that other players chip in with goals. He was in the wars too, though I didn’t see the second incident where he alleged an elbow in the face, and the TV replays were inconclusive. The first challenge that left him crumpled on the touch line was a yellow card and nothing more.

So a good result, though the team still made it hard for themselves. There are still clearly issues with the team shape, both in the ease in which we concede goals and a lack of clinical finishing up front, whilst the midfield is still lob-sided and allows too much space to opposition players, but the three points were well-deserved and much-needed.

And it’s good to have football back after a week of tomfoolery from certain football individuals. Dave Whelan managed to cause offence, then caused further offence when apologising for his previous offence, then had to apologise for the offence he caused when apologising for causing an offence. I’d advise Dave that perhaps for once in your life you consider not speaking for a while? Otherwise, it won’t be long before he’s apologising for stating the French are all cowards by claiming some of his best friends love garlic. Now as a lapsed Jew who had a lovely “swine burger” at Guerilla Eats last night (I mean, why deprive yourself of bacon all your life? Madness) I wasn’t particularly offended by what Whelan said about Jews chasing money, as it could be interpreted, coming from the mouth of a businessman, as them being canny in finance and business, which cannot be denied even if it is a generalisation. Another friend has suggested he also hinted at more odious suggestions about how British Jews may be, which I haven’t read about and is of course preposterous. Your nationality is not linked to your religion, it’s where you live/grew up etc. Anyway, only Whelan knows if he meant his comments as a badly-worded back-handed compliment or he truly has deeper issues with a whole religion, but it was certainly ill-advised rhetoric and crass stupidity on his part. My personal experience in life is that the most generous people tend to be those with the least. Maybe Jewish businessmen (and women) are being tarnished for being successful. Either way, such views help maintain such odious stereotypes.
There’s probably an element of jealousy in there too from Whelan, as it’s hard to chase money with a permanently broken leg. Considering his company have been done for price-fixing in the past, I hardly think he’s in a position to lecture on chasing money.

As for appointing Mackay, he has no excuse. The sympathy I have with Mackay is that I am always slightly uncomfortable with news stories being made out of private messages, which should remain private whatever the views. We could all go through our message history and find some things to make us squirm, but I can guarantee that most of us won’t find any racial slurs, so my sympathy for him only stretches so far, and personally when I am stressed and indulging in “banter”, I don’t slip into Bernand Manning mode. Maybe that’s just me.
Either way, whilst an FA investigation is under way, it is appalling that Whelan thinks he can make a quick phone call to the FA, decide there’s no case to answer and appoint Mackay as the new manager. Still, Mackay has been on a course now so everything’s ok, and he’ll try his best not to be racist in the future.

Congratulations to the Swansea fans, who waited a full three minutes before singing “where were you when you were shit?”
On a completely separate note, in the 1974–75 season, an average of 2,052 spectators watched each Swansea game.

So on to two extremely tough matches. Most will have given up on the Champions League anyway, but a weakened Bayern side may give us a glimmer, whilst Southampton will be one of the toughest tests of the season so far. We simply have to go on a long winning run if we have any aspirations of retaining our premier league crown.

Product whoring: Christmas (and Chanukah) is approaching, in case you hadn’t noticed. So if you fancy a stocking-filler in the form of a season review book, in which City win the league at the end (choice of two), or one where we didn’t and you enjoy reading about abject failure, then get in touch. They’re really cheap direct from me. I thank you.

Manchester City Season Review Books Available at Reduced Prices for Christmas

It’s almost that time of year again – if you would like a nice Manchester City themed stocking filler, then perhaps my season review book could be for you.

I have a stock of books available direct from me at really cheap prices.

These Charming Men: 2013/2014 Season Review – only £7 incl postage and packaging (UK)

Missed Goals – 2012/13 Season Review – £6 incl postage and packaging (UK) – small stock still available.

This Is How It Felt To Be City – 2011/12 Season Review – last few copies available for £5 incl postage and packaging (UK)

sergioparade

Can post anywhere in world for a little extra cost, or will do reduced prices for bundles. Contact me at howiehok@yahoo.co.uk, or on Twitter at @howiehok34 if interested in a book for Christmas.

Each season looks at City and beyond, so there’s plenty to enjoy even during the lean spells, brief as they were…

 

Cheers
Howard Hockin

QPR 2 Manchester City 2: Match Report – City Sloppiness Costs Team Again

And on it goes.  Despite the statistics showing some fair league form, City feel like a team in disarray, mostly due to calamitous defending week after week, routine derby wins apart.

