Tag Manchester City

Tag Manchester City

United v City, the best of

November 1, 2014 Tags: , Reads 2 comments
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It has been too long since Manchester United started a local derby, if not favourites, then in better morale than the crosstown neighbours City. Indeed, for much of the 122 year history of this game it has been United and not the Blues that has been the preeminent force. Thanks to seemingly unlimited riches City has secured two Premier League titles in recent years, although not for the first time is making a ham-fisted attempt at retaining the crown. One more twist after 167 fixtures between these sides.

Manchester United 4 – 1 Manchester City, 31 August, 1957
For many of the Babes this was the final Old Trafford derby before the Munich disaster the following February. Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor, Johnny Berry and Dennis Viollet scored as United began the season in fine form. The Reds completed a fifth English league title the following May, but for Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, David Pegg, Liam Whelan, Edwards and Taylor this was the last ever home derby.

Busby Babes 1957

Manchester City 3 – 3 Manchester United, 6 November, 1971
Super Sammy McIlroy scored on his United début against City’s best side in living memory. Brian Kidd and John Aston also netted for the Reds in a classic early ’70s encounter. Franny Lee, doing what Franny Lee did best, dived to win City a penalty as the Blues came back from two down and 3-2 behind to earn a draw at Maine Road.

Manchester City 3 – 3 Manchester United, Maine Road, 27 October, 1990
Another three-all draw in a classic early ’90s match at Maine Road. City began at pace and David White’s double looked to have secured the points for Howard Kendall’s outfit before Mark Hughes countered for United. Colin Hendry added a third for City before Brian ‘Choccy’ McClair scored twice for United to grab a draw in a breathless match.

Manchester City 2 – 3 Manchester United, Maine Road, 1993
One of United’s greatest ever comebacks – this time in City’s backyard. Trailing by two thanks to a Nial Quinn brace, United returned with strikes from Eric Cantona and Roy Keane, winning it in the final minute of the match. More than 3,000 United supporters went berserk. Sweet.

Manchester United 5 – 0 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 1994
With that 1989 match at Maine Road still all too fresh in supporters’ minds, United’s flying Russian winger Andrei Kanchelskis went on the rampage, scoring an Old Trafford hat-trick. It was the match that finally stopped five years of Blue Nose crowing, allowing right-minded United folk to raise their chins once again!

Manchester United 1 – 1 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 2001
Roy Keane’s long running feud with the Norwegian Alfe-Inge Haarland led to this horror tackle in 2001. Keane saw red and was banned for three matches. Keane’s biography later intimated that the Irishman sought to hurt his opponent, a claim biographer Eamonn Dunphy made firm at an FA inquiry. It cost Keane a further five match ban and £150,000 fine. Keane denied it had the row hasn’t stopped since.

Manchester United 4 – 3 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 2009
There have been few more dramatic winners than Michael Owen’s wonderful 96th minute strike from Ryan Giggs’ pass. City boss Mark Hughes’ moaned for years about the amount of injury time added on dominated the headlines, but Owen’s dramatic winner secured the points. Just about the only decent thing the striker did at Old Trafford in three years.

Manchester United 2 – 1 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 2011
If Owen’s winner was the most dramatic, Wayne Rooney’s overhead two years’ later might just have been the most spectacular. The goal, voted the second best in the world during 2011, was truly the stuff of schoolboy dreams. Such a shame it was bracketed by two transfer requests.

Manchester City 2 Manchester United, 2012
There was no little irony in Robin van Persie’s late winner after Roberto Mancini had made it so clear that he wanted to sign the former Arsenal captain. United led through Rooney’s double, only for City to draw level by the 86th minute. Cue the finest end to a Manchester derby debut with Van Persie scoring a free-kick in the 92nd minute.

And some of the worst of…

Manchester United 0-1 Manchester City, 1974
The result that effectively relegated United with a game to go in the league season and the goal was scored by former Red Denis Law of all players. Law’s backheel was his last touch of the game – or in the English First Division. It was hard to know who was more heartbroken: the Scotsman or his former hero-worshipers on the Stretford End.

Manchester City 5-1 Manchester United, 1989
After a three year hiatus, with City languishing in the Second Division, the derby brought one of the most dramatic results in the near 100 years of fixtures between these sides. David Oldfield scored twice, with Trevor Morley, Ian Bishop, and Andy Hinchcliffe adding a miserable fifth. If anything Maine Road Massacre inspired United to more than two decades of success, often at City’s expense. A defining moment, but not as Blues had hoped.

Manchester United 1 Manchester City 6, 2011
Mario Bellotelli pondered the question “Why always me?” United fans had far darker thoughts, after all the Reds hadn’t lost so heavily at Old Trafford for more than fifty years – and this time to unthinkable opponents. Ballotelli scored twice, as did Edin Dzeko, with further goals coming from Sergio Aguero and David Silva. In truth United gifted City three late goals, but there is no doubt this proved to be a pivotal match, with City claiming the title by eight points the following May.

City v United: Rooney returns

October 31, 2014 Tags: , Matches 4 comments
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How did the narrative get so turned around? The derby has not often been pleasant viewing for Manchester United supporters in recent seasons, with City not only racking up some embarrassingly weighty victories, but securing two Premier League titles in the past three years. Yet, it is not obvious that the Blues enter the Sunday lunchtime fixture at the Etihad as favourites. Not a statement that could have been predicted even a fortnight ago.

In truth City boasts all the tools to take United apart: a spine of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Touré, Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero that offers the power, movement and height to take advantage of United’s key weaknesses. On paper it remains an unfair match-up. Yet, derbies are never played out in theory alone and – no more than perception perhaps – it is United that has all the momentum going into this weekend.

After all Robin van Persie’s wildly celebrated 95th minute equaliser against Chelsea last Sunday has, as many supporters instinctively understood, sent confidence coursing through the United squad. Louis van Gaal’s side has rarely excelled this season, but it is not often over the past two decades that a home draw has been so significant as the one gained at Old Trafford last Sunday.

The hosts, meanwhile, will be without key player David Silva, while midweek defeat to Newcastle United has compounded an already growing sense that all is not quite right in Manuel Pellegrini’s squad. Last weekend West Ham United secured three Premier League points against the Chilean’s side and City is yet to emerged victorious in the Champions League this season.

Indeed, there is something of City’s last title defence in the recent series of limp performances. It might be wishful thinking on United’s part, but this is a City side that looks far from the commanding outfit that secured last year’s Premier League title.

Still, there is an imbalance in the recent City-United relationship that Old Trafford’s finest seeks to redress. There may not have been a better moment over the past three campaigns for United to take advantage. One for the fans as well as an often embattled team.

“It is one of the 38 matches we have to play but, for the fans, it is unbelievably big as a rivalry,” said Van Gaal.

“I have felt that, also with a lot of the players in the squad. It was good to see that. Everywhere it is the same because the derby is between rivals in the city. We don’t have to accelerate this feeling because it is football and you have to play the game, not only a game with emotion but also in a tactical way. That we are doing, that is how we are preparing.”

On the pitch United will again be without a slew of first team players, although Wayne Rooney returns from suspension and Antonio Valencia is fit enough to make the bench. The Scouser’s reintroduction is likely to mean Juan Mata is dropped, although Van Gaal has a tendency to mix up his tactical outlook on a weekly basis.

