There have been three occasions on which Manchester City has visited Old Trafford with the clubs occupying the top two spots in the Premier League. Yet, the latest instalment has an entirely different narrative to it than those that proceeded.
Fluid and efficient aren’t adjectives often used to describe Manchester United, at least not this season, but it would be a fine summary of Sunday afternoon’s win over Burnley. Mourinho’s men barely had a moment to digest Thursday night’s Europa League before making the relatively short journey north to Burnley. Save for injuries, it was a good week domestically and in Europe.
Manchester United’s victory over Burnley on Sunday brings José Mourinho’s side to within a point of Manchester City in the fight for Champions League places. After all, it may be just two from four, with only one of City, United, Liverpool or Arsenal likely to make it to Europe’s top table next season. Thursday’s clash may not come in the midst of a fight for the league title, but it is the most important derby for some time. Victory for Mourinho’s side at the Etihad will push the Reds into the top four for the first time in 2017; a City win might secure Pep Guardiola’s side Champions League football. But who has the advantage on Thursday? Rant investigates…
Watching Manchester United in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era is very much like Groundhog Day, the Bill Murray film of the 1990s in which the comedian is stuck in a loop, broken not even by death. There is a very definite cycle in the years since the Scot’s retirement, teetering between extreme optimism and crushing disappointment. It doesn’t seem like the trend will be broken any time soon.
Derby week is done, with round one taken by United’s noisy neighbours as the world’s gaze focused on Manchester for the season’s most anticipated match. Manchester City won a tough battle 2-1, with an electric opening period enough to secure Pep Guardiola victory at Old Trafford.
It’s been a lean year in Manchester. Whether Red or Sky Blue, struggles abound in England’s North-West. Rivals for more than a century, the Premier League’s two most financially powerful clubs share the common trait of suffering through on-the-field issues that are not easily fixed. For all the money on show neither side seems capable of buying its way up the table, nor capturing fourth place and with it the Champions League.
It wasn’t so long ago that English football was in awe of Manchester’s clubs. For a time the city had legitimate claim to being the world’s capital of football, with two powerhouse clubs trading titles for four years. The United-City rivalry has been at the centre of some of the best conclusions to a Premier League season in recent years, yet, as Manchester United prepares to travel across town to face neighbours City on Sunday, the fixture is hardly talk of the town, let alone the nation.
Louis van Gaal has undertaken ‘projects’ at some of the biggest clubs in the world. His popularity is certainly not universal at any of them, but there’s no doubt that the Dutchman left his mark at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester United. There’s no denying Van Gaal has provided the foundations on which some of those clubs stand today.
Pep Guardiola has followed in Van Gaal’s footsteps, and indeed improved on them, in Catalunya and Bavaria. Could lightning strike a third time in Manchester? It certainly should.
With Guardiola set to announce his plans for 2016 and beyond next week, rumours abound as to where the Spaniard will set sail next. England is the consensus, with the Manchester clubs seemingly favourites despite Jose Mourinho’s dismissal at Chelsea this week.
Questions remain, of course. Would Pep’s style adapt to English football; could he revolutionise the game in the Premier League as he has in Spain and Germany?
Yet, there’s the common misconception that Guardiola shares Van Gaal’s love of possession and, frankly, possession for the sake of it. Certainly, passing teams to death is the perception that supporters and analysts have gained when watching United this season. Leading the league in sideways pass percentage, backwards pass percentage and, of course, possession itself, United dominates the ball, but not the league table. In truth, the man who is leading Munich to another Bundesliga title shares little of that ideal.
“I loathe all that passing for the sake of it,” he said last year. “All that tiki-taka. It’s so much rubbish and has no purpose. You have to pass the ball with a clear intention, with the aim of making it into the opposition’s goal.
“It’s not about passing for the sake of it. Don’t believe what people say. Barça didn’t do tiki-taka! It’s completely made up! Don’t believe a word of it!”
Guardiola’s Catalan side was a ruthless attacking outfit whose effortless possession of the ball cut up almost every opponent. Rather than Van Gaal’s sometimes pedestrian passing, the Spaniard’s version of the Blaugrana was arguably the best side of the modern era. Barça moved the ball quickly – United the victim in two breathtaking displays in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals.
“In all team sports, the secret is to overload one side of the pitch so that the opponent must tilt its own defence to cope,” Pep explained. “You overload on one side and draw them in so that they leave the other side weak. And when we’ve done all that, we attack and score from the other side.
“That’s why you have to pass the ball, but only if you’re doing it with a clear intention. It’s only to overload the opponent, to draw them in and then to hit them with the sucker punch. That’s what our game needs to be. Nothing to do with tiki-taka.”
In May of 2011 Guardiola sat in the stands watching United in the Champions League Semi-Finals. Weeks later his side would destroy the Red Devils in the final.
“I like this atmosphere. I could see myself coaching here one day,” he told friend Manuel Estiarte as he watched United sweep aside Schalke. The sentiment was echoed by journalist Graham Hunter this week, one of the more credible sources of news in Spain. Hunter is adamant that Guardiola wants to try his hand managing United after a transfer to Old Trafford fell through late in his playing career.
“If the cards fall his way, his wish is to sample life at Manchester United for a variety of reasons,” said Hunter. “The move didn’t happen but when he’s come back to Manchester subsequently he’s looked at the Old Trafford atmosphere, the legends and he has felt ‘this is right for me’.”
This chips, it seems, could fall United’s way. Unfortunately for those who would like to see Guardiola arrive at United there are many more factors at play, and football is rarely that simple, especially when it comes to the Reds.
The Citizens’ move for Pep has been the “worst kept secret in football” for some time now. That said, with admirers from the rest of England’s giants also in play, perhaps Guardiola’s move to the Etihad is no longer so certain. City has always felt the presence of Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain in the management hierarchy gives the club an inside track in the pursuit of their man. The Blues’ unlimited chequebook and star-studded squad has to appeal, and the club has proven in recent times that it has a little more patience with managerial appointments. There’s certainly a strong chance that a deal may already be in place.
Mourinho’s departure from the Blues, with Guardiola’s future set to be announced, could be coincidental or perfectly timed. Chelsea’s admiration is long-standing, with Roman Abramovich rumoured to have dreamt that his side might one day resemble the footballing beauty of Barcelona in Pep’s pomp.
However, the Chelsea job does not offer the stability of others – since 2004 no manager has lasted at the club more than three years, while nine coaches in eight seasons is something of an embarrassing track record.
The north Londoners represent a dark horse in this race. Guardiola’s attractive football, sense of style, and knowledge of culture and history fits well with Arsenal’s proposition. Arsene Wenger’s time at the club is surely winding down, and the Gunners would certainly consider making his retirement date official if it meant landing the Spaniard. Arsenal doesn’t possess the financial clout of other contenders, but it’s a club with a money-making new stadium, while the new Premier League TV deal offers incredible spending power. Guardiola’s probable departure from Munich could have come at the perfect time.
Despite the debate about United’s incumbent manager and playing squad, almost anyone with an opinion on the situation agrees that the club has its share of problems. Rumours about the Dutchman’s future are rife, and there is no doubt that Van Gaal is under serious pressure to deliver results. Goals have dried up and the team is now without a win in the past five games.
Still, the club seems to be standing by the manager and is prepared to back him in the market in January. Yet, a growing section of the fanbase has already turned on Van Gaal and, if rumours are true, so have some in his playing squad.
Players are physically exhausted by the training regime, whilst some feel their talents are stifled by Van Gaal’s tactics. Ed Woodward has briefed that the club is prepared to back him with continued spending, but with every passing result the value of the investment in such bland performances comes into question.
Woodward has also briefed that he believes Guardiola’s future is already determined – one factor, perhaps, why the club is backing Van Gaal so strongly. Yet, with Carlo Ancelotti, Mourinho and potentially Guardiola on the market this summer, the club has some forward thinking to undertake if it is serious about progressing back into the élite.
Guardiola would certainly improve on the foundations the Dutchman has created. The Spaniard’s football would be a vast improvement, while Pep offers the promise of attracting high-calibre players.
Van Gaal’s progress has been slower than expected, albeit through a significant rebuild. But the club would surely be remiss not to consider the future. The right decision isn’t always clear, but to many Guardiola’s capture represents a no brainer.
Van Gaal has been a terrific manager over the past quarter-century; Guardiola is an upgrade.United cannot afford to miss out on his services for a second time.
Manchester United’s six-game winning streak – in the Premier League at least – is remarkable for many reasons. Not least because this is now a United side high on belief, quick in the pass and effortlessly creative – three qualities that Louis van Gaal’s side has infrequently demonstrated this season. And yet, save for defeat against Arsenal in the FA Cup, United’s winning streak has ushered in a bold new era at United. Sunday’s victory over Manchester City emphasised United’s metamorphosis; next weekend’s trip to Chelsea could well confirm the club’s rebirth.
City’s defeat is a case in point. It is not just that Van Gaal’s side dominated – City’s two Sergio Agüero goals flattered the visitors – but that United secured three points with such effortless grace. With more clinical finishing the home side could have bettered the six goals City infamously scored at Old Trafford in October 2011. Van Gaal’s side not only wanted victory more, but backed up desire with outstanding execution.
The Blues dished out humiliating defeat to United too often in recent seasons. Not least four Premier League victories in a row before Sunday and an aggregated scoreline in that period of 10 goals to two. That’s to say little of the aforementioned six scored against 10-man United four years ago.
This period of domination has followed City’s vast expenditure in the transfer market – one that has also fuelled two Premier League titles over the past three seasons. By contrast United’s decline was slow and then very quick – first starved of funds under the Glazer family’s ownership and then decimated by David Moyes ineptitude. Game after what seemed to be too many games City’s midfield bullied a meek United offering.
There was none of that on Sunday though, with United out-passing, thinking and working City. This was both a tactical masterclass by Van Gaal and an expression of a work-ethic that always has supporters on their feet.
In fact, just as City seemed to put aside recent poor form to start brightly, United once again demonstrated the strength of mental fortitude that Moyes so acutely destroyed and Van Gaal has rebuilt. After nine minutes the Blues were on top, but it says much that City never had it so good again. Save for Agüero’s late goal, Van Gaal’s side remained dominant to the last.
Little wonder Van Gaal was delighted with victory – an emphatic result and a performance that thoroughly vindicates the Dutchman’s methods. Special praise too for the strength of character to come back from Agüero’s early strike.
“We have showed that often,” said Van Gaal on United’s recovery. “I have more than once given compliments to my players about that because, in all the matches, we are going until the end with a great spirit and we have shown that against City.
“We didn’t start so well, Manchester City had the better start, but then we came back into the game because of the assist of David De Gea, more or less, for the first goal for Ashley Young. Then we gained confidence and we performed our game-plan much more. In the second half, we played very well with a lot of pace in our game. I was very pleased with the second half.”
Technically the home side was far superior too. While Juan Mata and Ander Herrera controlled the game with a nuanced range of passing from the right, it was Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini that earned praise for taking full advantage of City’s weaknesses down United’s left. Michael Carrick was again outstanding as United’s deep-lying creative instigator.
Young’s pace and direct running seemingly compliment the out-ball offered by Fellaini. The Belgian won nine headers on Sunday, with United deploying the long-ball 15 per cent of the time – a ratio that is high in comparison to other Champions League chasing sides. Yet, in contrast to the aimless long-balls that too often creeped into United’s game during the winter, this time the Reds exploited City’s lack of height at full-back and failure to adequately cover the channels.
“Ashley was Man of the Match and I think that was right,” confirmed Van Gaal in the aftermath. “If I had to choose, I would have chosen him. Also Fellaini is very important in our game-plan and I’m very pleased that he plays for Manchester United and no-one else.”
The victory leaves United four points ahead of City with just six games to play and 11 beyond Liverpool. Champions League football next season is almost guaranteed, although United will benefit much from finishing ahead of City, Arsenal or both to avoid an early-season play-off next August. Second or third would also earn United a healthier share of England’s media pool from European games – an incentive for the bean counters as much as the ego.
Momentum also counts for much. United has it, of course, although games against Chelsea, Everton, Crystal Palace and Arsenal offer no guarantee of points. After all, three of those games come away from the safety of Old Trafford, where United has gained 43 of 65 points this season.
The first of that sequence is against Chelsea next weekend. Indeed, United’s trip to Stanford Bridge is perhaps the truest barometer of progression. The Reds’ improvement in the past two months under Van Gaal has been dramatic, but the Londoners are seven points clear for a reason and superbly effective at home. José Mourniho’s side is yet to lose at Stamford Bridge in the league this season and boasts both the best home record and best home defensive record.
Van Gaal’s team is also unlikely to enjoy the bulk of possession next Saturday – a stat recorded at more than 55 per cent against City – nor control midfield so easily. After all, Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic advance a formidable pairing, especially at home. United will, however, benefit from Diego Costa’s absence, while understudy Loïc Remy is also doubtful with injury.
In the big picture Saturday’s game may count for little. Few believe Chelsea will lose the title now, nor that Liverpool will make up the 12 points required on United over the next six games. Yet, there is that momentum thing again. Victory at Stamford Bridge might just be a season-defining statement ahead of what is likely to be another busy transfer window.
Then there is the small matter of supporters’ pride. Reds have enjoyed just two victories at Stamford Bridge in the past decade. With one demon slain last Sunday, United’s bête noire of the Premier League era lies in wait. Van Gaal will have little doubt that United’s fans are owed a result in the capital.
“I am very pleased for the fans of course, because they have supported us when the results were not so good and now they are very good,” concluded Van Gaal on Sunday. “I’m very happy for the fans that they can walk through the streets without being embarrassed! They can go on the streets, hat up, and they can say now ‘we are, this year, the better team’.”
United’s performance next weekend may well add to that feeling.
This has not been a kind fixture for Manchester United fans of late. After all, the Blues from east of the city have come to dominate, with Abu Dhabi’s riches underpinning four victories in a row and six in the past 10 league matches between these sides. It is a record that few United supporters can stomach, let alone a manager who oversaw defeat at Eastlands earlier this season. Little wonder Louis van Gaal “dreams” of derby victory on Sunday – a win that would give United a four point Premier League margin over the Blues with the clock ticking down on the race for European football.
Indeed, City’s dominance of late – extending to a second Premier League title in three years last May – renders all the more stark the contrasting fortunes in the teams’ form over the past two months. United, emboldened by five Premier League victories in a row, start Sunday’s Old Trafford match as favourites; a rare position in recent years.
City, by contrast, has suffered four league defeats in the past 10; a run of form that almost certainly means a trophyless season and Manuel Pellegrini’s summer dismissal. Such is the way in east Manchester, where the thirst for success is driven by more than £1 billion ploughed into the club by Sheihk Mansour’s family over the past seven years.