With Kompany, Silva and Kolarov out, much of the team picked itself, with Mangala and Demichelis at the back being a justified cause for concern. With Clichy at left-back and Sagna chosen at right back, it was not a team to fill if all with confidence.  At least Yaya Toure was pushed forward, but more disappointment arose from the omission of Milner.  It was another unique line up with Fernando and Fernandinho partnering each other in midfield.

With Chelsea winning at Anfield earlier in the day, it already seemed like a lost cause defending the title, ridiculous as that sounds with six months of the season left. It’s easy to be defeatist, as the team cannot get results like Chelsea right now, though it should be pointed out they needed a soft penalty to defeat QPR at home the previous week – but they did win, and that’s the important thing.

City started well in treacherous conditions, but it wasn’t long before normal service was resumed.  Sloppy passing and nervy defending was the order of the day against a lively QPR attack,  and it was of little surprise when Charlie Austin finally got the opening goal at the third attempt after two disallowed efforts,  and following more appalling defending on the left. City rallied, but did not create anywhere near enough until the closing stages.

In the end, a clinical header from Demichelis summed up our back line at the moment, and proved that when things aren’t going well, you can’t catch a break, as Dzeko also hobbled off having only just come on. Too many players, not just defenders, are off-colour, none more so than Fernando in front of the defence. For this reason it’s declare that our newest signings are failures when so many around them, aren’t any better. It’s hard to judge them in a team suffering a crisis of confidence, and we continue to play out-of-form players, suggesting once again a lack of depth in our squad.

The defence is unsettling the team as a whole, but it does not help that we are so slow on the attack sometimes. With Navas in the team, Yaya’s turbo setting and a lively Aguero in the middle we should be lethal, but too often we slow things down with sideways passing. I do pine for some more destructive pace in this side – just look at Arsenal’s goal at Swansea today to see evidence of what we should be doing more of.

City have needed Nasri to step into Silva’s shoes during the Spaniards absence, and many won’t be surprised that hasn’t happened. He isn’t helped by coming back from injury himself and being plonked out wide, which also means little protection for the maligned Clichy. The fact is though, City are too reliant right now on a select few players.

The only reason City didn’t lose this time around was because of two imperious performances at each end of the pitch.

Which brings us nicely to Sergio Aguero. It’s such a joy to see him playing for our team right now, a player completely on top of his game. God help us if he gets injured, as we are only in touch with Chelsea (kind of) because of his brilliance. With Dzeko impotent and now injured and Jovetic a big disappointment, we are totally reliant on him, making the decision not to replace Negredo looking a tad iffy, though hindsight is a wonderful thing and other big teams survive without a wealth of strikers.  His first goal was offside and included an accidental hand ball, but the control was phenomenal.

(A review of his lengthy autobiography will follow next week.)

As for Joe Hart, apart from one crazy moment which City were very lucky to escape from (though the rules were applied correctly, it does seem a bit harsh on QPR – we escaped on a technicality) he was imperious in difficult conditions. Whilst Caballero has hardly set the world on fire since his arrival, he has it seems had a positive effect on Hart, as he now has serious competition for his shirt and has responded with a series of committed displays. Long may it continue. I am still not convinced he is a top class goal-keeper, not world-class, but let’s hope he proves me wrong, he has time on his side.

As per usual, City stepped it up for the final ten minutes when it was too late, though we had enough chances to win the game.

Credit to QPR though, they have been playing better for weeks now and had an energy about them that impressed – it is worth noting even though our team should beat them easily however well they may play.

The performance will inevitably put more pressure on the manager of a team who kicked off the season as double winners only two and a half months ago.  Crazy, but there you go, fickleness rules, and one fan even called him a “myth of a manager” on a message board today.

And so to an international break, which is needed but will see players flying all over the world, the odd injury too no doubt and little time for the squad to work together to sort out the problems.

Still, on today of all days, it’s important to note we’re just in a run of bad form, we’ll be good again at some point, win some trophies and enjoy good times. It’s just a game of football, don’t lose too much sleep over a drawn match.

It seems 4-4-2 wasn’t to blame for all our ills after all!

Manchester City 1 Manchester United 0: A Hard-Fought Victory Not Helped By The Referee

Phew. Despite a committed, disciplined and whole-hearted refereeing display from Wayne Rooney, City held on in a hard-fought match to record their six win in seven league games against United.