Radamel Falcao is not fit after picking up a training ground injury, but Adnan Januzaj could retain his place if Van Gaal retains the 4-2-3-1 system deployed against Chelsea last weekend. That choice may lies in the midfield shape the Dutchman wishes to deploy, with Mata, Marouanne Fellaini, and Ander Herrera perhaps competing for just one spot in the United side despite all the injuries.

Manchester City v Manchester United, Etihad, 2 November 2014

“As a coach, you’re always prepared and are used to a lot of injuries but I’m not used to this many injuries,” the Dutchman told MUTV.

“At most clubs I have trained, we have had very few injured players but now I’m here for the first time and we are always having a lot of injuries. This week, we still have seven injuries. I can hardly make a choice as there are so many players we do not have. We don’t know what we are doing wrong.”

The are hardly comforting words after a campaign disrupted by absences. Still, it is Silva that may prove the most pivotal missing player after the Spaniard picked up a knee injury during the midweek Capital One Cup defeat to Newcastle. Meanwhile, Yaya Touré suffered a groin strain in the same match, although the Ivorian is likely to be fit.

With Silva out, Pellegrini could shake up a 4-2-2-2 system that has become predictable in recent weeks, potentially pushing Touré into a more attacking role behind Aguero. That combination will certainly a test a United back-four that has looked anything but comfortable this season. Marcos Rojo and Chris Smalling started against Chelsea, although once again individual errors almost cost the Reds more than the point gained.

Still, City start the match having won five of the last six matches against United in the Premier League, including the last three. Last season the Blues scored seven with just the single United reply. It is a series that no Red is willing to countenance being extended this weekend.

That hope may depend on United being more efficient in front of goal as much as any defensive performance. After all, Van Gaal’s side has scored just three from 41 attempts over the last two games against Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion. Given the attacking riches at the Dutchman’s disposal it is not a good record.

“I hope we can score out of our first chance because we have created a lot of chances against Chelsea,” added Van Gaal.

“I think always in our games that we have played in the Premier League, we didn’t score from our first chance and then it is more easy to win the game. That is our goal, to win this game. We are growing, we are developing ourselves. What we have seen of City in the last matches was not so good. You never know.”

United last won at the Etihad in 2012 – a 3-2 victory secured by Van Persie’s injury time winner. The striker might top his celebration against Chelsea should he repeat that feat. United supporters, meanwhile, will settle for a win of any kind.

City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Mangala, Clichy; Fernandinho, Fernando; Nasri, Touré, Milner; Aguero
United (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Rafael, Smalling, Rojo, Shaw; Blind, Fellaini; Januzaj, Rooney, Di Maria; Van Persie

Subs from
City: Caballero, Nastasic, Boyata, Sagna, Kolarov, Demichelis, Sinclair, Navas, Dzeko, Jovetic
United: Lindegaard, Blackett, Fletcher, Carrick, Valencia, Anderson, Herrera, Mata, Wilson

City 48 – Draw 50 – United 69

Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistants: S Child, S Burt
Fourth Official: K Friend

City 1-1 United

£1 bet club
Rooney to score first goal in 1-1 draw @ 35/1
Running total: £(-)10

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Preview: United v Manchester City

March 25, 2014 Tags: , Matches 10 comments
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What a difference seven days makes. Sunday week, Manchester United’s season had unravelled and manager David Moyes was living on borrowed time less than a year into the job. Following humiliating submission to Liverpool at Old Trafford even the most patient observers had seemingly drawn a line under the former Everton manager’s time at the club. Little wonder, with Moyes presiding over 12 defeats in all competitions this season amid the worst United campaign for 20 years.

Yet, victories over West Ham United and Olympiakos have contributed to a renewed and even positive atmosphere in Moyes’ camp as United prepare for significant games ahead. The Reds may be far from favourites, but Manchester City arrives at Old Trafford on Tuesday night with the home side finding an improved sense of belief.

Wayne Rooney’s double against the Hammers on Saturday followed a dramatic comeback against Olympiakos on Tuesday to leave United in the quarter final of the Champions League and chasing European qualification next season.

Still, Moyes’ side has failed to beat few teams of note this season; only Arsenal of the Premier League’s top nine teams has succumbed to United this season. Meanwhile, in Europe a pairing with Bayern Munich represents a significant step up in class from those teams already beaten in the competition.

Whatever has already passed this season, these are surely the games on which Moyes must be judged. City and then Bayern are a test not only of Moyes’ tactical acumen, but in a season of distinct mediocrity, also of the Scot’s ability to draw more than the sum of United’s substantial parts.

Judgement will also be passed on the increasingly bullish rhetoric from Moyes this week. If United truly are to be compared with Europe’s best, then the Scot’s team must prove it.

“We’re not as far away as many people would have us and I’ve no doubt it’ll improve,” said the manager.

“We want to show we’re still in there fighting. We want to perform better in the bigger games than we have done, I have no doubt about that. But we don’t go into it any differently – we want to win them all.  We go out to win every game – not just the derby.

“In the last couple of games, a lot of the players have stepped up to the plate and performed. But I’m not surprised by that at all – that’s what they’re capable of and I’ve been saying that all year.”

United benefit from few fresh injury concerns. Striker Robin van Persie could miss the season’s remainder with a knee complaint, while defenders Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling also miss City’s visit. However, winger Nani is in the matchday squad after recovering from a serious hamstring problem.

Manchester United v Manchester City, Premier League, Old Trafford, 7.45pm 25 March 2014On the pitch Moyes faces questions both in midfield and defence. United set up in an unfamiliar 4-2-3-1 against the Hammers; a formation that enabled Juan Mata to play centrally, and crammed Shinji Kagawa into the side as well. It was a significantly more flexible and nuanced approach.

However, history suggests that come the biggest games Moyes reverts to what he knows best, with both Adnan Januzaj and Antonio Valencia in line for a recall against City, although Mata should again enjoy an outing in his more natural role behind the principle striker.

In defence Moyes is again short-handed. Rio Ferdinand may return, enabling Michael Carrick to return to a more familiar role in central midfield after the Geordie was deployed in central defence against West Ham.

“Michael did great at centre-half,” said Moyes. “He’s played there before so it wasn’t a problem. We even considered putting Marouane Fellaini back there as well, so I think we’ve got people who can do that if we have to.

“We gave Pat a rest but, if we have to, I think we can put him there as well and he would cope manfully. It was great that the squad mucked in and that’s the way it should be, when you are short in areas and it’s all hands to the pumps. We were short on Saturday and Michael certainly played really well.”

Meanwhile, City arrives at Old Trafford hoping to chase down Chelsea at the head of the Premier League. The Londoners have opened up an six point gap on City, although Manuel Pellegrini’s men enjoy three games in hand.

Indeed, it has been a season of  mixed fortunes for the Chilean coach. While boasting the strongest squad in the Premier League, City have lost four times on the road in what has been a far from stellar campaign.

In January the Sky Blues were legitimately chasing four trophies, yet defeat to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup and Barcelona in Europe, together with Chelsea’s form, leaves the phlegmatic Pellegrini looking at the Capital One Cup as potentially the only silverware heading to the Etihad this season. It is scant reward for more than £100 million invested in the transfer market last summer, and over £1 billion since the Abu Dhabi Royal family acquired the club in 2008.