Van Gaal, meanwhile, has overcome a poor early season start and a major injury crisis to stamp his mark on this side. For so much of the campaign United has been one of the Premier League’s less inspiring sides – at least of those in the top half. No longer, with the Dutchman’s team enjoying vibrant attacking performances in victory over Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa in the past month. It is a run of form that has supporters thinking of topping the Blues come May, let alone Sunday.
“I dream of it,” said the veteran coach. “Every player shall dream of victory. I have been thinking with my staff and my players already for many days about how we have to beat Manchester City. You are always in that process of how to beat your next opponent.
“You want to win because it is a big step in the table. When you win, third place is reachable and months ago nobody was thinking we could do it. Third position in the table is also good because you have certainly qualified for the Champions League and we would do better than the goal we set in pre-season.”
It is dream shared by United fans too long usurped by City’s new-found dominance. The Blues have not only won four of these fixtures on the bounce, but by an aggregate score of 10 goals to United’s two. For a club of United’s standing it is not an edifying record.
“When you are walking the streets of Manchester everybody is talking about the derby and also the players,” added Van Gaal. “They understand the meaning of a Manchester United victory over Manchester City. They know and I know it, so it’s very important. I don’t have time to visit the city so much. But when I’m there, the fans are talking about the derby. In football you play for the fans and I hope we can give our fans the victory.”
United’s standing as favourites is based on strong form over the past two months and a clean bill of squad health, save for Robin van Persie’s ongoing ankle injury. That problem will keep the Dutchman out of Sunday’s fixture, while Luke Shaw is not yet fit enough to return. Johnny Evans serves the fifth of a six-match suspension, but Chris Smalling should be available. It would be a chance, perhaps, for the Englishman to redeem the bone-headed red card received in the fixture at the Etihad Stadium earlier this season.
Elsewhere, the manager is likely to field a similar side to the one that secured victory against Villa last weekend, with Daley Blind again deputising at left-back, with Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, Marouanne Fellani and Michael Carrick deployed as an in-form midfield quintet.
Meanwhile, Van Gaal offered no guarantees that Angel di Maria will return despite A positive substitute performance against Villa. The Argentinian may yet be recalled at Ashley Young’s expense, although the Englishman’s good form this season suggests otherwise. Still, it is this competition for places that is driving higher standards, claims the Dutchman.
“Not only Angel Di Maria, but every player who is training in the first squad are pushing because they want to do their utmost. I played 11 against 11 today and the team in white was very good. The white team was not the basic line-up, so they are pushing always and I like that. I said that to all of the players, that I like the fighting spirit of every one of them.”
Meanwhile, Pellegrini faces anything but certainty. Dumped out of the Champions League, with recent defeats against Crystal Palace and Burnley effectively ending the Blues’ title defence, City’s campaign has imploded during February and March. Another European failure compounding domestic complacency it would appear.
On the pitch Pellegrini may be without captain Vincent Kompany, who suffered a hamstring injury against Palace on Monday. The Belgian will face a late fitness test before a final selection is decision is made on the out-of-form defender. Pellegrini may also drop Eden Dzeko, with the Bosnian having scored just four goals this season – two coming in his past 22 games for the club.
Still, Kompany has talked a good game this week, despite City’s poor form. The defender claims that the derby has come at the right time for the struggling Blues to correct a run of poor results.
“It’s a good moment to go into a derby,” said the 29-year-old. “It’s the perfect place for us to go and try to rectify what we’ve had. A derby is a derby. It doesn’t matter what place you are in the league, it’s a derby. My only concern is we get back to our best form. I think it’s our general form that we have to improve. I’ve learnt from the past seasons as well that finishing a season strongly can have an impact on your next season as well.”
The same can be said for United – victory will solidify third-place, with second very much on the agenda at Old Trafford. And while second may be “nowhere” it will prove to be a vast improvement on seventh under David Moyes. Perhaps even momentum for a title challenge next season.
First, however, the derby. Talk of the title can wait, but supporters certainly demand better than a fifth defeat to City in a row. Much better.
United (4-1-4-1): De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Rojo, Blind; Carrick; Herrera, Mata, Fellaini, Young; Rooney
City (4-4-2): Hart; Zabaletta, Demichelis, Kompany, Clichy; Milner, Touré, Fernandinho, Silva, Navas; Agüero
United: Valdes, Rafael, McNair, Jones, Shaw, Blackett, Di Maria, Januzaj, Wilson, Falcao
City (4-5-1): Caballero, Sagna, Mangala, Kolarov, Lampard, Nasri, Fernando, Dzeko
United 69 – Draw 50 – City 49
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Assistants: S Beck, J Collin
Fourth Official: J Moss
United 1-1 City
£1 bet club
1-1 at HT @ 13/2
Running total: £11.50 up!
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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.
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.
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.
“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
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
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.
On 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
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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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.
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.
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.
The 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
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.
On 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.”
Manchester United v Manchester City – Premier League, Old Trafford – 7 April 2013 March 2013, 8pm
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
Referee: Mike Dean
Assistant Referees: S Child and J Brooks
Fourth Official: H Webb
Head to Head
Last 10: United 6, City 3, Draw 1
Overall: United 69, City 45, Draw 50
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.
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.”
City’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.
Manchester City v Manchester United – Premier League, Eastlands – Sunday 9 December 2012, 1.30pm
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.
Head to Head
Last 10: City 4, United 5, Draw 1
Overall: City 45, United 68, Draw 50
“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.
As much as Sir Alex Ferguson hoped otherwise, Manchester United’s pre-season friendly against Hannover 96 on Saturday night was unable to detract attention from his employers’ financial proclivities in New York. On the opening day of trading a ‘disappointing’ IPO raised approximately $100 million less than initially sought by the Glazer family, while a myriad of unfulfilled speculation surrounding primary transfer target Robin van Persie prompted suggestions that United’s interest was merely a failed ploy to convey a position of wellbeing. Bad press, it seems, is inescapable for chief executive David Gill and his collaborators right now.
Sadly for United, the club’s woes are not consigned to its endeavours across the Atlantic; unease surrounding an underwhelming pre-season campaign has been augmented by relatively low transfer activity, archetypal of the Glazers’ reign at Old Trafford. And even if Ferguson’s intentions to sign the Dutchman are real, the completion of the transfer will by no means receive the unquestioning backing of United’s supporters.
Van Persie’s age, wage demands, and susceptibility to injury are all cited as deterrents, as is the inevitability that the Dutchman would deprive fans’ favourites Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez of playing time. Furthermore, considering the substantial fee necessary to prise last year’s PFA and Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year from Arsenal, any deal will surely deprive the team’s ailing midfield of further investment.
Following a trophy-less campaign least term, continuing negative publicity, and the manager’s apparent refusal, or inability, to address his squad’s key inadequacies, it’s fair to suggest that the season ahead for United appears bleak. Yet, with just over a week to go until the start of the Premier League campaign, Ferguson is not short belief that his side is adequately equipped to regain the title.
Aside from any transfer activity, or lack thereof, United’s squad is already bolstered this summer by the return of Nemanja Vidić. The Serbian has completed over 170 minutes of football during the team’s pre-season tour. While Jonny Evans deputised superbly for the United captain last season, dispelling any assertions that the Irishman’s time at Old Trafford is running out, Vidić’s importance is difficult to overstate. Though it is easy to speculate, it is hard to imagine United conceding the two late goals at home to Everton that proved so costly in the title race had Vidić been present to maintain defensive discipline.
Starting the season opener at Goodison Park may be an ambitious target, but having witnessed repeated delays to Tom Cleverley’s recovery last term, and Owen Hargreaves’s haphazard attempts to regain fitness throughout his spell at Old Trafford, United fans are relieved to see Vidić return on schedule from a serious injury.
In addition to the restored first choice defensive partnership, Ferguson expects greater contributions from a number of his younger players this season. Danny Welbeck impressed during his first campaign in the starting line-up, but must improve on last year’s tally of just 12 goals, particularly if the striker is to preserve his place in Ferguson’s team. Having followed-up a decent club season with impressive performances for England at this summer’s European Championships, the Longsight-born player can achieve the 20 goal target set by his manager.
Additionally, Chris Smalling and Cleverley, having also shown much promise already, hope to feature more often after enduring injury hampered seasons last time out. Smalling has developed a reputation for dependability, having continually improved since joining from Fulham in 2010, while Cleverley enjoyed an excellent start to his senior United career before its abrupt postponement at the Reebok Stadium last September. Cleverley’s return may even help observers forget United’s lack of options in central midfield.
Significantly, Ferguson can count on the improved consistency of goalkeeper David de Gea. All but written off by the media following a difficult start to his United career, the Spaniard grew in confidence and stature as last season progressed, winning the team points regularly. Provided De Gea remains composed in the face of renewed competition from Anders Lindegaard, the Spaniard will surely develop into one of the league’s finest goalkeepers.
Additionally, while United’s transfer activity is minimal this summer it has at least been well considered. Glowing praise from his former mentor Dario Gradi has generated considerable excitement in the future of Nick Powell, while Shinji Kagawa’s acquisition could have a decisive impact. The Japanese playmaker made a total of 25 goals in Borussia Dortmund’s double-winning campaign last term, affirming talismanic status, and has looked sharp playing just behind the frontline during pre-season appearances for United. Kagawa could provide a link between the team’s midfielders and forwards that was desperately missing for much of last season, often leaving the strikers isolated and occasionally resulting in Wayne Rooney dropping into midfield.
Away from United it is also worth considering the merits of local rivals, Manchester City. Roberto Mancini’s team has been uncharacteristically quiet in the transfer market, with the Italian failing to offload superfluous players on excessive salaries. Despite possessing considerable strength-in-depth, Mancini’s side looks vulnerable should it lose any one of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Touré, or David Silva.
Though any team is weakened by losing one or more of its three best players, note that Touré will once again depart mid-season to compete in a rollover African Cup of Nations. Meanwhile, Silva will face an arduous campaign, having represented Spain at the European Championships after a season in which he played through an ankle injury.
The lack of quality cover for Kompany was particularly evident during the Belgian’s absences last season, as is reliance on goalkeeper Joe Hart. While United’s recent luck with injuries has been torrid, City’s has been the opposite; should fortunes reverse this season it is difficult to foresee Mancini’s men faring so well.
Furthermore, City will face the burden of playing this season as champions. Painful as it is to acknowledge, the upside is that teams will raise their performance levels against the Eastlands outfit; a belief endorsed by Wayne Rooney this week, who asserted that “over the years everyone has tried to raise their game when they play against Manchester United. Now obviously City are champions they’ll have to face that.”
Whether Mancini’s side approaches the task of retaining the title with a hint of trepidation remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that United seeks the Premier League’s return to Old Trafford with renewed vigour. The pain associated with losing to City on goal difference no will spur on Ferguson’s side, just as it did in 2006/7 when the title loss to Chelsea prompted a change in system, and one of the most exciting domestic campaigns of the decade.
Once again United enters a season in transition, and with a point to prove. Only a fool will write Ferguson’s team off.
It is a little over four miles from Eastlands to the Granada Studios lot on which Coronation Street is now filmed. Perhaps, though, the time is nigh for those penning ITV’s long-running soap opera to slip into quiet retirement, lay down the quill one last time, and recognise that no Weatherfield ferment can ever match the emotion, melodrama, and sheer intoxication of this season’s Premier League denouement.
No Street plot line has ever been this improbable. Nor heart-rending for those in Red. For 28 tortuous minutes Manchester United, quite inexplicably, grasped a 20th domestic league title as Roberto Mancini’s Blues conspired to fall behind, at home, to 10-man Queens Park Rangers. For near half-an-hour of agony those in Red dreamed of Manchester City’s stunning demise, and a United triumph much against all expectations. It was truly a demi-heure like no other.
This was a drama with a stunning final revelation though. How could it be any other way? No happy ending for the 2,000 travelling Reds in Sunderland, nor the United players whom emerged victorious at the Stadium of Light, or the millions more watching in hope on television. Instead, only the agony, no, disbelief as Sergio Aguero jinked past Taye Taiwo’s lazy tackle and slammed home City’s title-winning goal at 90 minutes plus four.
That United had already departed the Stadium of Light field only enhanced the drama. Sir Alex Ferguson’s players standing, waiting, for what must have been the two longest minutes of many careers after securing a hard-fought victory on Wearside. Cruelly, it was Sunderland’s fans that brought the news that anyone in Red could only anticipate with horror – City’s winning goal at Eastlands.
“I congratulate City on winning the league,” said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson in the aftermath.
“It is a fantastic achievement to win the Premier League, it’s not easy to win, it’s the hardest league in the world and anyone that wins it deserves it. We knew there were five minutes of injury time being played there, one of our assistant referees informed us of that. Our game only had three minutes so for two minutes we didn’t know that was happening. Of course, they got the break and won the game.”
Cruel though the manner of league defeat is for those in Red, it is not the ceding of United’s Premier League title that will hurt the most. Indeed, losses to Wigan Athletic, City and the draw with Everton in the past month all but ensured that conclusion whatever Sunday’s matches brought. After all, United has made mistakes by the legion to help City erode a comfortable Premier League over the course of just six games.
No, the pain will reside in those 28 minutes of hope, when QPR unexpectedly rallied after Joey Barton’s imbecilic dismissal to take a 2-1 lead into injury time, and all too briefly United’s players, staff and supporters believed the club was champions once again.
“It’s cruel, but we’ve experienced many ups and downs in the 25 years I’ve been here – most of them are great moments,” Ferguson added.
“We’ve won the league title three times on the last day and today we nearly did it. Coming into the last game I said, ‘Concentrate on your job, that’s what we have to do’, because you’re going to get certain types of reaction from the crowd and you saw that.”
“At the end of our game our players didn’t actually know the results. Now, they’re really disappointed, I’m glad to say. There’s no other way they should be. They conducted themselves brilliantly today. Their performance level was good. I’m pleased at our performance this season. Eighty-nine points would win most leagues. It wasn’t our turn today.”
As with so many seasons winners and losers are selected in the details; an unlucky break here, a fortunate goal there. United’s players will hold many of those moments close in the coming months – not least the occasions on which points were squandered on the precipice of conceit. Blackburn Rovers’ unlikely victory at Christmas, defeat at Wigan, and a two-goal lead at home to Everton thrown away. Each should long live in the memory.
So too must Ferguson reflect on the cautious approach adopted at Eastlands last month that backfired in such spectacular fashion – a trick United almost repeated on Wearside. While the Scot has boldly lauded Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes in recent days, Ferguson could not trust the pair to win games against City, or again on the final day.
Whether Ferguson will, or can, address United’s issues is a question for the summer, and thoughts will quickly turn from defeat to the future. The new Premier League season is now less than 100 days hence, and United will find claiming back the league trophy from a City side emboldened and educated by glory no easy task.