To repeat a point I make every time the two teams meet – what a horrible day (at least pre-match). Lack of appetite, churning stomach, anxiety attacks, dread, fear. How anyone can enjoy this day is beyond me. City could face United In April 15 points clear in the league and I’d still be a bag of nerves. By midday I had bit my lip and developed a stress rash.

And so as the clock slowly ticked round to 12:30, the team sheet was released, and another new set-up. Kolarov was named but then injured himself, Mangala was injured too which saved Pellegrini a difficult decision, thankfully we didn’t get Dzeko and Aguero upfront and Milner started as all predicted. With Nasri not match-fit, there was a worrying lack of artistry in the side.

There was little surprise in the cagey start. City haven’t come out the blocks firing in games this season, tending to look at the 90 minutes as a whole, hoping to wear sides down. There was clearly a fear from both sides of conceding the first goal, and with United shooting wide and screwing a header off-target, they had marginal superiority in the early stages, before Navas should have scored (he was well onside) and Aguero was foiled by an alert De Gea, after a beautiful cross from Fernando with the outside of his right foot.

And then of course there was the most stupid of red-cards, for which no one can have any complaints. A yellow card for blocking a keeper’s kick is stupid enough, but having received the booking, diving in on a player was perhaps even more idiotic. Of course the red card gives United something of an excuse for defeat, but it doesn’t really matter as City won, so who cares?

After all, derby day is not about performance and form, but getting a result. This result will prove a tonic to City, though it needs to be followed up with two more results this week, but it doesn’t really tell us too much about the wider picture.

After that, City dominated until a late panic. And so to the penalty appeals. There could have been five penalties for City, there should have been three. Fellaini clearly kicked Aguero on the back of his leg, and we all know he doesn’t go to ground lightly. Then on half-time, the clearest referee bottling job you will ever see. It was clear to every person in the ground that Rojo had fouled Toure, but Michael Oliver had no intention of reducing United to nine men and so turned a blind eye and whistled for half-time. Whether Rojo brushed the ball is irrelevant as he took out Toure – it should have been game over at that point. And then in the second half, Carrick very clearly fouled Aguero, as did Fellaini as well to a lesser extent, and yet somehow Oliver couldn’t see that either. Utterly appalling refereeing. A double-handball followed from two United players (naturally Fellaini was one of them again), but these were accidental and the players were very close to the shot, so no penalty there, nor for a Blind handball later.

oliver

City pressed and pressed and eventually got their reward with a goal even Oliver couldn’t disallow. A lovely ball from Yaya, a great cutback from Clichy and a clinical finish from a deadly striker. The only disappointment was that City did not push on and put the game to bed. Some needless substitutions when City were dominating changed everything. Unless Milner had a knock, it was baffling to remove him from the field, as he had done exactly what you expected of him, covering every blade of synthetic grass. Then to introduce Dzeko didn’t really help either. It was natural that United, fielding the most expensive derby side ever seen, would go for it in the closing stages, as they had nothing to lose, but what was disappointing was that City panicked and did not retain their composure and keep the ball better. Rooney inexplicably didn’t shoot when through on goal and Hart saved well from Di Maria’s follow-up shot whilst he also saved from a narrow angle from Van Persie,whilst Fellaini shouldered a cross wide when he should have done much, much better. Evidence perhaps, that City are still a bit shaky and not in top form. Still, if the referee had done his job, we wouldn’t be discussing the late implosion. What’s more, in that period City still managed to hit the post through Navas, Toure shot wide and should have scored with a header. City held on, and the result is the only thing that matters.

Jovetic once more disappointed slightly. I have no doubt he is a supremely talented player who hopefully can now stay fit and develop in the team, but the problem is that he hasn’t yet developed an understanding with Aguero. The dilemma is that Dzeko has developed one, but by playing him, a more traditional front-man, it leaves bigger gaps in midfield. He was as lively as ever and almost set up Toure with a lovely lobbed pass, but I still think he is rushing things a bit too much and not looking up enough. He will be a success though, I have no doubt about that.

Perhaps Gael Clichy should be told he is in the team 30 minutes before kick-off every week, as he was superb, and of course gained an assist in the process. He consigned Di Maria to a second impotent performance in a week, and was a threat going forward. Yaya too was more like his old self. He made more passes than anyone else, he passed more successfully than anyone else (93%), he created chances, he burst forward. This was a game made for him, and it was vital he was passed fit after Wednesday’s debacle. Not quite there, but better.