Pellegrini is without Matija Nastasic and Sergio Aguero, but defender Vincent Kompany is available after serving a one-match suspension for the red card picked up against Hull City.

However, the City coached played down City’s tag as favourites the win the game, with the Sky Blues 12 points ahead of United in the Premier league.

“I don’t think we are favourites in any game,” said Pellegrini.

“We are in a good moment but we are playing against a big team in their own stadium, so I don’t think we are the favourites. Of course we always expect to go and win every game but just because Manchester United have had a difficult season it does not mean we are going to win.”

It is ruse that few fans on either side will buy. After all, while City’s lead over in the Premier League is healthy, the Blues have also won four of the last five meetings between the sides, including a 4-1 win at the Etihad Stadium in September.


Manchester United v Manchester City, Premier League, Old Trafford, 7.45pm 25 March 2013

Possible Teams
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Jones, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Fellaini, Januzaj; Mata; Rooney

City (4-4-2): Hart; Zabaletta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; Milner, Toure, Fernandinho, Silva; Dzeko, Negredo

United: Lindegaard, Buttner, Fletcher, Young, Kagawa, Welbeck, Hernandez

City: Pantilimon, Kolarov, Javi García, Demichelis, Jesús Navas, Boyata, Rodwell, Jovetic

Head to Head
United 69 Draw 50 City 47


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Smiles better for Moyes but true tests to come

March 23, 2014 Tags: , , , Reads 8 comments
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It was a phenomenal effort, arching high over Adrián del Castillo’s head, bouncing once before catching the top of the net at the Bobby Moore end. Neither true volley, nor half, Wayne Rooney’s goal at Upton Park on Saturday is the kind that could spark a season into life.

Yet, David Moyes’ celebration at Rooney’s opener against West Ham United came, seemingly, with as much a sense of vindication as joy on the Scot’s brow. This is what pressure does. Even at the moment of triumph, Moyes emits the stench of a man trapped inside his own fear.

Not so on the bench where Danny Welbeck repeatedly punched the air with the euphoria supporters will instantly recognise.

Still, Manchester United’s victory over the Hammers on Saturday has brought significant relief for Moyes. Following Wednesday’s defeat of Olympiakos at Old Trafford, misguided talk of the Scot’s dismissal – at least prior to the season’s conclusion – surely ends. Indeed, barring comprehensive defeat to Manchester City on Tuesday, followed by humiliation at Bayern Munich’s hands – both are possible of course – Moyes is highly likely to be given a second season in charge.

Yet, there have been so many false dawns these past eight months. After all, while United’s record against mediocre opposition isn’t at all bad – certainly on the road – Arsenal remains the only side in the Premier League’s top nine to have lost to Moyes’ outfit. And that was a very, very bad day at the office for the Gunners.

If truth be told, United’s form under Moyes – class even – will be more accurately reflected  in those upcoming games against City and Bayern than in any of the matches over the past week.

Still, the brace of victories has at least restored some confidence in a team badly shaken after the resounding loss to Liverpool at Old Trafford last weekend.

“I think the win on Wednesday against Olympiakos has given us all a big lift and you could see today the confidence running through the team,” said stand-in captain Rooney in the aftermath of Saturday’s victory.

“Today was a good result after last week. Overall we played some good stuff. I thought we defended really well. I thought Michael Carrick at the back, in a difficult game, was outstanding for us so there are a lot of positives.

“There was some great counter-attacking football. That’s in the DNA of Manchester United and today we did that. We caused them a lot of problems.”

Yet, familiar weaknesses will be sternly tested in the weeks to come. Marouanne Fellaini and Darren Fletcher studiously supported United’s makeshift back four at Upton Park, but whatever the central midfield pairing on Tuesday, there is more than one a step up in class against Yaya Touré and the outstanding Brazilian Fernandinho.

Indeed, Robin van Persie’s knee injury should enable the United manager to deploy three central midfielders against City, assuming Fellaini, Michael Carrick and Juan Mata all start on Tuesday. Such has been the manager’s devotion to a front two of Rooney and van Persie this season that United would surely have been hopelessly outnumbered against City had the Dutchman not broken down yet again.

Cynics might note that Moyes will need to deploy even greater numbers in central midfield to have any chance of matching Bayern’s outstanding contingent. Thiago Alcântara, Toni Kroos, Bastian Scheinsteiger, Javi Martínez and Mario Götze will each play some part over the two legs and, whatever the confidence gained over the past two matches, it is stating the obvious that Bayern will dominate in central areas.

For Moyes, however, matches against City and Bayern hold little to fear save for a humiliating drubbing. With expectations now at a low not matched in two decades the Scot needs only save face to emerge with some credit from the trio of fixtures. United, at a minimum, has at least gained some momentum in the past week.

“Hopefully we can go into Tuesday’s game showing a bit more confidence,” said the 50-year-old on Saturday night.

“You can never refer this game to the next one but all we want to do is get a bit of momentum and that’s something we haven’t had an awful lot of.”

Neither has there been any real intensity this season; an edge seemingly missing from August through to the spring. It is a pattern that particularly shows in the bigger matches.

With Bayern having wrapped up the Bundesliga at the weekend, and City chasing another Premier League crown, Moyes may find his players’ competitive spirit a little short of the opponents once again. And while pride may be at stake, it has been all season to little effect.

“It’s a massive game, but it’s a big game for City too, for the fans and for the players,” said Rooney of Tuesday’s fixture.

“It’s a big challenge for us and we have to go into that with confidence after the last two games. I’m looking forward to it, I’m excited, and hopefully we can get a good result.”

United, of course, will need a little more than hope, but to some extent Moyes can prioritise Europe following Tuesday’s clash. True, there are tough fixtures away at Newcastle United and Everton to come, but there remains little to play for domestically. Not since Sir Alex Ferguson’s early days has that been true in March.

After all, few supporters care whether the club seals sixth place and a slot in the Europa League third qualifying round. It might even be more lucrative to complete the summer tour in the US and not return early for a two-legged tie in late July against, among other options, the third-placed team in the Cypriot First Division.

In the meantime United begins the 167th derby as clear outsiders against a City side that put five past hapless Fulham at the weekend. That would be the same Cottagers who earned a draw with United at Old Trafford in January to universal consternation in Moyes’ camp.

But then this fixture has seen more than one surprise over the years. A unlikely United win might even bring Moyes a little joy.

Derby thrashing sends Moyes back to the drawing board

September 24, 2013 Tags: , Reads 26 comments
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Wayne Rooney’s reaction said it all – a smile barely cracked let alone a celebration of the fist-pumping, arm wheeling, euphoric kind 3,000 traveling Reds had hoped for. After all, Rooney’s 87th minute free-kick was excellence in everything aside from it’s timing. Four goals to the bad, United’s dream lay in tatters long before the 27-year-old curled home a second set piece in as many games.

Such was the comprehensive nature of defeat to rivals Manchester City on Sunday that it remains hard to draw positives from the occasion. The converse is closer to the truth, with the heart of David Moyes’ strategy fundamentally undermined at the Etihad.