After all, Mancini’s outfit is unlikely to repeat the mistakes made this season, nor fall victim to the bout of nerves that at one stage seemed set to sweep the tile to Old Trafford by Easter. Instead, City will now build from a position of strength, shedding disruptive influences or under-performing stars, and exploiting the market as only a club built on sovereign wealth can.
United, meanwhile, faces a painful summer in the knowledge that there are many questions to be asked and answered of Ferguson’s squad.
The coming weeks will be replete with talk of a ‘shift in power’, the ‘end of United’s empire’ and City’s looming hegemony. Ferguson, re-invigorated by City’s challenge, will have none of it, even if the pensioner is unlikely to meet City’s challenge in the transfer market this summer. In youth and history Sir Alex trusts, whether by his design or that foisted upon him.
“We have a rich history, better than anyone, and it will take them a century to get to our level of history,” adds the 70-year-old United manager.
“But for us it’s still a challenge and we’re good at challenges. We’ll kick on from here. I think we take credit in the fact we’ve had so many injuries this season and we’ve coped with that very well. Some of the young players have gained some experience and they’ll be around in five, six, seven years time all these young players at Manchester United. Experience is good for them – even if it’s a bad one.”
Yet, United will look back on a season where players and manager needed to raise their game to meet City’s challenge, and ultimately fell flat. Two defeats in five games coming into the final day cost United dearly – a pattern that cannot be explained away by inexperience, nor injury.
It all added, of course, to the most extraordinary league finale since Arsenal beat Liverpool at Anfield in 1989. The Eastlands tumult will rarely, if ever, be bettered for the wave of emotion. That, however, will be of little consolation to Reds tonight.
Scrutinising Sir Alex Ferguson’s team sheet for the first time shortly after 7.15pm on Monday night many Reds were reminded of that old John Cleese jibe. You know the one about it not being the despair, but the hope that he could not stand. Mercifully, for those fans suffering under the strain of the Premier League run-in, all hope was swiftly killed by Sir Alex’ selection. Not for the first time supporters can be thankful to the great man, although far from the manner in which many have become accustomed over the past 25 years.
The team selection was, after all, patently absurd to those who stood in bars or on terraces and observed, mouths collectively aghast, as the Scot sought to meet Manchester City’s vibrancy and athleticism with a quartet of players unfit for the task. Fortunate, then, for those desperate to end the pain of hope that Ferguson should compound his irresistible urge to tinker by moving United’s better players around, or indeed, out of the team altogether.
What amusement Sir Alex must have found in deploying Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Ryan Giggs and Park Ji-Sung – each of whom was so undercooked for United’s biggest game of the season that it was unfair to expect anything less than sub-par performances. How the Scot japed when dropping Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck, or shifting 33 goal striker Wayne Rooney away from the deeper position in which he has flourished this season.
Except the joke was all on supporters who gathered in the hope that United could stop City’s oil-fueled juggernaut for this season at least. It quickly turned to despair.
It is hard to point the finger of criticism at players – it is not the United way. After all, many of these players were placed in an impossibly difficult position.
Smalling was drafted in as an emergence centre back following Jonny Evans’ injury against the Toffees last weekend. The former Fulham defender has suffered with injury recently, starting a league game for the first time this year at Eastlands. It was hardly the youngster’s fault, but Smalling’s rustiness was exposed repeatedly on the night, not least by Vincent Kompany’s 45th minute winning goal.
With one enforced change in defence it made little sense to willingly foist another upon the team. Jones has suffered a nightmare run-in, with injuries and a dramatic loss of form hampering the teenager’s progress in all of the three positions that Ferguson has deployed the 19-year-old.
In truth Jones was a bizarre choice at right-back, selected apparently for his height, but displaying all the ‘headless chicken’ qualities that had fans mocking comparisons with the late, great, Duncan Edwards. Shouts of “Duncan! Duncan!” rang around one bar packed with more than 500 Reds on each occasion Jones’ first touch was heavy, and the second was inevitably a tackle.
Meanwhile, Rafael was dropped after one poor performance in the past three months – that against Everton last weekend. In truth it was the kind of slack defensive show that Ferguson’s favourite lieutenant Patrice Evra has descended to on an almost weekly basis.
Yet, the United manager’s odd team selection didn’t end with the back-four. In midfield Ferguson drafted in both Giggs and Park – two players who have between them produced zero stellar performances this season. The Welshman is a genuine legend in an era when that superlative is greatly abused. But, it is a painful truth to admit that the 39-year-old has also suffered, by some considerable distance, his worst ever season in a United shirt.
Good job for those still burdened with hope, Cleese might add, that Giggs was made to “run up and down the bloody touchline” by Ferguson – the very the role United’s manager admitted four years ago that the Welshman could no longer perform.
And if Giggs’ 75 per cent pass completion rate was not wasteful enough, then Sir Alex followed up the Welshman’s inclusion by deploying Park – a player whose one-time epithet of ‘three lungs’ now looks embarrassingly wayward. Thankfully, the former PSV player only touched the ball 17 times – falling over more often than not, those of a crueler persuasion might add.
Unfortunately, Park’s direct competitor Yaya Touré made four times as many passes, as the Ivorian stamped his undoubted authority on the match.
Elsewhere Rooney was moved from the ‘hole’, disrupting a vibrant and productive partnership with Welbeck, and forcing the Scouser to plough a very lonely furrow up front. Meanwhile, United’s most productive player in recent months, Valencia, was dropped for the supposedly more defensively secure Park. It beggared belief.
Yet, none of this really mattered compared to the style in which United played; negative, scared and inhibited. This too was not the United way, and it was becoming neither of players nor manager to perform in fashion that yielded not a single shot on target all night. It was the first time that United had stooped to that particular low in more than three years.
In truth, although Ferguson had vehemently proclaimed otherwise pre-match, United sought nothing more than parity with City and paid a stiff penalty. Ferguson’s team got the defeat the selection, tactics and attitude fully deserved.
Patently, the Scot did not trust a midfield pairing of Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes that had been over-run by Everton the weekend before. With good reason – Scholes’ 37-year-old legs looked their age against the Merseysiders for the first time since the midfielder’s reintroduction to the United team in January. Carrick, outstanding all season, retreated into his shell.
On the night the pair simply could not cope with City’s energy, even if the pass completion ratio was at more than 90 per cent. That neither player made more than 50 successful passes tells a more pertinent story though. Carrick has exceeded 100 numerous times this season, but was unable to exert any control over proceedings on Monday night.
If parking the bus was designed to gain United a point then fans can ask whether the Reds genuinely held a contingency plan? After all, Valencia did not enter the field until the game was almost up, while Ashley Young saw just six minutes of action. United’s caution, as Roberto Mancini astutely observed in the aftermath, was the side’s undoing. City simply wanted victory more.
Little wonder that Ferguson was apoplectic on the sidelines. But it is not unfair to suggest that his ire was directed inwards, and towards neither Mancini, nor the officials. The Scot’s team selection universally backfired, while the tactical approach has brought little bar condemnation.
Moreover, failure at Eastlands simply compounds the real problem this season – United is likely to lose the Premier League title not solely because of double-defeat to City, but through dropped points against Blackburn Rovers, Everton and Wigan Athletic. In each United was exposed both by the opposition and outrageous complacency. The team has proven itself simply not good enough to play with conceit.
The words of a spoilt generation, some will argue. But few Reds want a return to, say, the 1980s when United was subservient not to City, but Liverpool. Yet, this is the doomsday scenario prompted by such comprehensive defeat.
As more than one observer mused today, City’s victory and probable title win could be the springboard for a period of domination. The club will be able to strengthen from a very healthy position, removing any dead wood and unwanted distractions, while leveraging Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth to acquire almost any player available.
Meanwhile, United is quite obviously playing catch-up, with Ferguson at the very limit of his almost limitless power to extract far more than the sum of the parts from his squad. When the greatest manager in the game’s history also makes calamitous mistakes, as he did on Monday, everything falls apart.
City’s victory may be a portent of things to come. United has lost 11 times this season, while exiting four cup competitions at an early stage. It is likely to be United’s first trophyless season for eight years. That glorious run is to Ferguson’s eternal credit during an era of Glazer-inspired parsimony that has eroded the squad’s quality-in-depth.
Nobody should question Ferguson’s ability, but his choices on Monday were proven disastrously wrong. Unfortunately, the talent available is such that United no longer has a margin for error.
And if – it still remains an “if” – United is to end the campaign without silverware then the nightmare scenario of Liverpool, City and perhaps even Chelsea each claiming glory at home or abroad will remind supporters of a certain generation that the club has no divine right to victory. There is no shame coming second as long as there is a strategy to compete.
And that is the rub, of course. Fans fear, with ample evidence, that United simply cannot or will not compete with rivals in the Premier League or Europe. Queue, cynics might add, the soon-to-come proclamations of a belief in youth, the lack of value in the market, or the apparent talent in droves held by Park, Anderson, Michael Owen, Bébé or any other under-performing budget purchase.
But eventually fans will shake off Monday’s disappointment. Slowly, optimism will return, even if the Premier League trophy is paraded in front of Manchester Town Hall on a Blue open-top bus.
Whatever the summer brings, eventually hope will raise its head once again; the despair of Monday night forgotten. Until, of course, the next occasion on which United turns out, without truly turning up. It’s the hope that hurts the most.
How did it come to this? Barely three weeks ago Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City side was “cracking up” and Manchester United had opened up an eight point Premier League lead. United’s superb form in 2012 had brought 12 wins and a draw since defeat to Newcastle United at St. James’, and the title was the Reds’ in all but name.
Yet football, at least the format practiced by Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, is rarely that simple. Defeat to Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium and a draw with Everton at home, together with City’s improved form, means that Monday’s clash between the two Manchester clubs at Eastlands is now pivotal to this season’s title. Ferguson, ever mindful of the key moments in any campaign, believes the victor will go on to take this year’s honours. Who could disagree?
United, three points to the good in the title race, can afford to draw of course, enabling the Reds to claim a 20th domestic title with four points from games against Swansea City and Sunderland over the next fortnight. Yet, with recent form as it is, there is little presumption to be made about United’s ability to achieve even that goal.
So to the “shootout” with City, as Ferguson put, where both Blues and Reds know that a win is likely to bring with it the main prize. Mancini’s men must win, but if they do so then matches against a recently humbled Newcastle and relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers should hold little fear. Three points for United and City can kiss all hope goodbye.
Indeed, says Ferguson, whatever happens in Monday’s fixture, Reds must now get used to City challenging United’s hegemony at every turn. It is a fixture that will come to match United’s enmity with Liverpool, concludes the Scot.
“We have to get used to playing City in important games, they are not going away,” admitted the 70-year-old United manager.
“The financial support they have means we will be playing them, in a lot of big games. Cup finals maybe, semi-finals – we have already done that last season and had an important cup tie this season.
“It’s there, if we are going to be contesting for league titles regularly, and we will be doing, it will become just as important as the Liverpool game. Maybe not in terms of the emotional part because the Liverpool-United games are emotional, but certainly in importance – probably at this moment in time it supersedes the Liverpool games in the sense that they are our direct opponents now.
“Manchester City are without question up against us to win titles and that is what I focus on, I only focus on the team that can actually affect our progress in terms of winning.”
Ferguson’s men must quickly overcome disappointment against Everton last weekend if the team is to get a result at Eastlands. There can certainly be no repeat of the slapdash defending that saw United concede four against the Toffees, with Ferguson’s side making errors in the build up to each of the visitors’ goals.
Whether it was nerves or arrogance, United’s ability to casually throw away a winning position against Everton could yet see the title slip away. But this is not a position Ferguson is prepared to countenance in the build-up to Monday’s clash, with the Scot preferring to laugh off United’s slip as ‘doing it the hard way’. It is a cliché, of course, but better than admitting the side is one calamitous reverse from a trophyless season.
“I am a confirmed masochist, I joined about 26 years ago,” joked Ferguson.
“I do not know if you thrive on it, I can’t even say I can look forward to it, but I am up for it, I am prepared for it and I think my players will be prepared for it so hopefully we will be OK.
“I suppose when the fixtures came out at the beginning of the season all roads pointed to this game. It was inevitable maybe. But we are where we are and it doesn’t matter what has happened before – the buildup to the game, who has dropped points and who hasn’t dropped points, it really is all down to this game. It will be a fantastic atmosphere and I hope it lives up to the billing.
“We are also smarting from throwing that game away last week, but in the context of our history we almost expected it, we make it hard for ourselves, our poor supporters have been subjected to that drama for years and years. God knows what they are like just now but hopefully we will make amends on Monday. It’s not a cup final, there are three games still, it is an important game. I think it could decide the title.”
However, United could be without two key players for the tie, with both defender Jonny Evans and winger Nani struggling for fitness. Evans trained on Friday as Ferguson took his players to Wales for a short break, but the Northern Irishman’s sore ankle has been a concern all week. Meanwhile, Nani is also suffering from an ankle problem, and Ferguson will leave a fitness assessment until the last moment.
United’s manager is unlikely to make significant changes despite the second-half horror show against Everton. Ferguson may bring Chris Smalling in at right-back, with Rafael as culpable as any for United’s poor defensive display against Everton. The Brazilian has performed admirably during the run-in, but Smalling’s defensive nous may win the 21-year-old a place.
There are unlikely to be many further changes, although Ferguson must decide whether to deploy both top goalscorer Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, or leave the Scouser to plough a lone furrow up-front.
Meanwhile, across town Mancini has spent the week playing down his side’s chances despite an uptick in recent form. United’s experience, says the Italian, is likely to win the day. Little more than mind games 101, cynics might add. Moreover, Mancini will be able to field a full strength side at Eastlands, including fit again Mario Balotelli and former Red Carlos Tevez.
Given the Blues have scored 10 in the past three fixtures, form is certainly on the Italian’s side.
“He probably wants to take pressure off his own players, that’s possible but it will not affect our approach or attitude, we know exactly the situation we are in here,” adds Ferguson.
“We are in a better position than Manchester City. We can get two results they can only get one, they have to win we can draw, we can win. But my attitude and the club’s attitude will be trying to win.”
Amen to that, Reds will concur, although Ferguson’s side is likely to adopt the ‘European approach’ at Eastlands, with five strung across midfield, and the visitors prepared to wait patiently for a chance. United supporters making the short trip across town will forgive any negative approach, if that is to be it, in exchange for three points and a 20th domestic league title.
Manchester City versus Manchester United, Premier League, Eastlands, 30 April 2012, 8pm.
City (4-4-2): Hart; Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; Silva, Touré Y, Barry, Nasri; Tevez, Aguero. Subs from: Pantilimon, Taylor, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Savic, K Touré, De Jong, Milner, Pizarro, Johnson, Balotelli, Dzeko.