I thought Navas had a good game, and you could see why he was included in the side. He kept Shaw busy, and the left-back was petrified at leaving him alone, which allows other players space and stopped the full-back bombing forward. Even when he isn’t having a good game he keeps the opposition defence on alert, and with a few better crosses City could have profited much more yesterday. He still frustrates, but his inclusion worked.

Demichelis answered the question of who should partner Kompany, for now. Injury dictates he will anyway, and he was excellent again, as was his captain.

SPITGATE. I’m quite good at getting through the day without shouting at anyone, but if I was to shout I think I’d be quite proficient at doing it without a shower of spittle leaving my mouth. Still, there’s no obvious intent to spit looking at the replays, so the story will die, and we don’t want to strengthen United further by calling for a ban for Fellaini. But then, that’s Fellaini for you – either he spits on you or elbows you in the back of the head – take your pick. Shouting abuse at Aguero after twice fouling him says it all about the man to be honest. Credit where credit’s due though, he’s a master at getting away with things. And taking the blinkers off, the abuse aimed Aguero’s way is probably done to sway the referee – and it worked.

Which leads us to HEADBUTTGATE (I’m so sorry about this). It’s laughable that any human being could claim that Joe Hart head-butted the referee, and it’s fair to say that no further action will be taken as the referee had rather a good view of the incident, but it was rather foolish of Hart to get that close to the official. Brad Friedel said that in Europe a referee may have responded differently to the incident, which is a fair point, but then in Europe Wayne Rooney wouldn’t spend 90 minutes gobbing off to the referee either. Players know what they can get away with.

We’re not one to talk in a world of muted stadium atmospheres, but interesting to note United’s away support had suddenly become less vociferous now that they aren’t lording it over us – a natural progression I suppose – we’d be the same. One pitiful rendition of “nobody knows your name” (I would suggest the league champions are fairly well-known, helped by their participation in the champions league once more this season), but they were merely saving themselves for the biggest cheer of the day, when the attendance was announced, which says it all really – about their support, modern football, and more.

Still, congratulations to United for winning the “applied pressure for 15 minutes cup”, the “got more history and won more stuff cup” and the “only let City have 54% possession despite having a man less for over half the game” as one “prominent” United blogger (you know who) was keen to point out after the match. Even when they lose, they win.

And then there was Wayne Rooney. Ninety minutes (plus injury time) in the referee’s ear, and not a single caution his way, as it is every week. He then proceeded to cap all this off by falling to the ground when no one was near him, clutching his ankle whilst appealing to the referee. I don’t think you can get a free-kick for being tackled by a ghost, Wayne. Why certain players are allowed such leniency escapes me, apart from him being England captain. A discussion developed in the pub before the match regarding Mario Balotelli. You may be aware that I don’t have the highest opinion of the “mercurial” Italian, but I can see the circus that follows him around for what it is, and it is pathetic, reaching a crescendo in recent weeks. If he behaved how Rooney did week in, week out, you can imagine the response from a minority in the media. The hatchet job led by Robbie Savage during the Newcastle match showed what he is up against in this country, not that he helps himself of course.

Match of the Day Two: After incessant moaning from me over the quality of punditry in this country, it would be remiss of me not to mention the excellent standard of analysis provided by Danny Murphy and Brad Friedel on MOTD2. No prejudice, no “phoned-in” analysis, but instead clear, concise, common punditry. There is such a huge dichotomy between the MOTD offerings of Saturday and Sunday night, presumably deliberately, the BBC seemingly concluding that the post-pub crowd of a Saturday night want watered-down analysis. More’s the pity, especially as so many don’t watch it until the next day anyway.

The most expensive side ever put out for a derby game, which became even more expensive once Carrick came on, as Falcao looked on from the stands. I guess money doesn’t guarantee you success after all. Who knew? Leaving aside the blue blinkers, the side should be allowed time to gel, but you don’t get time anymore it seems, success has to be instant. United will improve, in fact they are improving, and other teams are doing their best to hand them a top-four place. They ain’t going anywhere, that’s for sure.

And so onwards, as two more games need to be won this week. Only then can we say the season is back on track, but it’s been a mighty fine start. I get the feeling there will be a great atmosphere on Wednesday too, for a change.