After all, these are the games that define a season’s narrative. Defeat leaves the Scot facing testing questions of his defence, attack and especially midfield, together with an approach that was altogether, and disastrously, conservative.

Few of Moyes’ men left the Etihad with dignity, let alone credit, upheld. From the slipshod nature of United’s defending, through yet another midfield over-run by an opponent, to a chronic lack of creativity that is now becoming a pattern.

This was a wretched United performance, every bit as demoralising as that inflicted in 1989; far worse than the freak 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford two year’s ago.

Sunday leaves United with just seven points from five Premier League matches. Five games in which the Reds have lost two local derbies, and amassed the lowest points total for a decade after the opening quintet of league games. Should Moyes’ team suffer defeat to Liverpool in the Carling Cup on Wednesday the pressure on the Scot will ratchet up significantly.

Perhaps the most disappointing factor in Sunday’s loss is that none of Moyes’ side appeared to take responsibility, on the pitch at least, for the calamitous events. To a man insipid.

It really comes to something when want-a-way Wayne Rooney leads the mea culpas.

“It’s nice to score but it means nothing,” said Rooney, perhaps the only United player to emerge with any self-respect from Sunday’s disaster.

“The points were the most important thing today and we’ve come away with none. We’ve all grown up with local football derbies and it’s not nice when you lose one. I’ve been there myself as a fan and as a player. Thankfully we’ve got the game against Liverpool coming up Wednesday and it’s something we are looking forward to now in the hope that we can get the victory to put this defeat to the back of our minds.”

That is a task far easier to articulate than practice of course, although Moyes will be relieved with a fixture list that includes winnable league matches against West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland, Southampton, and Stoke City before October is out.

The Reds should end that run with a far better points tally. Any other outcome is unthinkable.

But Sunday’s chastening must surely prompt a rethink in United’s strategy, not least in the back four where Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić were over-powered by City’s vibrant attacking unit. For the first time this season the pair looked its age and more. With Patrice Evra also advancing into his 30s, Moyes has deployed three veterans in his back four in each of United’s matches this season.

Here too the will seemingly drained from those in Red. United’s rearguard was given such little protection that Vidić’s attempt to berate Antonio Valencia for failing to track his runner had the air of resigned apathy.

On the other flank Ashley Young’s contempt for defending was matched only by a  chronic fear of ball-retention that bordered on the obsessive so often did the former Aston Villa winger concede possession.

Meanwhile, Michael Carrick and Marouanne Fellaini were reduced to hapless spectators, with City utterly superior in central midfield.

Fellaini was billed in some quarters as United’s answer to City’s Yaya Touré; on this evidence the Reds might have better recruited Kolo such was the Belgian’s ineffectiveness.

He remains a puzzle. The £27 million man who neither adds bite to the defensive side of United’s midfield, nor breaks up play through superior positioning. Nor, it seems, does he offer a counter-part to Carrick’s passivity on these occasions.

Aggressive at set-pieces, and effective around the box, Fellaini still has much to prove at this level. Not least in a deep-lying role where the Belgian’s limited defensive instincts were exposed in two of City’s four goals.

Indeed, Moyes’ decision to push Fellaini forward as the game drew to a close may be the forebear of an approach to come, with United seeking to exploit the Belgian’s power in the air, rather than his ineffectual ability on the ball. Look away those who hope to match rivals’ short-passing game.

Elsewhere, United’s creative fizz popped, as it has in four of six games in all competitions this season. After all, those two Rooney free-kicks and a Robin van Persie penalty are all United has to show for matches against Chelsea, Liverpool and City this season.

Meanwhile, two of Moyes’ most creative options in Shinji Kagawa and Nani sat on the bench. Unused, perhaps unloved, while new signing Wilfried Zaha and wonderkid Adnan Januzaj watched on from the stands. It is enough to prompt the question of just what hold Young – the most wretched of all – retains over his new manager.

It is a conservative approach that can only frustrate, but one a decade-long in the making during Moyes’ time at Everton. Even the Scot’s lone substitution – Tom Cleverley – was designed to limit damage inflicted rather than restore any squandered pride.

Still, with Liverpool at Old Trafford on Wednesday there is little time for a radical rethink in approach, although there was much talk in the aftermath of “a response”. It is already a hackneyed sentiment.

Talk is cheap, unlike United’s one summer acquisition, and in the end Moyes was reduced to limp platitudes in praise of the traveling support.

“Whether it’s a derby or somebody else, you don’t want to lose,” admitted Moyes.

“It does make it worse when you want to do so well for your supporters. I thought our supporters were great today, under the circumstances. Whatever manager loses a game, you get on and try to win the next game. You just play the next game and see how you go. We’ll do everything we can to win the next one.”

The Scot has little choice but to field a full-strength side against Brendan Rogers’ outfit; defeat escalating United’s slow start to a full-blown crisis, at least in the more hyperbolic red-tops.

Whether that line-up includes those largely repudiated this season will define the coming weeks.

Preview: City v United

September 21, 2013 Tags: , Matches 12 comments
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That one of Manchester’s teams might end the 166th derby on just seven points after five games underlines the early season importance this fixture brings, quite aside from the local pride at stake. United won the corresponding fixture last season, together with emphatically taking the Premier League title.

Yet, having dropped points against both Chelsea and Liverpool, new manager David Moyes began the season under scrutiny. United gained fresh impetus after the confident victory over Bayer Leverkusen in midweek – a 4-2 victory that delighted Moyes.

Meanwhile, City secured a 3-0 win against Plzen to relieve some of the early pressure that afflicted new manager Manuel Pellegrini after defeat to Cardiff City in Wales and then the draw in Stoke.

Still, with two new managers at the helm, and a renewed sense of competitive spirit in the Premier League this season, neither Moyes nor Pellegrini is able to countenance defeat in Sunday afternoon’s fixture. It is a scenario where caution may play a significant part.

Yet, United’s confidence received a welcome boost in recent matches, with Wayne Rooney scoring three times this season and demonstrating renewed purpose at Old Trafford. While the Scouser is never again likely to be universally admired in Manchester, he is on the verge of once again becoming a major factor in United’s fortunes.

It is this sense of belief, however tenuous on part of both player and team, that Moyes will take into the derby. After all defeat would leave United as close to the bottom four as the Champions League. And that says little for what two ‘derby’ defeats this season might do to the Scot’s reputation after the 1-0 loss at Anfield.

“We’ve played well in the last few games and have got a bit of confidence and hopefully we’ll try and show that in the game on Sunday,” said Moyes on Friday.

“There is an excitement for any derbies in any big city in the world. They’re all really important to your own supporters. They’re important to the players as well but ultimately it’s about what happens come the end of the season and how many points you get together to see who is top. These points could be really important towards that.

“I’ve experienced derby games in Glasgow and on Merseyside. Every derby in every big city is important to whichever team you support and I understand how important it is for the Manchester United fans.”

Moyes’ job is made more comfortable by Tuesday’s win over the Bundesliga side Bayer. The fixture was notable not only for the quartet of goals United secured, but for Marouanne Fellaini’s full début in central midfield. The Belgian is again likely to slot into the role alongside Michael Carrick against City, proffering the significant physical presence that United has lacked in recent seasons.

