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.
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.