Well the much anticipated Manchester Derby was a bit of an anticlimax wasn’t it?
Both teams went into the game with injury concerns; City sweating over the fitness of David Silva and United without Pogba, Mata, Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Smalling and Anthony Taylor (calm down! That last ones a joke). However, both teams put out what was arguably their strongest XIs from the players available.
The game was built up to be crucial in terms of the race for top four, but the end result doesn’t really change too much, apart from giving Liverpool fans a bit more of a reason to be optimistic. City fans will have a right to feel like this was another two points dropped at home (I make that about 10 in total across the course of the season), and United fans at the game were celebrating like they’d won the league, rather than a 0-0 bore-draw, when the final whistle was blown – literally.
I’ll keep this post short and to the point, mainly because the game wasn’t that great of a spectacle.
Marcus Rashford led the line for United and I can honestly say that he’ll have learnt more in the 85 minutes he spent playing against Vincent Kompany in this game, than he will have in his last 3 or 4 appearances. He was up against a real centre-half in Kompany and it showed, but he’ll be a much better player because of it.
For the majority of the game United didn’t really pose much of a threat against City but, when they did, it came mostly through Rashford. He was the stand out talent for them in my opinion. However, he spent much of the first half being bullied off the ball by Vincent Kompany. The City captain had the youngster bossed. You could see the United striker becoming increasingly frustrated with his lack of success against the experienced City skipper. His body language said it all and his gestures towards the referee and linesman suggested he was losing his cool. However, as the game wore on you could see that there was a notable improvement in the England youngster’s game and he began to stand his own ground and play smarter. Credit where it’s due, Rashford will be the better player for experiences like this and he’s something for England fans to look forward to in the future. Kompany also praised the United forward after the game and rightly so. We’re not all “Bitter Bertie Bluenoses” et al, some of us are football fans.
Moving on the game itself; it really was a case of City trying to find a way to score past a dug in United side. The bus was not only parked, but it’s tyres were slashed and the wheels clamped, on bricks, it was chained to the goal posts, and its windows were boarded up. It was, as Alistair Mann described it on the big screen at half time, like City were playing against a Tony Pulis Stoke team. United, gradually, didn’t look like they even wanted to counter-attack as the game wore on. I’m writing this in the passenger seat of a car on the way home from the game, so I’ve not seen any of the statistics, but it felt like 70% or more of the game was played in the United half with City passing around trying to probe for an opening. Regardless, as we all know, and as Jermaine Jenas was forcefully told by Alan Shearer on Saturday, possession doesn’t win you football matches. As I was leaving the ground, I did catch a glimpse of a statistic on the display screens which said City had managed 117 passes in the final third during the course of the game and united managed just 7; it makes little difference to the score sheet though.
If you’ve read our verdict on City’s FA Cup Semi-Final defeat to Arsenal, you’ll know that a big concern that I noted was that City looked tired before the 90 minutes were up. There were signs of this tonight in the legs of Fernandinho and Yaya Toure, both of whom are 31+ and for me, this was partly to blame for City’s failure to beat United (bare with me!). United were defending so compactly that City needed to try and draw players out of position. In order to do so, Agüero was at times asked to drop off and pull a centre-half out of position, this would then create space for either Fernandinho or Yaya to either shoot or make a run through the United line. Alternatively, the idea was to try and play the ball out wide to Sterling, Sané or De Bruyne and stretch the United defence. However, there’s only so many times you can keep doing these things before 1) the opposition knows your plan and leaves you to get on with it and 2) the two central-midfielders start to lose their energy. In my opinion, both of these issues were prevalent during the latter parts of the game.
In the early stages it seemed to be working; Sergio Agüero seeing a good chance hit the post and go wide. To state the obvious, if City had got the early lead, the game would have gone completely different. But it didn’t and so by stopping City from scoring early, you could argue that the game got easier for United to defend the longer it when on – until Fellaini got sent off. Not only did City’s two midfielders tire, but the forwards got more frustrated and desperate, hence there were so many shots that were off target. When City did muster chances on target, they were well saved by David De Gea. A shot from Agüero and another from Sterling, in particular, kept United in the game.
At the other end, Claudio Bravo was looking like he had turned a page for City; he looked confident and made a couple of excellent saves. Unfortunately, he appears to have suffered a calf injury and was stretchered off. It was a shame because he was finally starting to look like an actual goalkeeper, as opposed to a sweeper.
The other two main talking points of the game were of course the red card and the sending off. Firstly, before anyone says anything, Agüero can’t possibly receive any retrospective punishment; for two reasons: 1) The referee was looking right at the incident and saw what happened. The referee judged one player to have head butted another and he gave a straight red card to the player he felt had committed a sending off offence.
2) Agüero didn’t really do anything; they both put heads together, but Fellaini clearly used force and aggression. There wasn’t much in it and I hate the fact that heads together is a red card thing nowadays, but as it is, there was nothing in it for me and the referee got it right. I’m sure there’s a people that will say I’m biased though. There always is.
Never mind Agüero, Fellaini was going to be sent off anyway for a second yellow. He’s been booked a minute earlier for fouling Agüero from behind. The referee booked him and spoke to him. The game resumed and Fellaini did exactly the same thing again within seconds of the referee having spoken to him. From where I was sat in the ground you could see that the referee was going into his pocket for a second yellow, only to stop because of the pandemonium that broke out in the aftermath. He then saw the headbutt and went for the straight red. He’d have been sent off for a second yellow anyway, so stop sulking. The question has to be asked however, will United face further punishment for the behaviour of their players, coaching staff and Fellaini for the protesting of the decision and sheer reluctance to leave the field? When Fellaini did eventually leave the pitch, he and Mourinho went straight to the fourth official… I’m not sure it falls within the principals of respect and sportsmanship.
Finally, turning to the disallowed goal. I’ve only seen one replay of it and to me, it looked offside and the linesman got it right. That’s all there is to say really. As derbies go, this wasn’t the most memorable. As aforementioned, United fans in the ground were cheering like they’d won the league at the final whistle, despite it being a 0-0 draw against Little ol’City. Who’d have thought it. City fans, myself included, will feel like this was a chance wasted. How times change.