Indeed, Yaya Touré’s double in last season’s fixture comes to mind, with Fellaini set to offer the competitive drive Moyes sought when United paid more than £27 million for the Belgian.

Manchester City v Manchester United, Premier League, Etihad Stadium, 4pm, 22 September 2013The midweek Champions League fixture also brought the welcome reintroduction of Shinji Kagawa to the United side – an event that was in some doubt this season. The Japanese playmaker was, as expected, deployed off the left, but started a game for the first time in the campaign.

Although Rooney is now Moyes’ clear first-choice for deployment ‘in the hole’ behind Robin van Persie, Kagawa brings a different creative dynamic, even if the left-sided role is more restricting than the Japanese may hope.

Meanwhile, the Scot’s likely use of both Rio Ferdinand and Namanja Vidić in the derby reflects a campaign that has seen limited opportunities for United’s younger defenders; a policy born squarely of pragmatism. While Ferdinand’s age and Vidić’s injury record means each now plays a little deeper than in the past, it is the duo’s experience that Moyes has sought in a challenging start to the campaign.

“I’m sure nature will take its own course in time but I’m quite comfortable with Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones,” said Moyes.

“I just felt at the moment that I’ve taken over a new job and it was important I got a little bit of rhythm. I don’t like the word ‘rotate’, but I will change players at different times. My mind was made up that I was going to keep it quite strong in the opening period and then see what happens after that.”

Elsewhere, Moyes will choose between Fabio da Silva and Chris Smalling at right-back, with Rafael on the sidelines for another fortnight and Phil Jones unfit. In-form Antonio Valencia will start on the right-wing in what has become a familiar 4-4-1-1 formation this season. However, Danny Welbeck is still unfit with a knee injury.

But it is to Rooney that eyes turn. The former Evertonian’s three goals this season have brought widespread praise, including from the player’s nemesis, Sir Alex Ferguson. But seemingly ever conscious of the player’s attitude, Moyes praised Rooney for the turnaround in fortunes this season after the 28-year-old sought a transfer for much of the summer.

“Don’t for one minute think I am going to take the credit. The credit is for Wayne Rooney for getting himself the way he is. We are here to help make him better. It is up to Wayne to do it. He takes the credit for that,” said Moyes.

“He has knuckled down really well. He has done his training. Everything he has done he has done himself. He has done it to make himself better.

“He got himself into really good shape physically. He looks lean. He is back to being his aggressive self again. He is fast and hungry. I needed all those things from him if I was ever going to get Wayne back to the level he is at.”

And should the Scouser score the winner on Sunday love from all on the terraces will not easily return, but the joy of victory will be sweet all the same.

Still, City retain a key role in the derby’s outcome. David Silva is likely to return for the derby after recovering from a thigh injury, and Micah Richards could make the bench after overcoming a hamstring strain.


Manchester City v Manchester United, Premier League, Etihad Stadium, 4 pm, 22 September 2013

City (4-3-3): Hart; Zabaleta, Nastasic, Kompany, Zabaleta; Milner, Toure, Fernandinho; Navas, Aguero, Silva. Subs from: Pantilimon, Wright, Richards, García, Rodwell, Nasri, Lescott, Jovetic, Negredo,  Guidetti

United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Fellaini, Kagawa; Rooney; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Buttner, Evans, Anderson, Cleverley, Giggs, Zaha, Kagawa, Hernández

City 46 Draw 50 United 69

Referee: Howard Webb
Assistant referees: M Mullarkey, D Cann
Additional assistant referees: M Oliver


Preview: United v Manchester City

April 8, 2013 Tags: , Matches 177 comments
featured image

What a difference a year makes. Last April, with Manchester United leading the Premier League by four points after the 30th game, the title looked if not sealed then at least heading towards Old Trafford. Yet, by the month’s end Manchester City had beaten a limp United at the City of Manchester stadium and Sir Alex Ferguson’s goose was well and truly cooked. The rest needs no further repeat.

The story is different now of course, with Ferguson’s side leading the Premier League by 15 points and coasting towards a 20th domestic league title. No last-minute Sergio Agüero winner can save City now, with only local reputation and Roberto Mancini’s job left to play for. Mancini’s side is playing to become “Champions of Manchester,” as Vincent Kompany put it this week. Massive.

In reality, each side now has just the single trophy to play for. United, the Premier League. City, the FA Cup, with Mancini’s men facing Chelsea at Wembley next weekend. It leaves the derby unusually flaccid; a result either way will make little difference to the season’s out come.

Still, while United has crashed out of two cup competitions in recent weeks, with defeats against Real Madrid and Chelsea curtailing any thoughts of another treble, Ferguson says the campaign has been successful.

“I was asked about only winning one trophy,” said Ferguson.

“I think that’s a strange question in the context of the kind of competition we have as we’re up against teams from London – Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea – plus Liverpool and Everton. They’re massive challenges every year. For every one of those teams, the supporters want to win one trophy. I think we can win the one that really does matter to the fans.

“Yes, I’d love to win the Champions League again but I’d say that we were knocked out in circumstances everyone is still talking about. The disappointment at being knocked out by Chelsea is obvious but the league form has been fantastically consistent.”

That consistency has seen United gain four additional points after 30 games compared to last season. Mancini’s side, meanwhile, is nine points and 20 goals down.

Any campaign that ends with the Premier League title is success of course. Although behind the headlines United’s season is a little more muted despite the huge points advantage. Ferguson’s side is likely to finish the campaign having scored fewer goals and conceded more than last season.

It will take a huge effort from here to match Chelsea’s 2005 record points tally of 95, although beating last season’s total of 89 should be within sights if Ferguson’s side extracts itself from its current short-term funk.

Manchester United v Manchester City - Premier League, Old Trafford - 8pm, 8 April 2013On the pitch the 71-year-old manager must do without captain Nemanja Vidić for City’s visit, although elsewhere the Scot boasts an almost fully-fit squad. Wayne Rooney will return alongside Robin van Persie in attack, while Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans will play in the back-four, with Rafael da Silva also returning after injury.

“Vida got injured at Sunderland,” confirmed Sir Alex.

“Early on, he had a clash and had a bit of treatment and then he had a clash with David De Gea near the end of the game. It’s not serious, just a nerve in his calf, so he should be maybe back in training over the weekend. I’ve got Rio Ferdinand, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones so I’ve got the right cover, I think.”

Meanwhile, City arrive without Jack Rodwell who is injured, although the former Evertonian has appeared in just four Premier League matches all season in any case. Micah Richards and Maicon are definitely out, although David Silva and Samir Nasri should both overcome minor knocks.

Still, it is not form or players that has won United the league, says Mancini, but a mysterious fear spread throughout England. Conversely, City has been hit by fierce domestic competition. Mancini has long since given up on credibility.

“No one plays well against United because they only play with fear,” said Mancini.

“United are strong now because of their importance as a team, their importance as a club. Every team that plays against United plays very soft because they think the game is difficult, that they can’t beat them.

“If they play strong against United, they can beat them like they can beat us. This is normal, this is football, because United have been a strong team for a long time. For the other teams they play against it is difficult. I’m not saying they don’t play 100% but their mentality is poor in that game.”