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Smalling, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Carrick, Scholes; Valencia, Rooney, Young; Welbeck. Subs from: Amos, Jones, Fabio, Rafael, Jones, Young, Cleverley, Giggs, Nani, Hernández, Berbatov, Owen.
Referee: Andre Marriner (Birmingham)
Assistants: A Watts, M McDonough
Fourth Official: M Jones
To whet your appetite ahead of Monday night’s pivotal 163rd Manchester derby here are some modern classics matches between the sides. Forget Dennis Law’s back-heal, or the five goals scored by Manchester City at Maine Road in 1989; consign them to history – this is no time for negativity! Think instead about Manchester United’s five in 1994, comeback from two down in 1993, Michael Owen’s winner in September 2010, or Wayne Rooney’s last-minute overhead. Enjoy!
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 Nial Quinn goals, United returned with strikes from Eric Cantona and Roy Keane, winning it in the final minute of the match thanks to Denis Irwin’s cross and Keane’s finish. It doesn’t get any sweeter than this.
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 Ukrainian winger Andrei Kanchelskis went on the rampage, scoring an Old Trafford hat-trick to banish all talk of ‘5-1’. It was the match that finally shut the Blues up and allowed United fans to lift their heads 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 by the midfielder. Keane saw red and was banned for three matches. Keane’s biography, in which he suggested that he wanted to hurt the City player, cost the Irishman a further five match ban and £150,000 fine. Such a pity that Keane won’t get the chance to meet Carlos Tevez on the pitch Monday night, some of a crueller disposition might add.
Manchester United 4 – 3 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 2009
Michael Owen scores a wonderful 96th minute winner from Ryan Giggs’ pass to beat City at Old Trafford. City boss Mark Hughes’ complaints over the amount of injury time added on dominated the headlines, but United’s excellence and Owen’s dramatic winner secured the points.
Manchester United 2 – 1 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 2011
Could there be a more dramatic way to win the derby than an overhead struck into the top corner in the final minutes of the game? Rooney’s spectacular strike was voted the second best in the world during 2011, but Reds will remember it with affection for more than the goal itself. Truly the stuff of schoolboy dreams!
Monday’s title deciding Manchester derby is not the first time Reds and Blues have faced off for England’s top honour. Indeed, 43 years on many still remember the 1967-68 race between the two clubs – won by City on the last day of the season after United lost to Sunderland at Old Trafford.
Watching closely that day was 15-year-old schoolboy Brian Greenhoff, remembered fondly today as a versatile young midfielder, who went on to form a fine partnership with Martin Buchan in the heart of Manchester United’s defence. Decades later and Greenhoff remains a United fan, committed to seeing the Reds overcome the Blues this time round.
“I was offered a contract and it was up to me to decide where I went,” Greenhoff told United Rant this week.
“I went on holiday – it was my first time abroad – and then when I got back my dad asked ‘where are you going?’ It was always going to be United. Leeds wanted me too, but my dad would never have let me join them.”
It turned out to be a fine choice. Over six seasons in the United first team, and more than a decade with the club overall, the younger of the two Greenhoff brothers started 268 games and scored 17 goals for the Reds. Born in Barnsley, Greenhoff joined United’s youth team in August 1968 – just months after the team’s European Cup Final victory – having chosen the Reds ahead of a raft of suitors, including the aforementioned Leeds United.
The year is remembered by Reds for United’s emotional European Cup final win, coming a decade after the tragedy at Munich. Blues, meanwhile, recall City’s last domestic title triumph – soured when two weeks later at Wembley United trumped City’s achievement.
There will be no European Cup consolation for whichever team loses Monday’s game of course, although the emotions and rivalries remain intense. And there are few who better understand the changing nature of both football and fandom between ’68 and the present title race than Greenhoff.
Local rivalries still ring true, but the media hype surrounding the build up to next Monday’s game has grown beyond recognition, says the 58-year-old.
“It wasn’t so much the media and TV, more local press in them days. Media was local then, but the hype with the game coming up is huge. It’s better not to watch it all. It’s going to be incredible,” says Greenhoff, who played in 10 derbies and holds supporters close to his heart.
“You are doing it for the fans; you want them to have the bragging rights and the big smile on their faces. I used to love playing in derby games, but don’t like watching them. I get too wound up, I want to kick somebody. I play the derby game more than any other.
“This is the biggest derby game since 1968. It went to the last game then and it’ll go to last game now, whatever happens.”
There was no title-deciding match-up in ‘68 – City beat United 3-1 at Old Trafford with 10 games still remaining – but the local edge to the clash was unmistakable. After all, while players from Shay Brennan to Nobby Stiles, John Fitzpatrick, George Best and Bobby Charlton may have hailed from all corners of the British Isles, many ‘grew up’ in United’s youth team.
“Danny Welbeck will probably be the only one,” adds Greenhoff, of the current crop of players.
“You want lads who’ve come through the ranks. When I’d played there were quite a few that came through. Even playing in the B team or the reserves we wanted to win the derby. It was always about putting one over your neighbour.
“I would knock around with [Manchester City’s] Dennis Tueart. We were all friends off the pitch, nobody hated each other. Fans seem to hate each other these days. It’s scary. The rules and intensity in football have changed.”
Loyalty is a theme Greenhoff returns to frequently. He was, after all, a player who “never had an agent” and would receive each contract offer via letter from the club. Today’s players, Greenhoff says, are too often in it for the money. It gives the derby a different edge.
“When I made my debut I was only on £35 a week,” he adds.
“Tommy Docherty said ‘we’ll give you a rise every year as long as you’re in the side’. He kept his word, although it was never a lot because United were poor payers in those days.
“I do think modern players are mercenaries, but they’ll never admit it. Look at somebody like Nasri – it looked like he was signing for United, but then he was offered 75 grand more a week and went to City.
“Sir Alex had it right when he was talking about Pogba – when you play at Manchester United the money will come. Look at Welbeck, he’s in the papers today, and is going to earn 45 grand a week. That’s not bad for a 20-year-old is it? As a young lad you can see the rewards will be there if you dedicate yourself.”
Money remains a theme in Manchester though, with United seemingly burdened by debt, and City able to spend lavishly in the transfer market since the 2008 takeover by the Abu Dhabi royal family. The contrasting financial fortunes threaten United’s hegemony not only in Manchester, but the Premier League too – it’s a crown United will be fighting to retain on Monday night.
“City will be successful for the next 10 years, but will old Sheikh big pockets keep on subsidising the club or will he pull out?” asks Greenhoff.
“They’ve got to get the infrastructure correct – if they don’t do that it could fall apart quickly. It all depends on the Sheikh and if he keeps pumping money in. But if he makes them stand on their own two feet then they’ll have to look to the academy. And who would send their kid to that academy when they’re never going to get a game?”
Even if City’s strategy is based on trumping all in the market, Abu Dhabi’s investment looks likely to be long-term, with the Royal Family having ploughed more than £400 million into the club already. It makes Ferguson’s ability to shape a side from youth, while coping with injuries this season, all the more impressive says Greenhoff.
“City have got a bottomless pit of money. They’ll spend until they win the prize. When you look at what they’ve spent already, for United to stay with them could be the greatest achievement, and with the amount of injuries it’s incredible.
“I’m sure the fans will blame the Glazers if United don’t succeed, but Sir Alex is always building for the future. He knows if players can still offer something to the game, and he buys players at a good age.
“United try to get players through from the academy all the time. Not just into the first team, but also think of all players they’ve sold from the academy.”
Greenhoff was eventually sold on to Leeds for £350,000 in 1979, but his affection for the club he calls “the greatest in the world” is undiminished more than 30 years on. After three years in Leeds he played in South Africa and then Finland before winding up a fine career alongside his older brother at Rochdale.
In retirement Greenhoff worked for a local sports wholesaler before spending several years living in Spain. Now back in the north-west, his focus is again on football, and the big derby match next Monday. And while some Reds may be nervous of City’s vast wealth and new-found power, Greenhoff isn’t.
“United won’t go away. This is what I say to the City fans. Whatever happens, United are still going to be there.”
It’s a message with which fans can concur, whatever Monday’s result.
Few, bar BSkyB one suspects, hope that the officials play a key role in next Monday’s crunch derby at Eastlands when the 2011/12 Premier League title will surely be decided in favour of either Manchester City or Manchester United. So it is with some suspicion, and no little surprise, that Andre Marriner has been appointed by the Premier League to referee the biggest game of the domestic season to date. The Birmingham-born official is, after all, no stranger to controversy involving Sir Alex Ferguson’s team , as well as others.
Indeed, many supporters will be surprised that Premier League has not entrusted the most highly anticipated game of the season to Howard Webb, given that the 2010 World Cup final official is widely considered a safest pair of hands by the game’s governing bodies. The widespread, yet erroneous, belief that Webb has previously favoured United surely did for the former Policeman’s chances.
Yet, even away from the Yorkshireman, Marriner was not the obvious choice. After all Mike Dean, Martin Atkinson, Mark Halsey and even Phil Dowd have officiated more Premier League games this season than Marriner.
But Marriner it is, and while the Brummie may now be one of the country’s top officials, his introduction to refereeing came quite by chance. While attending a grass root match as spectator in 1992 Marriner was asked to officiate when the appointed referee failed to show. He was paid £10 for the privilege, so the story goes, and has rarely looked back since.
Marriner rose through the ranks of the football pyramid, achieving Football League referee status in 2000, and being appointed to the select group officiating in the Premier League by 2005 – his first match pitted Wigan Athletic against Fulham at the DW Stadium. By 2009 Marriner was appointed to panel of international referees, taking charge of the under-21 fixture between Norway and Romania in May of that year.
Yet, like many officials Marriner has fallen foul of Ferguson’s ire. The legendary United manager laid into the official after his team’s 2-0 defeat at Anfield in 2009, when Marrier failed to dismiss Jamie Carragher after the Liverpool captain brought down Michael Owen. Carragher was Liverpool’s last defender and few observers believed the foul did anything bar deny a goal scoring opportunity.
Worse for United, Marriner also sent off Nemanja Vidic for two cautionable offences, with Ferguson accusing Marriner of bowing to a hostile Anfield crowd.
“It is very difficult atmosphere here,” mooted Ferguson in the game’s wake.
“There was a wounded animal aspect to the game and it was something we did not overcome. I think it affected our players and it affected the referee.
“There were so many controversial things that happened we have to feel aggrieved at some of them. The Vidic booking was the worst decision. It is a foul, fine. But the player has played on, he won the second ball and knocked it for a throw in and got booked.
“The most controversial decision was Carragher bringing down Michael Owen. He was clear through. The laws of the game were altered to prevent professional fouls of that nature and if Carragher goes off, he is their best player and their captain. It would have been a different game. They would have been under pressure. Michael was clean through.”
More controversial still was Marriner’s pivotal involvement in the Luis Suarez – Patrice Evra affair at Anfield last October, when the official took no action despite the Frenchman pointing the finger at his Uruguayan abuser. Indeed, far from taking charge, Marriner simply told Evra to “calm down” after the defender accused Suarez of calling him a “negro.”
Further evidence of Marriner’s inconsistency came a year later in the Brummie’s career, when the official took no action against Steven Gerrard’s two fingered salute. The teflon-coated Liverpool captain not only unfurled the obscene gesture in the referee’s direction, but uttered a series of expletives. Gerard had been booked for scything down a Wigan player in the 2010 Anfield encounter at the DW, but received no punishment for the verbals.
This season Marriner was dropped by the Premier League after allowing a controversial Blackburn Rovers goal to stand in the November 2011 fixture with Wigan. Latics’ manager Roberto Martinez was incensed after Blackburn winger Morten Gamst Pederson dribbled a corner into the box and set up Junior Hoilet to score, even though no player bar the Norwegian had actually touched the ball before the goalscoring strike.
Martinez received an official apology from referees’ chief Mike Riley, and Marriner was dropped for one round of Premier League matches.
“Obviously, it is a very difficult action to explain. It is not something that you are going to see on a football pitch too often and I saw it as very careless at that moment. It is probably one of the few aspects where refereeing in a game is black and white, with no grey areas. You have to deal with it with a little bit more care,” said a dignified Martinez afterwards.
Yet the incident, alongside others, paints a picture of an official who has made mistakes like any other, but can also be impressionable and weak; an official who is not always in control. It is with hope, rather than expectation, that fans are not discussing the official after next Monday’s game.
Referee: A Marriner (Birmingham)
Assistants: A Watts, M McDonough
Fourth Official: M Jones
Match Delegate: T Dolan
PGMO: J Worrall
Andre Marriner’s Career
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Following Manchester United’s draw with Everton on Sunday – and Manchester City’s victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers – the Reds’ Premier League lead is now just three points. With just a trio of games to go in the Premier League season the title race could well come down to next Monday’s derby at Eastlands.
Indeed, victory for City will leave Roberto Mancini’s outfit top of the Premier League on goal difference. By contrast, should United triumph at Eastlands Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will require just a single point from matches against Swansea City and Sunderland to secure a 20th domestic league title.
Form and location may favour Mancini’s side, but Ferguson and his experienced lieutenants certainly know how to convert tight situations into victories. Despite City’s infamous 6-1 victory at Old Trafford in the Premier League this season, it was United that took the FA Cup third round fixture at Eastlands in January.
Sir Alex has already labelled next Monday’s match the biggest derby during his 25 year reign in charge of United, claiming that United’s draw with Everton has handed City the initiative. Meanwhile, Mancini has sought to play down expectations at Eastlands by stating that United has already won the Premier League.
But what do you think will be the result in Monday’s derby?
“A man’s work is in danger of deteriorating,” said the eminent American playwright Eugene O’Neill, “when he thinks he has found the one best formula for doing it.”
There are, perhaps, no more apt words for a Manchester United side that believed it had set upon the canon of victory at Old Trafford on Sunday. For what could explain the stupefying casualness with which Sir Alex Ferguson’s med approached the tie with Everton, but for the assumption that the game was already afoot.
Indeed, it took barely two minutes for the restless Old Trafford crowd to conclude that something was amiss in Ferguson’s men. Call it complacency – that most clichéd of football phrases – or over confidence, but not for the first time this season United’s performance lacked all sense of intensity and concentration when those were patently the abiding virtues required.
With just three games remaining in the Premier League season, including the now season-defining visit to Eastlands on Monday week, the sense of antipathy with which United defended in the 4-4 draw against Everton sent the Old Trafford crowd home questioning whether the Reds’ destiny is in their own hands this season.
After all, defeat to City on 30 April will leave Roberto Mancini’s Blues ahead of United on goal difference, with the Reds still to face high-flying Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on the final day of the season.
