Verdict: Manchester City 0 Manchester United 1
Goals: Scholes 90+3 for United.
Third time unlucky as once again City lost in injury time to United. This was merely the first part of a bad day as Tottenham went on to beat Chelsea and reclaim fourth place.
Contrary to the pre-match hype claiming this was the most important derby in decades, nothing was ever going to be decided in this game. One only has to look to next week’s fixtures to see this.
Tottenham visit Old Trafford in the early kick-off, to take on a fired up United who will be striving for a win to maintain their title challenge. Later in the day, we take on an injury ravaged Arsenal who have seen any remaining title hopes blown away by Wigan.
City fans will want a United win, while Tottenham fans want an Arsenal victory. Bizarre, but that’s how it goes in the business end of the season. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that City will be back in fourth place next weekend, and we can put this derby defeat behind us.
As for this game, the confidence that should have been flowing from the 14 goals in our previous three games, gave way to nervousness. Our play felt inhibited, and not just by the pressing and tackling which comes with a derby.
As most people hoped, Mancini kept changes to a minimum with Bridge coming in for Garrido. In the past, Wayne has needed a couple of games to get up to speed following injury, and this was no exception. He never seemed comfortable against Valencia and until extra time there weren’t the forward runs that characterize his game at it’s best.
As expected United lined up in a 4-5-1 formation giving them an extra man in midfield, and enabling them to knock the ball around more than City supporters would have liked. This was always going to be the risk with Mancini playing 4-4-2.
At least with only a half-fit Rooney up front, there was little for Shay Given to worry about, so long as we tracked their midfielders into the penalty area and defended set pieces. This we did ok, though they still fashioned the clearer scoring opportunities during the first half.
De Jong was relishing the opportunity to tackle again and eventually we were able to make an impression. Our best play came down the right flank, with Johnson threatening and Onuoha defending solidly. The left was less successful as Bellamy never really got the better of Neville, despite our attempts to play balls over the top and exploit the difference in pace. Neville was able to drop deep as our tactics for attacking him lacked variety.
Despite some rough treatment, both Adebayor and Tevez did well in holding the ball up and bringing others into play. Sometimes the Togolese can appear like a rich mans Paulo Wanchope with his ability to switch from the sublime to the ridiculous, but his efforts were once again better than those of Tevez.
In the second half, United’s extra man in midfield was again enabling them to have comfortable possession and eventually Mancini decided to bring on Vieira to even things up. With Johnson sacrificed, de Jong was temporarily moved out to the right flank. This was not a good idea and Adebayor was next off, allowing Wright-Phillips to give us a conventional 4-5-1. Both Vieira and Wright-Phillips should have been brought on together.
No sooner had we settled into shape than Ireland replaced de Jong, who went off with what looked like a knock. Initially the pace had looked to much for Vieira, but gradually we started to exert ourselves once again.
A Tevez set piece was nearly nodded home by Vieira and Onuoha, then from the resulting corner, a scramble saw an Onuoha turn and shot blocked.
The game was getting more stretched as both sides went for the win in the final few minutes. By extra-time Wayne Bridge found himself attacking and driving a shot straight at Van der Sar. It was all rather un-Mancini and the finale came as a result of this gung-ho attitude when Ireland and Wright-Phillips weren’t tracking Evra and Scholes.
“I am sorry for the supporters over this, but at the end of the season I think we will have a good gift for them – because I think we will get fourth position.”
Throughout the game our final ball and delivery from set pieces hadn’t been good enough. The confidence in our passing that had been seen against Burnley and Birmingham was only apparent for a spell midway through the first half. We can’t afford to be so inhibited in our remaining games. Nor should we panic after a narrow last minute defeat. This team has shown it is good enough, and wholesale changes could be counter-productive.