Ferguson can challenge Mancini’s remarks as the sour grapes of a man now fighting for his job after one of the weakest title defences in recent memory.

Indeed, the Scot has warned City that his side intends to build on the coming success. Whether that ambition is matched in the transfer market is another matter. Not least with strong rumours circulating that Ferguson’s summer budget could be severely curtailed after pressing home Robin van Persie’s acquisition last July.

“The record over the last 20 years tells you we’re not going away,” adds Ferguson.

“So I’d expect us without doubt to have a real good challenge next year. Plus we’ll have players who are maturing nicely. Rafa has proved how much he’s developed this season; the goalkeeper David de Gea’s progress right through the season is absolutely superb and he’ll get better next year. Kagawa will be a far better player next year, I’m certain about that.

“We have to deal with the fact that one or two players are getting older, but I think we’re not so bad in terms of protecting most positions. So we’re not going to go away, no doubt about that.”

Neither will City, of course, with Mancini, or whomever replaces the Italian, likely to be handed a substantial transfer bounty. The club’s failure to land van Persie or a number of other targets last summer is to blame for the club’s failure, claims the Italian.

There’s some truth in that. But more in Ferguson’s assertion that United’s has been a strong response to last season’s narrow failure.

“The way we lost it resonates with a lot of people in the club,” said United manager. “The players focused, their team spirit was terrific and there was a definite purpose in terms of getting the title back.”

Match details
Manchester United v Manchester City – Premier League, Old Trafford – 7 April 2013 March 2013, 8pm

Possible teams
United (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Cleverley, Carrick; Valencia, Rooney, Kagawa; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Büttner, Jones, Smalling, Powell, Young, Scholes, Valencia, Anderson, Giggs, Nani, Hernández, Welbeck

City (4-4-2): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy; Barry, Touré, Milner, Silva; Tevez, Agüero. Subs from: Pantilimon, Lescott, Nasri, Kolarov, Razak, García, Guidetti, Džeko

Match officials
Referee: Mike Dean
Assistant Referees: S Child and J Brooks
Fourth Official: H Webb

United: WLDWWL

Head to Head
Last 10: United 6, City 3, Draw 1
Overall: United 69, City 45, Draw 50


  • Joe Hart has made 85 saves this season, with 13 clean sheets, and conceded 26 goals at an average of 3.26 saves per goal;
  • David de Gea last conceded in the Premier League against Southampton on January 30th, keeping six clean sheets in a row in the league, which is two-thirds of his total for the season;
  • De Gea has only conceded three goals in the Premier League 2013, compared to 17 through the end of December – he averages 4.65 saves per goal conceded;
  • Rio Ferdinand has contributed more defensively than any other player for either City or United, with 137 defensive contributions, including 64 interceptions;
  • Pablo Zabaleta is just one tackle, interception, block or clearance away from matching Rio, having notched up 136 defensive contributions this season, including 64 tackles, 59.8 per cent of those attempted
  • Vincent Kompany has made 126 defensive contributions this season, including 28 clearances and 54 interceptions;
  • In midfield Carrick is ranked sixth in the EA Sports Premier League Performance Index for passes completed in the opposition half at 889 exactly 150 behind Yaya Touré;
  • Carrick has also played 201 more minutes that Touré this season, while David Silva also ranks above Carrick in number of passes completed with 970, having played around 400 minutes less than the United man;
  • Robin van Persie’s shot against Sunderland may have gone down as a Titus Bramble own goal but he remains the second top goalscorer in the Premier League;
  • The Dutchman is one of only four players in the Index to have taken 100 efforts at goal this season, unleashing 103 shots with 60.1 per cent on target;
  • Strike partner Wayne Rooney has hit 12 goals this season –  the same tally as City’s top goalscorer Edin Dzeko;
  • Rooney has played 1691 minutes and attempted 68 shots, while Dzeko has played 1556 minutes and taken 62 shots;
  • City’s goal threat comes from three players – Dzeko, Aguero and Tevez, with the Argentinian achieving 65 per cent shot accuracy rate.


Red triumph hands City the blues

December 12, 2012 Tags: , Reads 23 comments

Remarkable the transformation. In six short months Sir Alex Ferguson’s side has  metamorphosed from the timid outfit that lost so meekly to Manchester City at Eastlands in April, to an embolden challenger, outplaying the English champions on home turf this past Sunday. Indeed, Manchester United’s victory over Roberto Mancini’s outfit not only stretches the Reds’ Premier League lead to six points, but earns Ferguson plaudits for the turnaround in approach. It is a boost to confidence many had sought with only partial belief.

Fascinating too is the contradictory tension now liberated in the Blue quarter of Manchester, with goalkeeper Joe Hart and Mancini reportedly at loggerheads over Robin van Persie’s final-minute winner. The Dutchman’s curled free-kick found the bottom of the stoppers’ net much to the Mancini’s evident and vocal disgust.

In such games are titles won and lost; the beginning of a narrative that may come to characterise a season. This is even more evident given the dénouement of another dramatic Manchester derby, which brought a damaging loss for the hosts and a stunning victory for the visitors. It is, surely, a win that defines the current incarnation of Sir Alex’ side.

If it is the nature of victory that has proffered immeasurable confidence at Old Trafford then it is also the intensity of occasion that enabled sweet relief at the climax. After City’s 7-1 aggregate Premier League double last season, United simply had to gain something from this short trip across Manchester.

“We’ve done it to City in the past of course but this was special simply because they hadn’t lost at home for two years,” admitted a glowing Sir Alex in the aftermath.

“Both of us are contenders at the top of the league and it was an incredible game, you couldn’t take your eyes off it. The intensity, passion, competitiveness… everything was there.”

United’s hard work so nearly came to nothing after City fought from two goals down to draw level with minutes to spare. Had Ferguson’s side thrown away a lead to lose, as seemed the more likely scenario with 10 minutes to spare, then City’s supremacy would now be etched into this derby – a third straight Premier League victory.

The downbeat mood, had loss entailed, could also have been cast in controversy after officials’ incorrect decision to rule Ashley Young’s strike offside with United already two goals to the good.

“You’ve got to give credit to City for the way they keep going and for scoring late goals,” said Ferguson.

“City kept fighting, they kept battling and they’ve got this great record of scoring late goals. City scored a second goal and they deserved it. At that point, you’re saying to yourself, ‘I’ll take the draw.’ But up to that point, I thought we were far better than them.

“Fortunately we got the last one that counted. You know Robin’s capable of that. It took a little deflection but it was a wicked hit and I’m really delighted it’s flown in.”

Sweeter still for the Red majority that it should be van Persie who scored United’s winner. Salt in a City’s wound after the Dutchman reportedly turned down the Blues’ £300,000 per week contract offer last summer. For the greater glory, said the 29-year-old striker – another defining moment in an increasingly tense relationship between these two clubs.

Meanwhile, over at Eastlands the recriminations are still being felt more than 48 hours after the game’s conclusion. Tension between Hart and Mancini, exposed after City’s 3-2 loss to Real Madrid last month, has bubbled to the surface again.

There has also been widespread criticism of Samir Nasri; the Frenchman’s dive behind Hart’s wall and petulant flick of the leg enabling van Persie’s shot to deflect past the England ‘keeper.