Given the sides relative form United supporters can no longer count on the Reds securing a result in eight days time; the two points lost against Everton may yet prove to be every bit as calamitous as many fans fear.
“Throwaway,” Ferguson called his team’s performance, after the Scot witnessed some of the most slipshod defending seen this season – and that includes the Derby-day defeat to City last September.
“It was a throwaway, an absolute giveaway,” said a stunned Ferguson.
“We just needed to see the game out and it was a travesty because some of our football was fantastic. The goals we scored were great goals. To give away four goals at Old Trafford in a home game like that which was so important to us is unbelievable. I can’t believe it.
“We’ve created our goals with really good football but I think they got their goals easily. Rooney and Welbeck were a real threat to Everton today, their combination play and understanding of each other was terrific. They should have got more out of the game than they did.
“Defensive lapses have cost us. In previous matches recently we’ve actually defended very well. But this was a bad performance defensively. It was a real blip for us today to get a performance like that. I think the goals we conceded were soft goals.”
Not for the first time the 70-year-old Scot called for a response from his men. Nor for the first time will Ferguson be given pause for thought about his players hunger and quality.
Yet, shockingly, it was some of the manager’s most trusted lieutenants who let him down on Sunday. In midfield it was Michael Carrick, outstanding all season, and veteran Paul Scholes, who repeatedly gifted Everton possession and with it impetus.
Everton’s tactic of hustling the 37-year-old, and his passive midfield team-mate, was a decision both obvious to the observer, and superbly executed.
But it was in defence where United’s outrecuidance shone through. Northern Irishman Jonny Evans, who has been truly superb in a career defining campaign, was at least partially culpable in three Everton goals.
Praised by Ferguson as the “best central defender in the country” this week, Evans lost Marouane Fellaini for Everton’s second, criminally moved away from his defensive zone for the third, and then was all too easily out-maneuvered, once again, by the Belgian for the Toffees’ final equaliser.
Evans was certainly not alone though, with both United full-backs – Patrice Evra and Rafael da Silva – guilty of too easily allowing crosses to come in from the flanks, while the Brazilian made the naïve mistake of following his defensive colleague Evans for Everton’s fourth.
While there is no alternative to Evra at Eastlands next week, Rafael – who has been in fine form during the run in – may be sacrificed for the more defense-minded Chris Smalling for the crunch match with City.
After all, City need the win, while United must simply fight the fight as if it is the final of their careers; a response of unprecedented proportions.
“We’ve given City the initiative, there’s no question about that,” added Ferguson, who is seeking his 13th Premier League title.
“It makes the game at the Etihad Stadium a really important game now. It makes it the title decider really. We’ve given ourselves a real task at the Etihad. We’ll go there only three points ahead.
“We make it hard for ourselves but we have to go there knowing we’re capable of getting a result. We need to get a result now at the Etihad, there’s no question about that. There’s no reason why we can’t do that. There’s been an expectancy from City that this could be their decider. But it’s our decider too.
“There’ll be a reaction from us obviously. There’s no question about that. A derby game next Monday against City would always have been a derby game of the highest proportions.”
United cannot guarantee results against Swansea City at Old Trafford and Sunderland – not with the Reds having taken just four points from games with Wigan Athletic, Aston Villa, and Everton – but defeat to City would surely be momentous.
But at least there will be recognition from Ferguson’s players that they have one final chance this season; an opportunity on Monday week to wrest the initiative away from a City side that has hit form just in time this season.
In that there should be both anger and genuine fire from United’s stars – youthful and veteran – in whom Ferguson has placed so much faith during an époque of comparative parsimony from the boardroom. If the Scot’s men cannot respond to this latest self-inflicted wound then even the most partizan United supporter will concede that a 20th domestic title has not been earned.
“There is anger from the players, of course, because we wanted to win. We’re disappointed to lose four goals. But that’s football. It can happen sometimes,” Portuguese winger Nani told MUTV.
“The concentration was not the best in the last few minutes – that’s why they were able to create chances and score goals. We had a lot of possession and played some fantastic football in attack. But we conceded too many goals and we’re not happy about that.
“We have to keep believing in our qualities because we still have a great opportunity to win the title. It’s a huge game [at City] – there will be a fantastic atmosphere there. It will be a difficult game, but if you want to win the league you cannot think about the atmosphere or the opponents, we must just think about the way we play and try to win the game.”
Meanwhile, Ferguson is likely to string five across midfield at Eastlands, with star striker Wayne Rooney – who’s brace against his old employers were the 32nd and 33rd strikes of a productive season – either dropping deep to augment midfield, or ploughing a lone furrow up front.
And there will be little surprise if the Scot deploys his favoured ‘European’ tactics of containment first, and entertainment second. If nobel prize-winning playwright O’Neill, ever the arch realist, was alive he might well concur.
United supporters will welcome a point in lieu of free-flowing football, of course. What nobody will countenance is another bout of conceit.
There was a fleeting moment of guilty pleasure just prior to 6pm on Sunday night. The pleasure as Mario Balotelli finally, deservedly, saw red and Manchester City’s title bid evaporated at the Emirates. Guilt as a young City fan broke down in tears, live on national television. Inconsolable heart-break played out for all to see in its humiliating indignity.
Oh no. That’s right. It was, of course, pure joy. Every last moment.
Not least because of the £210 million spent over the past two summers under Roberto Mancini’s management; each moment of presumptuous crowing last autumn; and every last reference to United’s apparent demise. “This City is ours,” they cried. Not yet it isn’t.
City’s defeat was all the more fun for the spineless manner in which the Blues caved against Arsenal. In a match Mancini’s men absolutely had to win, coming after United’s victory earlier on Sunday, City was fortunate to escape north London without suffering a severe hiding, so abject was the side’s display.
Yet, if City’s demise has brought joy to United fans, who can now prepare to celebrate domestic title number 20, what machinations must Mancini’s paymasters in back in Abu Dhabi be planning? Half-a-billion pounds investment has earned, if not the title, then a dignified campaign. This has been anything but.
On the pitch City’s autumn form, which brought a string of eye-catching wins – not least that match – disappeared as the year turned. That Mancini’s side transmogrified from the ‘next Barcelona’, to a side that cannot win on the road, and whose collective spirit is broken, can do little else but shock. Not least when placed in stark relief with a United side that has powered to 11 wins in the past 12 Premier League fixtures.
Moreover, while Mancini’s performance is judged predominantly by results, it is off-the-field events that have largely shaped City’s season. These are events in which Mancini is highly culpable.
Carlos Tevez’ refusal to
play warm-up against Bayern Munich in last September precipitated a break down in team unity that has only been magnified by Mario Balotelli’s irresponsible behaviour. Far from the lovable rogue of a thousand articles, the Italian has proven to be little more than a petulant thug with an overbearing sense of entitlement. From training ground fights with Micah Richards and Jerome Boateng, to the disgraceful studs-up challenge on Alex Song at the Emirate.
Mancini may not be the cause of his players’ errant behaviour, but he is certainly responsible. That is, after all, management in a very literal sense. And as a senior City executive – “the most important employee” as Sir Alex might put it – so too comes accountability.
The Italian has shown little to date. Only now when the desperation of his team’s situation is in full bloom has Mancini rounded on Balotelli, claiming that the young striker may never play for the club again. After a similar statement about Tevez, the coach has no credibility left in the bank.
“I like him as a guy and a player,” said Mancini of Balotelli, who signed from Inter Milan for £24m.
“He is not a bad guy and a fantastic player but I’m very sorry for him as he continues to lose his talent and his quality. I don’t have any words for his behaviour. I hope for him he can understand he is in a bad way for his future and I really hope that he can change his behaviour in the future.
“He will probably not play in the next six games. I need to be sure I always have 11 players on the pitch and with Mario this is a big risk. Mario made a mistake and I hope for him – not me – that he can change. He clearly created a big problem, but he has also scored important goals for us this season. He needs to change his behaviour if he wants to continue to play.”
Yet, it is almost unimaginable that Ferguson would have tolerated Balotelli’s behaviour, no matter how talented the Italian. Ravel Morrison will attest to that. So too will a string of former United players who failed to conform to Ferguson’s demand for a unified front.
How Sir Alex must have enjoyed the campaign, despite European failure. The Scot, often at his obdurate worst when discussing the club’s financial situation, has nevertheless taken criticism of his squad’s quality as a personal affront. It has proven to be a key tenet of United’s season.
Many an assessment of Ferguson’s squad is legitimate; structural weaknesses in midfield and defence have been exposed at times this season. Not least in Europe, where the Reds suffered two humiliating campaigns. But Ferguson has forged a side that is, to invoke the old cliché, greater than the sum of its parts. Certainly one whose unity is admirable.
No wonder Ferguson was so sharp in his assessment of City’s public division after Balotelli and Aleksander Kolarov squared up during last weekend’s draw between the Blues and Sunderland.
“I wouldn’t allow it but it can happen at moments in a game,” said the United manager on Friday.
“Peter Schmeichel used to have a go at Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister and they’d give it back. Roy Keane used to do it. There’s a difference, though, a distinction there. The general demeanour of a team is more important. The general atmosphere when a team scores a goal. That’s how you judge it. You need unity if a team is going to win the league.
“Teams are about unity – we have got experience of that. Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs can ensure that’s the case. Young players in the dressing room can look at how they have lasted so long – they are great examples. We take unity for granted here. We expect it – but it doesn’t happen everywhere.
“The unity and spirit you get when players stay together is now coming through,” added Ferguson, who took his side on a three day golfing break to Scotland before United’s victory over Fulham last week. “That trip to St Andrews was fantastic.”
How Mancini could learn something from Sir Alex’ ability to forge a group. The Italian’s brusque style, in contrast to his laid-back public demeanour, has seemingly served only to create tensions among a group of players brought together primarily for financial gain.
Ferguson is often painted as a bruiser, unleashing the hairdryer at the slightest provocation. Yet, there is unlikely to be a United player unwilling to lay everything on the line for the cause this season. Mancini cannot make that claim, which is an assessment that if also concluded in Abu Dhabi, may yet lead to the Italian’s demise.
And despite the frustrations of a campaign that has often overwhelmed, United will come out with a 20th domestic title. Far from the greatest team to don United’s red this may be, but beating the most expensively assembled team in the history of English football is no little feat.
In that there is much joy for United fans, with not a hint of guilt.
“I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.”
Julius Caesar (III, i, 60 – 62)
There is, of course, more than one reason to moderate any temptation to engage in Caesar’s hubris this spring, despite Manchester United’s increasingly powerful position in the Premier League title race. With just seven games remaining United lies five points clear of crosstown rivals Manchester City. Moreover, United can look forward to a series of fixtures – the derby at Eastlands aside – against teams in the lower reaches of the league.
Indeed, upcoming games against Queens Park Rangers, Wigan Athletic, Aston Villa and Everton, before the derby, should on current form at least, bring United 12 points. And if Sir Alex Ferguson’s men achieve that minor feat, the Reds can win the Premier League title, or will have already, at Eastlands on 30 April.
Confidence, perhaps, but many fans will ask the simple question: why not? After all, this is a relentless United side that is powering towards a 20th domestic title, seemingly unwilling to countenance its own limitations in pursuit of points and glory.
There have surely been far better United sides than this – at least three under Ferguson’s watch at Old Trafford over the past 25 years – but few were more determined. This is a trait of character demonstrated amply during the Reds’ 10 wins in the past 11 domestic fixtures since humiliating defeat at Newcastle United in January. What a turnaround it has been.
The weekend fixture against QPR is followed rapidly by the short trip to Wigan next week – two games that United expect to win. Ferguson will demand no less. And with City facing in-form Arsenal at the Emirates on Sunday, Reds need no conceit to foresee a title-winning position emerging over the next few days.
Yet, while confidence in the stands is now at a season’s high, few United players will be anything other than professional in the pursuit of this title. This, despite the wild fist-pumping on-pitch celebrations that 7,000 traveling Reds witnessed at Ewood Park on Monday night.
“[The celebrations at Blackburn] were blown out of all proportion,” veteran defender Rio Ferdinand told ManUtd.com on Wednesday.
“Since I have been at the club, for the last 10 years, it has been a hard place to go. We have not had good results there and we wanted to put that right and make sure we got a good result.
“We are in the position we would like to be in at this stage of the season but it is not over, and I don’t think it is a time that says we won the league. Those celebrations weren’t because we thought it was over, it was because we got a good result at a place where, a couple of years ago, they helped stop us winning the league. So it was nice to get one back over them.”
But it is not solely United’s form that has fans counting the points before they are secured, to bastardise an old expression. Over at Eastlands the pressure, building for weeks while Ferguson’s side continued winning, seems to have finally told, with club official Patrick Vieira making two cack-handed attempts at engaging in media-friendly ‘mind games’ over the past fortnight.
Then, over in Abu Dhabi, an ill-advised mass-media briefing this week can only have piled more pressure on Roberto Mancini, with the word loud and clear – in three national newspapers – that the Italian’s job is dependant not solely on a title-winning conclusion to the campaign, but his ability to reign in the disparate and volatile factions at Eastlands. Good luck with that one, Roberto.
Meanwhile, on the pitch City has dropped points at Stoke City and then again, at home, to Sunderland last weekend. How different it is to the autumn, when press and, indeed, City fans proclaimed the title heading to Eastlands, fait accompli.
Not so. Mancini is now feeling the strain, and with the errant striker Mario Ballotelli doing his best to undermine his manager’s every move, there is a genuine risk of City’s title challenge blowing up in spectacular style. Arsenal is more than capable of ended the race as a contest by 6pm Sunday.
Even if Arsène Wenger’s north Londoners do not inflict catastrophic defeat on City, three away fixtures in the next four before the derby ensure no easy points for a Blues side that has become shot-shy on the road this season.
That level of ostentation is certainly a dangerous outlook for United – players and fans alike – but, even so, its bedfellow schadenfreude has certainly raised its head from the parapet this week. This is a run-in fans are enjoying, even if Ferdinand will have none of it.
“There is still a lot of football to be played between now and the end of the season, when the trophies are handed out,” insists Ferdinand.
“We have to make sure we apply ourselves in the right way for every game. If we do that, put in the performances and get the results we want, we will hopefully be lifting the trophy at the end of the season. We know it can change very quickly as well, from being on a great run to having a dip. We have been there before.
“The only thing on our minds is to keep winning each game and not look beyond that. It is a cliché and it is boring, but that is the way it is. It is quite simple. Black and white. The next game is the most important one. You just have to keep ticking off the fixtures and winning games.”
Ferdinand, potentially in his final season with the club, could say little else. Certainly, there should be no repeat of United’s victory at Norwich that came so late and smacked, dare one say it, of complacency. After all, Ferguson’s side could still affect the title race negatively from here on in. In the old cliché, it is United’s to lose.
Few expect that now though – the Ides of March inflicted its damage firmly on City. And as Cesear might once have said, supporters’ confidence in the final outcome is only hubris if United fail.
There is a strange breed of football fan; you know the type, lurking in the nether reaches of cyberspace, conspiracy theorising to a fever pitch of mouth-frothing, self-aggrandising, irrational frenzy. Social media has magnified, even exacerbated the phenomenon, of course, but it has always existed in one form or another. The pub bore, cave-dwelling mouth breathers, for whom every poor refereeing decision – every break of ill fortune – is an international conspiracy of smoking-gun, grassy-knoll inhabiting, Jack Kennedyesque proportions.
This, football-loving members of the human race, have come to understand, and even joyfully mock at times. But when the cult of paranoia stretches from the terraces, through the dugout, and up into the boardroom it is fair to assess that this season’s title run-in has nerves more on edge than usual. Pressure has hit home for some. Hard.
And so to Manchester City’s ‘Football Development Executive’, former French international and Arsenal player, Patrick Vieira, who fresh from labelling Paul Scholes’ hugely successful return to Manchester United as “desperate”, to a predictable Sir Alex Ferguson ear-bashing, has been at it again this week, claiming a conspiracy of officialdom to benefit the Reds. It was, no doubt, music to complot-loving Blues’ ears throughout Stockport, Manchester, nay the World.
Vieira’s assertion on Wednesday that United benefit not only from favourable referee decisions, but that it is widely understood machination of the game, is of course as laughably inaccurate as the Frenchman’s previous musing on Scholes.
Accuracy is not the point though, not when the chance to build influence through a media all to keen to wave the flag of ‘mind games’ presents itself. The headlines alone tell that particular tale, while Vieira’s assertion is one long-held in folk-lore, with no basis in evidential proof.
“When United play at home, they may get some advantage that some other teams do not get,” Vieira told BBC Sport reporter Dan Roan.
“I think when you go to United, Madrid, Barcelona, or Milan, when the referees referee these kind of games, it’s always difficult to go against these kind of teams. This is the way it is. It’s something the teams who are used to winning get all the time, so we need to win games so we may have this kind of advantage in the future.”
Vieira followed up his interview with a spectacularly inept attempt to back-track. ‘Message delivered captain Vieira, now lets see if plausible deniability kicks in!’ It didn’t. Indeed, feigning mock indignity Vieira, through the safety of a club statement, blamed the Beeb’s journalist for the widespread headlines.
“I am very angry with Dan Roan. I feel he has misrepresented me,” Vieira told City’s official club website.
“I made it clear in the interview twice that I wanted to avoid criticising United and even stated that I didn’t watch the United game against Fulham and had not seen the incident to which the reporter referred.
“That part of the interview was ignored and my comments were taken completely out of context. I called the reporter twice to ask for a retraction and an apology which has not come. I feel Dan Roan and the BBC have shown a complete lack of respect for me, the ‘Football Against Hunger’ charity and Manchester City Football Club.”
Context may well be king, but Vieira is certainly wise enough to understand that if a question is asked, on a premise with which you disagree, don’t answer it; a sermon Sir Alex has preached for many a campaign. No surprise then that Sir Alex offered little sympathy for Vieira’s position, especially after the Scot had protested so loudly about a perceived penalty area handball not given his side’s way in Monday night’s game against Fulham at Old Trafford.
“I think we could have had a penalty on Monday night,” said Ferguson on Thursday.
“But you don’t often get these ones when a wide player has crossed the ball and the player almost caught the ball between his arm and his body. We could have got a penalty but I wouldn’t have expected one to be honest with you. I think that from the referee’s position I could see why the referee didn’t give one when Danny Murphy was brought down because the ball was moved to the angle as Michael Carrick challenged him.
“But then City could have had a penalty kick against them at Stoke, as everyone saw, with Gareth Barry (challenge on Glenn Whelan). So you get breaks here and there. Every club gets good breaks, they get bad breaks that even themselves out over a season and that will never change. We’ve had some terrible decisions at Old Trafford, when Newcastle got a penalty kick. Tottenham could claim the same when Balotelli wasn’t sent off and ended up scoring the winning goal (in City’s 3-2 win).
“I think you maybe have a point that the smaller clubs feel that way. Someone said that to me some years ago that United always get penalty kicks at Old Trafford but you go back through the 25 years I’ve been here, it’s only averaged three a year. You can’t say that’s a lot when we’re attacking teams every minute of the day.”
Indeed, Ferguson surely has a point in addressing City’s ‘small club’ persecuted mentality, epitomised in Vieira’s rant. The former Arsenal man’s position, not reported inaccurately, is one of paranoia that he would never have stooped too as a player; at least not until Vieira pitched up at Eastlands. It will certainly not be taken seriously in any part of Manchester beyond the reaches of the Etihad Campus.
Moreover, Vieira’s continued focus on United begs the question – just how much pressure are those at Eastland’s now feeling? Certainly, the contrast between Ferguson’s relaxed demeanour on Thursday, and Roberto Mancini’s permanent rabbit-in-the-headlights expression, is stark.
There is, it seems, a fine line between chip-on-the-shoulder cockiness of early season victories, and the gritty reality of a Premier League run-in. Not that the distinction will be understood by keyboard warriors in Blue. Paranoia still runs through it in some parts.
Meanwhile, Ferguson will carry on with a renewed sense of calm, cognisant that he no longer needs to actually take part in the aforementioned ‘mind games’ to win them. Now there’s a conspiracy for those over in M11 to chew on.
When Patrick Vieira, this week, labelled Paul Scholes’ return to Manchester United “desperate,” the former Arsenal midfield struck a chord. After all, Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to re-recruit the 37-year-old midfielder came just months after Scholes had retired, with the player’s admission that his ‘legs had gone’, firmly front-of-mind.
Almost three months after the midfielder’s return and the Manchester City staffer, along with fans of all persuasions, have been left to ponder their mistake. Indeed, so strong have Scholes’ performances been that the veteran has been instrumental in United’s run of eight wins in the past nine Premier League fixtures.
Vieira has a point, though, in raising the question of – for want of another word – the scale of United’s ambition. Classy though Scholes will always be, the 688-game United player would have found little room in Ferguson’s squad had it not been for the lack of funds for new recruits. Or, indeed, injuries to Tom Cleverley, Anderson and Darren Fletcher.
Scholes may have pushed for a return in January, as is now the customary party line, but there are few leading clubs in Europe that would have planned for a major star’s departure by doing, well, absolutely nothing. By the New Year United needed Scholes more than the player needed a return. It is a line that Vieira followed on Wednesday.
“Paul Scholes is a player that I really love and admire. But for him to come back just shows a little bit of weakness in United, because they had to bring a player back who was 37,” said Vieira on Wednesday.
“I think it shows that, in the next few years, it will be really difficult for United to cope with other teams because, with all the respect I have for Scholes, him coming back shows that they don’t have talent in there to replace him.”
What Vieira didn’t count on, of course, is picking a foe as formidable as Ferguson, whose defence both of Scholes and his own transfer policy was always going to be robust. There is rarely any quarter given by the Scot; certainly never when it comes to questions of United’s weaknesses.
Little surprise then that Ferguson chose his Friday press conference to hit back at Vieira and City manager Roberto Mancini. With just nine games to go in the Premier League title race, a relaxed Ferguson is clearly in his element, ready to work the media ‘mind games’ once again.
“If it’s desperation bringing the best midfielder in Britain back for the last 20 years then I think we can accept that,” said Ferguson.
“I think he (Vieira) was programmed for that. Roberto had a wee dig a couple of weeks back. We’re all going to play our hand that way. There will be plenty of ammunition for that. If you talk about desperation, they played a player the other night (Tevez) who refused to go on the pitch, the manager said he’d never play again and he takes a five-month holiday in Argentina. What is that? Could that come under the description of desperation?”
Indeed, Carlos Tevez’ return to City’s side during Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Chelsea at Eastlands comes at a delicate time in the race, with United having recently taken the lead the Blues recently held by five points.
Mancini’s willingness not only to countenance the Argentinian striker’s return to the squad, but to play the 28-year-old, says much. After all, here is a player who refused to play for City – or warm up – and then spent an extended unpaid holiday on various golf courses, with the manager loudly proclaiming Tevez would never play for City again.
Pressure does strange things though, and United’s determined erosion of the Blues’ league lead has nerves jangling in east Manchester. Though the Eastland’s crowd departed happy on Wednesday night those fans who bothered to turn up did so after more than a few nervy moments. With Mancini sporting a rabbit-in-the-headlights look in recent weeks the early season bravado has certainly disappeared from Blues both on and off the field-of-play.
So then to Tevez’ return, which may add additional firepower to a goal-shy City side. While the Blues’ home record is impeccable in the league, form on the road has, for some time, threatened to derail Mancini’s attempt to construct a title-winning side.
Yet, the former United striker’s integration back in the Eastland’s fold is unlikely to be universally popular, despite all the right noises. He is, after all, a player who walked away from the cause five months ago.
Moreover, the striker’s return only serves to expose Mancini’s personal weakness; as if the manager is now beholden to his errant star’s wishes. Not long ago Tevez was ostracised, now Mancini, with no little hint of ignominy, publicly praises the striker. It is a large chink in the Italian’s armour that Ferguson is sure to exploit in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, if United does go on to collect a 20th domestic title come May then Scholes will have played an instrumental part in the glory. Few, aside from Ferguson at least, could have predicted just how important the Salford-born midfield would again become to United’s cause. Scholes’ ability to dictate games has shone through in recent weeks, with the flame-haired midfielder repeatedly exceeding a 95 per cent pass completion rate.
“He’s useless,” joked Ferguson of Scholes on Friday.
“What he does is he can dictate the tempo of a match. That experience helps, of course, and he has a terrific football brain which helps him. The amazing thing is he made the decision he made at the time simply because he didn’t want to play 25 games. He wanted to play 50 games, that’s the reason he wanted to retire. I said to him at the time, you can play 25 games no problem but he didn’t want that. He felt he didn’t have enough appreciation but what I was trying to do was look at it sensibly and what you can get out of a 37 year-old.”
Change is always round the corner though. In the coming summer Mancini will likely, and finally, rid himself of the Tevez problem, signing an expensive replacement in the Argentinian’s stead. Menwhile, Ferguson will seek to sign Scholes on for another season in the knowledge that United will not – cannot some might add – replace the veteran with a player of equal quality in the market.
The contrast is stark even if the motivation behind both players return is from a similar concomitance. Ferguson, hamstrung by his paymasters, and Mancini on the precipice of failure, has each sought to gain one final advantage this season. Neither was a move born of certainty.
And with nine games to go, it is not long before either Ferguson or Mancini is proven correct. History and 12 Premier League titles suggest where fans should put their hard-earned money; it is a lesson Vieira would do well to learn.
Schadenfreude is a dangerous sport, not least when it comes to the ebb and flow of a Premier League title race. But there was undoubtedly a collective chuckle from the Red half of Manchester on Sunday at the delicious sight of a Manchester City fan breaking down in tears. Was it a death in the family that caused such public, and humiliating distress, mooted writer Daniel Harris? Perhaps the outbreak of war, or a death in the family. None of the above your honour; simply the trauma of City falling a goal behind to Swansea in the 11th-to-last match of the campaign.
Thousands of Manchester United fans joined in the fun, readily mocking John Millington, the City supporter, and joyously celebrating the Reds’ return to the top of the Premier League table. It was, or at least seemed to be, a turning point in the campaign. For all City’s wealth, and United’s catastrophic winter injury crisis, here was United taking top spot after beating West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford, while the Blues lost again on the road, this time at Swansea City.
Winning the title isn’t that simple of course, and while the momentum is squarely with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, the single point gap is hardly a royal flush waiting to be called. Indeed, just as City had not won the title in October, despite the Robert Mancini-led outfit storming to a seven point lead, the Reds will be wary to prematurely claim a 20th domestic title with 10 games to go.
Yet, there is undeniably a sense of panic enveloping Eastlands, with Mancini sporting a rabbit-in-the-headlights expression when questioned about his side’s chances of victory come May. United will drop points, surmised the Italian; the unconvincing aside coming barely a day after Mancini called on his players to win all of their remaining Premier League matches.
Worse may come for the Blues, with Mancini’s side facing another five games on the road before the season concludes. After all, the Abu Dhabi-owned outfit has recorded just eight points from a similar number of games away from Eastlands. Banana-skin fixtures against Chelsea in Manchester, Stoke City away and Martin O’Neil’s vibrant Sunderland come before March is out.
By contrast United faces no team inside the top 10 before travelling to meet City in a potentially decisive fixture in east Manchester on 30 April. Decisive, that is, if City is still within touching distances by that point. Indeed, the business-like manner in which United is now racking up the points, despite all the injuries, lack of squad depth, and a calamitous European campaign, says much for the mood at Old Trafford.
“It was a great performance,” said Sir Alex of United’s comfortable victory over West Brom.
“We took a bit of time to get the rhythm of the game right but once we got that we played some exciting stuff and some really good football. We could have scored a lot of goals today. If there is a criticism then that is it. But we produced a stern performance; it was determined and there was a great will to win.
“We created a lot of chances and missed them. Fortunately we got the second goal and we still missed chances after that, but we kept our drive for the whole game, which was good. The players didn’t stop; they tried to score from every attacking situation.”
Profligacy could still cost the Reds, as could complacency of the kind displayed at Norwich City a fortnight ago. Change comes in a heartbeat, and United’s weekend fixture against Wolverhampton Wanderers, and then City’s three days later versus Chelsea, could bring yet another swing.
Such is momentum’s importance that Ferguson is unlikely to disrupt United’s domestic flow on Thursday when the Reds meet Athletic Club in Bilbao. United’s tie at Wolves ensures that supporters can expect a fringe and reserve squad to face the excellent Basque outfit, despite any claims that Ferguson’s side can turn the tie around.
At this point the consequences of fielding a full-strength side and still potentially losing, outweigh any benefits victory brings. After all, elimination from the Champions League, and defeats to Athletic and Ajax in UEFA’s second string competition, have brought no discernible negative reaction domestically.
Meanwhile, City face Sporting in Manchester followed by the home clash with managerless Chelsea. City’s home form is imperious; Chelsea’s record on the road has brought four defeats. The odds on two home victories are high, but such is the battering City’s confidence has taken that a reversal in either game will no bring surprise.
Mancini’s rhetoric is adding little more than doubt to the equation. It is as if the Italian believes no longer in his side, or his ability to turn it around. The excuses are flowing quickly now, in stark contrast to Ferguson’s confidence. Despite two Serie A titles, Mancini is a relative novice in England, and this time there is no Calciopoli to aid the former Sampdoria striker’s managerial progress.