And then there is Mario Balotelli, whose performance of casual ineptitude made a mockery of Mancini’s decision to bench both Carlos Tevez and the free-scoring Bosnian forward Edin Džeko. The multi-talented Italian striker has the quality to win key matches, but rarely the temperament to bring it to the fore.

“It is a bad feeling at this moment, when you lose a derby in the last seconds, but the manager should do his choice properly,” said Mancini, who is under increasing pressure after failure in Europe.

“I decided to play with Mario because he could cause a problem for their defenders. I wanted to wait to see if Mario could play well in the second half. But after five minutes, I saw he played like he played in the first half and I didn’t want this. It is important for him to start to think about his job. I saw players like that in my life with fantastic quality and end up with nothing, but I don’t want this for him.”

Mancini is now left in an invidious position having spent around £100 million on Tevez, Džeko and Ballotelli, but seemingly unable to trust the trio. Even Sergio Agüero, it seems, has gone off the boil this season having scored seven times in 15 matches this season.

More proof, if required, that while City’s billion pound investment has brought trophies and glory to a formerly decaying club, retaining pre-eminancy remains the toughest job in professional sport.

Indeed, while Abu Dhabi has not the heart to sack Mancini this winter – a change of horses in mid-stream that would only increase instability – it will take a remarkable turnaround in the club’s fortunes for the Italian to last beyond next summer. Not with Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho likely to be available.

If defeat has served to highlight deficiencies in Mancini’s squad and approach then it has also masked, temporarily at least, United’s weaknesses. Once again Ferguson’s side conceded freely – largely due to a bold open approach that is rewarded with points and goals, but offers little security at the back.

Six points is a healthy lead heading into the Christmas programme, but one that can also erode quickly if United adds to the five defeats already suffered this season.

Yet, there was handsome reward for Ferguson’s recognition that United could gain little by retrenching into the defensive mentality of last spring’s defeat at Eastlands. United sought victory and came away with the spoils.

After all the Scot’s selection could have included ‘safe’ experience in Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Anders Lindegaard. In past times Park Ji-Sung would almost certainly have played.

Instead, Ferguson’s decision to entrust Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and David de Gea speaks clearly to the change of mentality since April.

Preview: City v United

December 8, 2012 Tags: , Matches 226 comments

Look away, there’s nothing to see here. Certainly, of all the emotions felt by Manchester United supporters over the past year, there has been a common response to Manchester City’s 7-1 aggregate Premier League double over Sir Alex Ferguson’s men last season. Six points that swung the title towards Eastlands and opened a new dawn in English football.

Yet, as the cliché goes, while getting to the top may have been one billion pounds hard for City, Roberto Mancini’s men are finding out that staying there is somewhat more troublesome. Mancini’s obsessive need to tinker with a successful formula, and a succession of draws on the road, has left City trailing United heading into this weekend’s derby.

Strange season though – one in which Ferguson’s side has rarely found a consistent level, but leads the Premier League by three points. Victory, however unlikely given City’s still imperious home record, will leave United in a commanding position heading into the Christmas programme.

Ferguson will not count the points secure though – not with United’s defensive troubles as they are. The Reds have shipped 21 goals in the league this season and the leaky back-four leaves Ferguson in a quandary; trust in his strikers’ form and attack an uncertain Blues, or retrench into the defensive mentality that so backfired at Eastlands last April?

Either way, it is set to be another definitive weekend in the title race – one in which United could stretch a lead or cede control to the ever noisier neighbours.

“Challenges are what we’re made of,” said Ferguson ahead of the 164th Manchester derby.

“I’ve been lucky that, in my time here, I’ve been involved with great competitions against individual teams: Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and now City. Chelsea did it and we recognised it immediately. What they did well was start seasons quickly. They had almost gone by the time we got to October. We couldn’t play catch up with them – we never got near them.

“So we changed our programme in pre-season and made sure we started the season correctly. In that third season we did that and we won the league. That’s the great thing about this club. We can accept challenges and we don’t run from them.”

Manchester City v Manchester United - Premier League, Eastlands - Sunday 9 December 2012, 1.30pmCity’s investment has changed the landscape of English football, but Sunday’s match will, as ever, be won and lost in the details. Such as defending with something approaching the quality of potential champions. Ferguson’s outfit certainly cannot defend as poorly as it did at Reading and hope to take anything from the weekend’s game. Nor, indeed, the season if that “Cartoon Cavalcade” performance is repeated too often.

However, the Scot’s side heads into the match with injuries afflicting a quartet of midfielders – Antonio Valencia, Nani, Anderson, and Tom Cleverley – leaving options limited. This may leave Sir Alex to deploy another narrow midfield, or find a formation with plenty of square pegs in far too many round holes.

Meanwhile, captain Nemanja Vidić is unlikely to play despite weekend press reports to the contrary. The giant Serbian has appeared in around a dozen games over the past year after suffering two serious knee injuries.

“On the injury front, Tom Cleverley will have a scan this morning and we’ll see what he’s like,” confirmed Sir Alex. “It’s his calf, which is always a worry, but we’ll see. Nani and Valencia are still out. It will be a few weeks with them.

“I thought Kagawa may have done enough to make the bench on Wednesday but no, he’s well short. But I don’t think he’ll be available until the Sunderland game. Vidić has certainly been doing well in training but I think the game on Sunday is a bit soon for him. I know we’ve got a few injuries at the moment but we’ve got a big strong squad of players.”

Meanwhile, Mancini could welcome back playmaker David Silva despite the Spaniard missing Wednesday’s Champions League defeat to Borussia Dortmund. Gael Clichy and James Milner also return to the Blues’ squad.

But the Italian’s problems have little to do with injuries and much more to a dysfunctional forward unit that has scored less frequently than United this season. Title-winning forward Sergio Agüero has seven goals in all competitions this season, but Edin Džeko, Carlos Tevez and Mario Ballotelli have each struggled to justify almost £100 million aggregate outlay.

“Our season depends on our strikers,” Mancini admitted on Friday.

“We need to improve the output from our strikers. Our problem is our strikers. Usually when you have four strikers, two or three of them are not scoring but one is. At the moment we have four strikers who can’t score. We don’t have the same quality this season that we showed in the first 15 games of last season”.

It is an observation that offers United hope of extracting a modicum of revenge for last season’s double league defeat. Victory would not only bring league title 20 a step closer, but enable Reds worldwide to forget the horrors of last season.

Match Details
Manchester City v Manchester United – Premier League, Eastlands – Sunday 9 December 2012, 1.30pm

Possible teams
City (4-4-2): Hart; Maicon, Kompany, Nastasic, Zabaletta; Nasri, Y Touré, Barry, Silva; Tevez, Agüero. Subs from: Pantilimon, Wright, Lescott, Clichy, García, K Touré, Razak, Sinclair, Tchuimeni-Nimley, Dzeko.

United (4-4-2): De Gea; Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Fletcher; Carrick, Scholes; Rooney; van Persie, Welbeck. Subs from: Lindegaard, Wootton, Smalling, Buttner, Jones, Young, Cleverley, Powell, Giggs, Hernandez.

Referee: M Atkinson
Assistants: P Kirkup, S Burt
Fourth official: M Clattenburg.

United: LLWWWL

Head to Head
Last 10: City 4, United 5, Draw 1
Overall: City 45, United 68, Draw 50


  • United must recover from a physically demanding game at Reading and a mid-week Champions League fixture – the Reds covered more ground against Reading than in any other game this season, clocking up 66.29 miles;
  • Rooney’s 6.96 miles was the second highest by an individual United player this season;
  • van Persie’s goal was his 10th in the Premier League this season, making the Dutchman the league’s joint top goal scorer;
  • Of the four players sharing that honour van Persie has required the second fewest shots at goal – 46 – while Luis Suarez has taken 80, Demba Ba 53, and Michu just 39;
  • Rooney’s goal was his fourth of the having taken 35 shots at goal with 65.7 per cent accuracy;
  • Rooney’s team mate Chicarito, meanwhile, has the best shots per goal ratio of any striker in the derby, taking just three shots per goal;
  • United’s problems at the back may have been largely driven by form and fitness of key players, although Rafael da Silva can take comfort from his contribution – 44 tackles, winning 24, 13 clearances, 22 interceptions and one block;
  • City, meanwhile, remain the only unbeaten team in the league this season after a tough 1-1 draw against Everton last weekend;
  • Tevez’ penalty was his seventh goal of the season, with one scored every 152 minutes and 17 seconds at 6.7 shots per goal;
  • At the other end City has conceded just 11 goals compared to United’s 21, in part because of Matija Nastasic’s form since coming into the side – the Servian has averaged a defensive contribution once every 19 minutes and 16 seconds including 12 attempted tackles, five clearances, 12 interceptions and four blocks;
  • City captain Vincent Kompany has contributed 107 defensive interventions so far this season, including 50 attempted tackles, with 52 per cent won, 19 clearances, 33 interceptions and five blocks;
  • Yay Touré has completed more passes in the opposition half than any other player in the league, with 657, averaging one every 2 minutes and 12 seconds, while Michael Carrick has completed 518, at one every 2 minutes 38 seconds, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.


Fergie laughs off defensive malaise as derby looms into view

December 2, 2012 Tags: , , , Reads 18 comments

“It was agony,” said Sir Alex Ferguson on Saturday night, “the worst defending of this season.” Indeed, the Scot’s statement is one with which many Manchester United supporters can agree, although the plethora of choices in that inglorious competition says much. Once again Ferguson’s side came back from the brink to win on Saturday; this time against a limited, if spirited, Reading side that picked apart United’s back four with an ease that debased many experienced international.

On this evidence the Reds will not just come close to losing more games this season, but drop vital points in a title race that surely begins in earnest with United’s visit to Eastlands next Sunday. With the Reds’ defensive performances seemingly regressing few supporters will view the derby against Manchester City in the comfortable glow that a Premier League lead should bring.

Ferguson’s defence – or more accurately, the team’s paucity of watchful sanctuary – has become the story of the campaign to date. Just five clean sheets in 22 matches says much, while 21 goals conceded in the Premier League is a greater total than Sunderland in 17th place.

Yet, Ferguson’s side sits atop of the Premier League ahead of next weekend’s derby; United’s 36 points based largely on the Scot’s decision to bolster his attacking options last summer. It is a strategy that has partially worked, of course, with Robin van Persie contributing 13 goals in the campaign to date. On this form the Dutchman should come close to matching the 37 goals scored in all competitions for Arsenal last season.

Yet, United’s habitual need to recovered from deficit, married to embarrassingly loose defensive performances, threatens to undermine a campaign that will bring far greater challenges that Brian McDermott’s Berkshire side offered.

“We’re needing to rescue the situation all the time,” admitted Ferguson. “Fortunately we have players who can do that. If we defend like that against Manchester City, I might need to play myself.”

The Scot is unlikely to find the situation quite so amusing if his side fails to fulfill the defensive basics as the campaign draws on. Beaten three times from set pieces at the Madejski, by the conclusion goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard was suffering from the brand of nervous debility so often attached to rival David de Gea over the past 18 months.

Still, Ferguson’s solution in replacing Rafael da Silva with Chris Smalling on 30 minutes had more than a touch of closing the stable door half-an-hour too late. Smalling’s height, explained Ferguson, offered a solution to Reading’s penetration at set pieces. That the former Fulham defender made just a single successful header in more than an hour on the pitch might suggest otherwise.

More important than a rapid-fire substitution was United’s readjustment after half-time with Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young dropping back into wide areas to protect the Reds’ over-stretched full-backs. The pair’s negligence in leaving both Rafael and Patrice Evra exposed to Reading’s wide players in two-versus-one situations brought the hosts much joy during the opening half.

The attacking rejoinder was swift, of course, with Rooney, van Persie, and at times Young, offering significant penetration. Far too much for McDermott’s pourous outfit. Anderson, too, enjoyed some attacking freedom before yet another injury ruined the Brazilian’s evening. None of the quartet offered much to United’s defensive cause though.

Still, there is some pre-Christmas cheer, with United captain Nemanja Vidić due to return in the Champions League dead rubber with CFR Cluj on Wednesday. The Serbian defender will at least add security in the air, even if the 30-year-old has been far from an imperious past this season.

“He’s a battler, an absolute competitor,” adds Ferguson of his captain. “He’s got that dour, uncompromising way of his. He likes defending – that’s what he does.

“I knew Vida was doing really well with the physios. He was doing his football training with them in terms of turning and striking the ball but he came into training last Monday with the first team and did okay.”

It is unlikely, however, that Vidić will start against City next weekend given the Serbian’s sparsity of matches for the club over the past 18 months. Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans, both culpable at times for poorly defending the high ball against Reading, will surely start at Eastlands.

The real challenge, of course, is not truly in how Ferguson’s defence shapes up, although Evans form of late is a genuine concern, but whether the Scot can balance a midfield that has swung between exposing it’s full-backs and central defenders in turn with each new evolution in tactical thinking.

Indeed, a flat-two in central midfield has too often been the Reds soft underbelly, ruthlessly exposed, for example, by Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford earlier this season. Meanwhile, Ferguson’s decision to play a narrow three on Saturday served only to encourage the hosts to play wide.

In this United’s 70-year-old manager has no easy task against City. Anderson’s injury robs the Scot of one option in central midfield, leaving Ferguson more likely to start with Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher along side Michael Carrick in a narrow midfield than he is to throw caution to the wind. In any case, injuries to Antonio Valencia and Nani significantly restrict Ferguson’s options in wide areas.

Still, the Scot is prone to surprise against City – none quite so depressing for United supporters as the Reds’ Premier League loss to the blues at Eastlands last season. The United manager’s negative tactical outlook backfired just as significantly as United’s collapse at Old Trafford earlier in the campaign.

And those results may leave Ferguson caught between tool schools of thought; one bent on augmenting United’s fragile defensive unit; the other set up to attack Roberto Mancini’s outfit in its own home. It is, after all, a truism that Ferguson is seemingly yet to find his most effective unit this season.

Still, the defence will be top of mind. “If you make mistakes like that defending then you are going to have to do rescue jobs every week,” said the Scot on Saturday evening. After Saturday’s tactical mess, it’s a statement United’s manager may do well to heed.