“There are 10 games to go, and it’s important we start to score and win again,” said Mancini after City’s 1-0 loss in Wales.
“Some players may be tired after seven months of the season, but I think we have a lot of energy to get back to the top. It all depends on us; we have 10 games and anything could happen. We have to be strong, when you’re at the top it’s easy, when you’re not you have to be strong. I don’t think we deserved another result like this, but now we can do nothing.”
By contrast Ferguson exuded experienced calm after United’s routine win at Old Trafford; a man, more than 25 years into United job, who lives for these moments. While much of the Scot’s side exhibits the callow enthusiasm of youth, a core of Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney are sure to start United’s biggest games from here on in. It is a quintet in which Ferguson trusts.
United’s focus and City’s troubles is a truism that will resonate strongly at Eastlands, where pressure has been building since Christmas.
“We felt if we came through those tough away fixtures [during the winter] we would be setting ourselves up for the rest of the season,” added winger Ashley Young.
“We have managed to do that and now our home form is key. A lot of people might not have thought we would be in front of City but we have that belief. As long as we are winning our games, the pressure is on them.”
So much that the returning carpetbagger Carlos Tevez will be welcomed back into the first team with open arms when the 28-year-old is match fit. After Mancini so publicly defenestrated the Argentinian any move to welcome Tevez back is little more than an act of desperation, critics will correctly add.
Meanwhile, Ferguson is brimming with confidence; a man who has once again confounded the critics and supporters by taking a thin United squad further, domestically at least, than many has predicted.
“We have that experience and it does help,” concluded the United boss.
“We won’t get nervous. Against West Brom we kept playing our football even at 1-0 when the fans were thinking ‘just get us a second’. It didn’t concern the players one bit. It is good to see that kind of temperament.”
Over at Eastlands the crying supporter has rapidly become a poster boy for the moment. Millington denied his public distress – he could do little else. But the fan, much like Mancini, will have woken this morning with a significant dent to both pride and confidence.
One down, 11 to go in what could become one of the closest Premier League title races in recent years. Manchester United’s 3-1 victory at White Hart Lane on Sunday was not without good fortune, but three points will increase the pressure Roberto Mancini’s side. After all, rivals will note that United’s trip to Manchester City in April aside, Sir Alex Ferguson’s team faces 10 eminently winnable games in the Premier League.
Victory against Tottenham Hotspur came despite the home side enjoying more possession, territory and shots at goal, although media summary of the hosts ‘dominating’ the match in north London is entirely not borne out in the game’s statistics.
That said, this was one of the few occasions that United was out-passed this season, with the Spurs recording more than 500 passes in north London. The hosts also attempted three times as many shots at goal, although only six of 18 found the target – a telling statistic on a day when United converted 40 per cent of chances created by the visitors.
But those are mere details. The big picture – another three points for United in a hugely difficult away fixture – is far more important.
“It’s an entirely unbelievable result,” admitted Ferguson.
“I would say that’s our hardest away game of the season. They’d only lost one game; it was their first home game, I think, against City, when they had a few injury problems. That was the magnitude of our challenge today. And, in fairness, the first half we were never at the races. It was a great performance by Tottenham and maybe we got our tactics wrong in the first half.
“In the second half we improved, we told them at half-time to get pushed up on their back four and not let them build up their play. After the second goal we played very well. We had a bit of luck, and we scored right on half-time with our first shot on goal.
“Tottenham are a very good team and this is only their second defeat at home since the start of the season. It was a massive result.”
Indeed, the advantage may now just be with United, despite City’s narrow Premier League lead. After all, with just 11 games to go United now play just one of the present top six – City – and five of the bottom half-dozen. By contrast, the Blues face four of the top six, against just two of those near the foot of the table. City retains a two point lead and a healthy goal difference advantage, but the fixture list suggests this is anybody’s game.
It’s this situation that had Ferguson confidently predicting last week that United’s trip to Eastlands on 30 April is set up nicely as the clichéd title decider. Nothing about the result at White Hart Lane will change the legendary Scot’s viewpoint.
“We showed a determination to get the result,” Ferguson added.
“We’ve played all the big teams since January, it was a really busy spell and we’ve come through that and played well in most of the games We know exactly what we have to do. You can drop surprise points and I think both sides will, but the important thing is to drop less points than our opponents. A battling performance today tells you that we are up for it.”
United faces a resurgent West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford next, followed by a trip to the Midlands to face the sinking ship Wolverhampton Wanderers. The trip to City aside, Ferguson will look only to the final day match with Sunderland at the Stadium of Light as one where United could genuinely drops points.
Meanwhile, the Blues travel to Swansea City next weekend and then face managerless Chelsea at Eastlands in a fortnight. With the mutinous Chelsea dressing room having scored victory over yet another post-José Mourinho manager, the west Londoners may well now receive the ‘bump’ Roman Abramovich is seeking.
But it is to City’s trip to Arsenal that all eyes will now turn. Indeed, Arsène Wenger’s men have gone from hopeless to players in a matter of weeks. Should Robin van Persie remain fit, Mancini will know that points could be dropped at the Emirates.
Given the fixture programme the Eastlands derby could well see United having already taken over at the head of the Premier League table. Ferguson’s men may have pulled more than one rabbit out of the hat recently, but the Scot will be disappointed if United don’t put very close to maximum points on the board over the next eight games.
After all, the injury crisis that engulfed United during the winter is coming to an end, with only long-term absentees Darren Fletcher and Nemanja Vidić set to miss the run-in. Chris Smalling and Tom Cleverley will return in the coming week, while Michael Owen is available for selection and Anderson made the bench for United’s win at Tottenham.
Pressure is building though – a situation few of Mancini’s men have experienced, and certainly not as a group. Mancini, officially at least, has three Serie A titles. The first coming as Juventus was stripped of Serie A during Calciopoli, the next two with the Old Lady in Serie B. How the Italian will react during the presssure, drama and intensity of a Premier League run-in is, as yet, unknown.
Meanwhile, seven of Mancini’s players have won championships over the years: former Arsenal men Samir Nasri, Gaël Clichy, and Kolo Touré, together with Edin Džeko, Yaya Touré, Carlos Tévez and Nigel de Jong. But it is hard to see where Tévez or Kolo will feature during the run-in, while Nasri, Džeko and de Jong have spent more time on the bench than pitch this season. In truth, for Mancini’s most important players this is a first.
There will be swings over the next 11 games of course, but Ferguson will now be content with United’s position. That says much. For all City’s wealth, nothing buys the Scot’s experience.
“We’ve got experience. We won’t get nervous, we’re enjoying it,” Ferguson added. And on a day when United secured three points when frequently under the kosh, the Reds’ luck may be turning as well.
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Sir Alex Ferguson’s side heads into the weekend fixture with Tottenham Hotspur still chasing Manchester City at the head of the Premier League But, with Sunday’s game one of two remaining that may swing the title either side of Manchester, the 70-year-old manager is placing faith in his squad’s experience and hunger with 12 games to go.
Spurs, coming off the back of a 5-2 hiding by local rivals Arsenal, will be keen to restore momentum in the club’s challenge for Champions League qualification this season. It makes both for the most important United-Spurs clash of recent seasons and, potentially, a key moment in this campaign’s title race.
Indeed, with City to face both Arsenal and Chelsea before the season closes in May, a United victory at White Hart Lane this coming weekend should set up the title race for a decisive clash between the Manchester clubs at Eastlands in late April.
“It’s going to be a massive game,” Ferguson told Inside United of the Sunday afternoon clash with Harry Redknapp’s outfit.
“If we can survive that one, then we’ll have a big, big chance of winning the league. Yes, I would take [being two points behind City]. I would rather go there on level points. But if we could go there within striking distance of being top of the league, I’d take it.”
Ferguson can have greater confidence in the Reds’ title challenge now that an injury crisis, which at times has stretched to 11 personnel this season, has waned. United should travel to north London with Wayne Rooney, who is still recovering from a throat infection, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones all fit. Meanwhile, Antonio Valencia may feature at White Hart Lane, while Tom Cleverley’s ankle injury is far less serious that first feared.
“I should have more players available than I’ve had in the last few weeks because we’ve had a terrible spell of injuries,” added Ferguson.
“But we’ve done the right thing in the treatment of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, we’ve given them a break. They are young players and they had been carrying little strains for weeks. Then all of a sudden it hits them, and we had to take stock, to get them back. We’ve given them a fair break and they’re fresh now.”
While youngsters Smalling and Jones hunt for the second and first titles of fledgling careers, Ferguson is also mindful of the vast experience available in his squad. Weekend goalscorers Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are sure to play key roles during the run in, while striker Rooney is coming to the close of an eighth campaign as a United player. No longer the new kid, Rooney is a both a senior pro at the club and key to United’s success – or failure – in the coming months.
“Wayne Rooney’s been with us for nearly eight years now and he’s won a few championship medals,” Sir Alex adds.
“He knows what it takes to win it. When he and Cristiano Ronaldo first came to the club, it was all new to them – the demands of winning the league here. I think the aim for all the players is to try and get to four or five league medals, and then they’ll have great experience of how to handle the title race.”
At the other end of that scale Ferguson is likely to place an emphasis on United-trained youngsters including Cleverley and Danny Welbeck during the run-in. While Cleverley has missed much of the campaign with injury, Welbeck has proven a key weapon in United’s title defence. The England international has not only forced his way into Ferguson’s team, but ahead of Javier Hernández in the pecking order.
“I’m so hungry,” striker Welbeck told ManUtd.com.
“I was just talking about it before in the canteen with Tom Cleverley. Clevz was biting his fork as well as his food and growling. We both want it so much. I don’t think anybody understands how hungry we are for this title. We want to fulfil our dreams, win the title and keep winning and keep winning. There’s nothing going to stop us.”
How typical of Ferguson to successfully integrate experience and youth into a winning combination. Indeed, in a campaign where United has been struck low by injury and, at times, lack of quality together with infuriating complacency, there is little surprise Ferguson is happy with his side’s current position. City should be out of sight by now given the club’s resources and United’s comparative limitations.
Yet, before any trophies are lifted, corks popped or backs slapped, the Reds must negotiate Spurs at White Hart Lane on Sunday afternoon. It is a fixture from which United normally emerges triumphant. In the previous 10 visits to the lane Ferguson’s side has won seven times. Spurs have not beaten United in London since a 3-1 victory in 2001.
Moreover, with Redknapp’s focus on the England job his players’ have lost a little momentum in recent weeks. Spurs’ two wins in the past five fixtures is not the record of potential champions. Whether the Londoners can respond to thumping defeat last weekend is unknown. Without the side’s leader Scott Parker the task against United will surely be that much more difficult.
By contrast, there is no doubt Ferguson’s players have the bit between the teeth.
The bookies will tell you today that Manchester City is now odds-on for the Premier League title after recording an injury time win over Tottenham Hotspur at Eastlands on Sunday afternoon. The win, together with Manchester United’s away victory at Arsenal, leaves City three points clear with 16 games to go. But even if one of the Blues’ toughest remaining fixtures is now out-of-the-way, with 100 per cent home record still intact, the contrasting manner of the two Manchester clubs’ victories says much for how the prevailing wind may now be blowing in the Premier League.
Indeed, City manager Roberto Mancini was thankful for some overly generous refereeing decisions, and Spurs’ inability to finish chances, for the 3-2 victory in east Manchester. Meanwhile, United traveled south to face an Arsenal side that had been the country’s in-form outfit until recent defeats to Fulham and Swansea City. The Reds emerged with a stunning victory in the capital.
City’s plentiful resources, together with United’s ongoing – and lengthening – injury list dictates that Mancini’s side remains logical favourites for the title. But United’s manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, and his players emerged from the Arsenal encounter with confidence sky-high, believing that the ‘noisy neighbours’ can be reeled in before the season is out.
“It was important to win after City had won their game, but the manner in which we won was the more pleasing thing for me,” admitted Ferguson.
“I think we won in the right way – we played really adventurous football, we were positive and had great belief in ourselves. I’m delighted to see that at this important time in the season. What we need to do is stay on City’s coat-tails. Football is a funny game. The game at City today tells you things can happen and there will be changes [before the end of the season]. We’ve just got to stay on their coat-tails.
Should United stay in touch, both sides will look to the derby on 28 April at Eastlands as a potentially title deciding encounter.
In the meantime, United dominated against Arsenal for long periods, although the Londoners’ attacking response after half-time almost gained Arsène Wenger’s men a result at the Emirates. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s youthful verve and Robin van Persie’s predatory finishing brought the Gunners back into the game. For a moment, with defeat a real possibility, United stared at the precipice. The ensuing six point gap, had Arsenal won, would surely have handed City the title.
But as the momentum swung back in United’s favour on Sunday afternoon, with Wenger aiding the process by removing Arsenal’s best player in Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Reds’ confidence visibly grew. By the time Danny Welbeck lashed home from Antonio Valencia’s mazy run and cut back, there was no doubt about whether United would leave the Emirates with three points.
Ferguson gambled on an attacking formation, despite so few resources at his disposal, and came up trumps once again. The victory leaves United’s players believing that domestic title number 20 will be lifted at Old Trafford in May.
“I think (our gameplan) was to go straight forward, it makes a lot of pressure on the left-back and the right-back and that’s what we did,” captain Patrice Evra told Sky Sports.
“It was a good performance from the team. I think in the second half there were 15 minutes where Arsenal played very well, but we kept strong and had good shape, and after we scored a nice goal. The most important thing for us was to win. Three points were really important if we want to win the title.
“I always say the league is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. We are still behind City but we have to keep going, keep winning games and I’m really confident in the team because everyone is working really hard and when we play with the United spirit it is difficult to beat us.”
Victory was United’s eighth on the road this season; a record that is five points better than any other team in the division. It is a series all the more remarkable for United’s poor form away from Old Trafford last time out. And the prevailing mood among the United squad now appears to be one of remorseless pursuit, ensuring that each victory brings pressure to bear on the club’s title rivals.
“I think we had the tougher game because it is always more difficult to go away, and we’ve got the three points,” added veteran midfielder Paul Scholes.
“There’s still three months of the season to go and hopefully we’ll be in the right place when the time comes. Obviously City are going well at the minute but we are only three points behind and funny things can happen towards the end of the season. We just have to make sure we look after ourselves and get the right results.”
That goal is not helped by the ongoing injury problems at the club. Long-term absentees Tom Cleverley, Nemanja Vidić, Michael Owen, Darren Fletcher and Fábio da Silva missed the trip south. As did defender Rio Ferdinand, whose back problem has flared up once again. History dictates that the veteran could be out for anything from days to weeks.
Further bad news came during the game when Phil Jones turned over his right ankle. Ferguson confirmed that the £16.5 million former Blackburn Rovers defender will miss “weeks” of the season after damaging ligaments. It could not come at a more inopportune time, although Jones’ injury is hardly surprising given the heavy workload the teenager has faced this season.
Worse still, Michael Carrick played through the second half with a tight hamstring, while Nani did not complete the game after hobbling off with a late ankle problem. The Portuguese winger left London in a protective boot.
Add potential injury to Wayne Rooney into the mix and Ferguson is likely to heavily rotate his team for the FA Cup fixture with Liverpool next weekend. It leaves United to cope, once again, without a plethora of stars. Yet, the ongoing injury problems have seemingly galvanising Ferguson’s squad spirit. Them against us, has become us against the world.
Indeed, injury aside, there were few downsides to victory in London. Ferguson’s team emerged from the Emirates not only with the points, but a genuine sense of momentum in the title race. City may have also won earlier in the day, but Mancini’s side was more than a little fortunate to do so. Add Mario Ballotelli’s inevitable lengthy ban for stamping on Scott Parker’s head, and the Blues could face yet more pressure.
“Soon enough, if we keep ticking these wins then they’ll crumble,” added defender Chris Smalling, who was immense as Jonny Evans’ central defensive partner in London.
“It was a massive win for us. Even at 1-1, we all knew that we really needed to win this game because of what happened earlier, and I think we showed real character.”
It is the very same character that may bring Old Trafford the Premier League trophy come May. Much against the odds and prevailing wisdom.
The darkest horse is often the one sneaking up the rail, unseen until the final bend, only to win by a nose. And to push the horse analogy as far as it will stretch, the Premier League title race is yet to enter the final furlong, but Tottenham Hotspur’s victory over a limp Everton side on Wednesday now has the London side very much on Manchester United’s heels. Indeed, Spurs’ victory brings Harry Redknapp’s in-form side level on points with United, and just three behind Manchester City, with 18 games to go.
Even if Redknapp’s side remains third favourites in an increasingly three-horse race, only the foolhardy will now discount Spurs altogether. After all, while the Londoners face a tough couple of months – hosting United, and visiting City, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea – Redknapp’s men will enjoy nine winnable games to end the season. If the north London side remains in touch of the leaders after the fixture with Chelsea on 9 March, Redknapp’s outfit could well pick up a first title since 1961.
It’s a remarkable turnaround in a season that began poorly amid the acrimony surrounding star midfielder Luka Modrić’s and his potential transfer to Chelsea. Injuries and poor form saw Spurs pick up just X points from the first 10 games.
And now, says Redknapp, the pressure will be on City, with the two sides clashing at Eastlands on 22 January in what could yet be a pivotal tie in the title race.
“The pressure is on Man City [because of] their squad and the money they have been able to spend,” said Redknapp after Spurs’ win over Everton on Wednesday.
“They are expected to be there and win. We are just hanging in there at the moment and playing well. Nothing’s impossible. I wasn’t there but someone said William Gallas came in the other day and said to everyone: ‘Listen, we have a chance here’. You have to keep believing and apart from that I enjoy the way we play. If you don’t enjoy the way we play, then you shouldn’t be watching football.
“We don’t put pressure on the players [but] we are playing well, playing with smiles on our faces. We had a bad start to the season. I’ve been around football clubs long enough to know when there’s a good feeling or a bad feeling. We had bad pre-season, we had problems off the pitch with Luka Modrić and injuries in midfield.
“Then we bring in Scott Parker, who I’d been chasing for months, and Emmanuel Adebayor arrives and Luka gets sorted out and suddenly we look a different team and we’ve not looked back since then.”
The chastening 5-0 defeat to City in August, just hours before United thrashed Arsenal 8-2 at Old Trafford, did not deflate Redknapp’s belief though as Spurs picked up momentum through the Autumn. But with United having beaten the London side 3-0 at Old Trafford earlier this season Redknapp’s side will have to turn around poor results against the division’s leading sides if it is to stay in touch over the next 10 weeks. While the Londoner’s form is outstanding, few supporters will be genuinely shocked if Redknapp’s side drops points against other contenders in the coming weeks.
It is a challenge Redknapp believes his team can meet, especially with Spurs facing no further European commitments this season. Indeed, in Sir Alex Ferguson, Redknapp has an ally in the belief that the London side can pick up the title this season, despite United’s experience and City’s vast sovereign wealth. Insisting that Arsenal and Chelsea are out of the title race, Ferguson claimed that “Tottenham can definitely win it They play the best football in the country and their current form is the best in the country.”
However, genuine doubts surround the size and scope of Spurs’ squad, together with the complete lack of experience in Redknapp’s outfit when it comes to challenging for titles. Injuries to key players including Modrić, together with Bale and in-form Emmanuel Adebayor could scupper the challenge. Roberto Mancini will be grateful that Premier League rules preclude the Togan facing his parent club in a fortnight’s time. Meanwhile, the Italian will be without the Touré brothers and potentially Mario Ballotelli, and David Silva for the clash, each of whom has suffered injury in recent weeks.
The same could be said of United too though, for whom injuries continue to bite. With Paul Scholes back in the squad, Ferguson is unlikely to rush Tom Cleverley back into action, while Anderson is still short of match fitness and Darron Gibson is likely to be sold. In defence captain Nemanja Vidić will not return until next season, meaning that any further injuries to Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans in particular could seriously impact United’s chances.
All of which adds up to a fascinating run-in, shorn for the first time in years of both Arsenal and Chelsea. It is a race in which there is no clear favourite although Mancini’s outfit currently holds a three point lead, and a healthy goal difference advantage.
Yet, just as United threw away points against Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle in recent weeks, so will City and Spurs in the weeks to come. Mancini’s ability to prevent a mini blip – four defeats in eight games – turning into a full-blown crisis will be key to the Blues chances.
For Redknapp, simply maintaining the side’s recent form will be a bonus.
On Sunday, Rant Cast regulars Ed & Paul will be live blogging the FA Cup third round tie with Manchester City at Eastlands. It’s the first time we have done this on United Rant. Join in on the comments section below, email or Tweet Paul – @UtdRantCast and Ed – @unitedrant.
It all kicks off at Eastlands Sunday, 8 January 2012, 1pm GMT. We’ll be with you around 30 minutes before the whistle!
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Magic of the Cup? Manchester United might need it this weekend, as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side heads into the derby as clear underdogs for the first time in many years. The Scot’s side is seeking to repair some of the considerable damage done over the past week after defeats to Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United, which have handed Manchester City the initiative in the Premier League title race. But Sunday’s visit to Eastlands for the FA Cup third round offers potential redemption. City, now odds-on to take the Premier League, will start favourites to repeat last season’s FA Cup semi-final victory.
Ferguson’s efforts to bring home silverware this season are being undermined by a lengthy and persistent injury list, with key defenders Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans still absent for Sunday’s visit to Eastlands. Tom Cleverley, now back in light training, will also miss the game alongside long-term injury victims Nemanja Vidić, Michael Owen, and Fábio da Silva. Ashley Young is unlikely to return for another fortnight, while Rafael da Silva could make the side after being benched for the trip to Newcastle.
Indeed, injuries and home advantage means that City will expect to take the tie, admits Ferguson, with the Scot banking on a cup tie spirit to send the Reds into the fourth round at the old rivals’ expense.
“There are no new injuries from Wednesday so it’s the same squad for Sunday,” confirmed Ferguson.
“There’s no progress really to report. Chris Smalling is the one I’d love to get back but he’s got a really bad bout of tonsillitis. We expect to have him training by Monday. Jonny Evans has still got his calf injury. But there are enough experienced players in the squad to cope with a really difficult tie on Sunday.
“I always say about the FA Cup that we take anyone in a home draw so the advantage is with City, in this respect, in terms of the home draw. But it’s a cup tie, a local derby and anything can happen in these games. I think we’ve been expecting City to do well. They’ve got a strong squad and, apart from Mario Balotelli, all the players are very experienced. So it’s not unexpected where they are now. But they also know we’re right behind them.”
The challenge to City suffered a double blow in the past week with defeats to Blackburn and Newcastle. United had looked set to take the Premier League lead as the season entered its second half. Instead, the focus is now on the Reds poor form and defensive instability. Having shipped three goals in each of the past two games this week, Ferguson knows that he must tighten up a leaky back-four at Eastlands. It is a challenge not aided by so many absentees
Meanwhile, key midfielder Michael Carrick says that the team is banking on its ability to recover quickly from setbacks for the match against City. Carrick is one of many United players not to have won the cup – of the current squad only Darren Fletcher and Ryan Giggs have winners’ medals. It’s a fact that the 30-year-old midfielder is determined to put right.
“We’ve just got to get on with it. We tend to overcome setbacks pretty well here and hopefully we can do the same,” Carrick told ManUtd.com.
“Sunday’s game is a massive game – against our biggest rivals – and we’re looking forward to it. The fixture’s gone to another level from my first two or three derbies. You’ve got to be impressed by City. As well as having some great attacking threats, able to hit you at any time, they’re also a solid unit and hard to break down.
“We want to be playing in the big games, when there’s real pressure and a whole lot at stake. These are the games in which we really test ourselves and in the past, we’ve been really good at finding a way to win. That’s what we’ll be focusing on on Sunday.
“We just want to go through and be challenging to win the competition. A lot of the players here at United, including me, haven’t won the FA Cup and the club hasn’t won it for a number of years. That’s something we want to put right. Okay, with our biggest rivals and our local rivals in front of us on Sunday, it makes the game a whole lot bigger. But on the face of it, we just want to progress and be successful in the competition.”
United’s chances of progressing will depend greatly on how tight Ferguson’s back four remains at Eastlands. Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones suffered a torrid spell at St. James’ Park, with the home side scoring three. It could have been many more. But with Vidić, Evans and Smalling all out, the partnership is likely to resume at Eastlands.
Ferguson may well choose to pack midfield though, hoping to win a battle in which may be missing key Yaya Touré. Although the Ivory Coast international is due to report for the Africa Cup of Nations Ferguson doubt’s whether City manager Roberto Mancini is telling nothing but the truth.
The Scot is likely to deploy Wayne Rooney as a lone forward, with Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Anderson and Park Ji-Sung competing for spots in central midfield. Antonio Valencia, Nani and Danny Wellbeck will compete for the wide positions.
“I am not sure Touré won’t be available for Sunday,” added a suspicious Ferguson.
“He probably will. I don’t know the whole background but apparently, he doesn’t need to meet up until Monday, I read somewhere, which suggests he should be playing on Sunday. All the teams who have African players have never really suffered much. If you check the records, they all seem to sail through it. I don’t think it makes a great impact when you have a squad of players. There are plenty to occupy those positions until they come back.”
Meanwhile, City will also be without forward Mario Ballotelli and defender Kolo Touré, who is due to meet up with the Ivory Coast squad. Manager Mancini could recall outcast Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong in Yaya’s stead, while James Milner, David Silva and Adam Johnson will compete for a place in wide areas.
Facing the tournament holders is a reminder to those in the squad that Ferguson’s side has not lifted the FA Cup since beating Millwall in 2004. Defeats to Arsenal and Chelsea in subsequent finals each came with a touch of ill fortune, and United will surely need to turn that around to win at Eastlands. Yet, says the United manager, the lack of Cup medals in the squad will motivate his men to push that little bit harder on Sunday.
“It’s probably a motivating force for the players who haven’t got medals,” admitted Sir Alex.
“Particularly someone like Rio Ferdinand. He mentioned to me last season that he hadn’t got an FA Cup medal and I couldn’t believe it, given the length of time he has been at the club. Everyone likes to win the FA Cup at least once in their life.”
History is with the men in Red – just. United has five FA Cup victories over the Blues, to City’s four. And of the 160 previous meetings, United has won 66, to City’s 44, with 50 drawn.
Manchester City versus Manchester United, FA Cup – third round, Eastlands, Sunday 8 January 2012, 1pm.
City (4-4-2): Hart; Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Zabaleta; Silva, De Jong, Milner, Nasri; Džeko, Aguero. Subs from: Pantilimon, Kolarov, Clichy, Savić, Barry, Johnson, Nimely, Razak.
United (4-5-1): Lindegaard; Rafael, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Anderson, Park, Park; Rooney. Subs from: De Gea, Fryers, Anderson, Pogba, Cole, Giggs, Nani, Lingard, Diouf, Hernandez, Welbeck, Berbatov.
Referee: Christopher Foy (St. Helens)
Assistant Referees: Simon Beck & Steve Child
Fourth Official: Michael Jones
In the second of a series of FA Cup related posts, United Rant looks at the history of Cup games between Manchester City and Manchester United down the years.
Nine times the two Manchester clubs have faced each other in the world’s oldest football tournament, with the Reds five to four ahead in wins. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will be out for some measure of Cup revenge after City won last season’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. That victory was part of City’s first major trophy in over 35 years. But along the way each has scored some famous victories in the FA Cup. And while around 80,000 witnessed City’s win at Wembley last April, the first Cup match between the sides was in much more humble surroundings at North Road, Manchester…
Newton Heath 5 – 1 Manchester City, FA Cup first qualifying round
North Road, Manchester (11,000), 3 October 1891
The first meeting of the two Manchester clubs was a thumping win for the Heathens, whose mixed early history in the cup has been covered elsewhere on this site. The match was played at North Road, the club’s ground from its foundation in 1878 until 1893, when the Heathens moved Bank Street, Clayton. Fans crowded two newly erected stands at North Road – now Northampton Road – but the ground expansion was to prove a key moment in the club’s history and eventual split from its roots, when the Yorkshire and Lancashire Railway company refused to meet the £2,000 cost of two stands.
Newton Heath: J F Slater, Bob McFarlane, John Clements, Roger Doughty, Willie Stewart, Jack Owen, Alf Farman, Alf Edge, John Sneddon, William Sharpe, Arthur Henrys
Manchester United 0 – 3 Manchester City, FA Cup semi-final
Brammall Lane, Sheffield (46,450), 27 March 1926
The first cup meeting of the sides under their modern names took part on neutral territory in Sheffield in front of a bumper cup semi crowd. United was clear favourite for the tie under manager John Chapman, with City bottom of the First Division, but as always in football things do not always pan out as expected. The Blues scored three times through, with a Tommy Browell brace and a Frank Roberts goal that sealed a place in the final against Bolton. Thankfully, for despondent Reds, the final was a match City would lose! Perhaps it was the unusual build up, with City said to have prepared with a trip to Buxton, which included games of golf, billiards tournaments and brine baths. United, meanwhile, stayed at the club’s training ground and prepared with “the old-fashioned methods,” according to Reds captain Frank Barson.
United: Alf Steward, Charlie Moore, Jack Silcock, James McCrae, Frank Barson, Frank Mann, Joe Spence, Tom Smith, Frank McPherson, Charlie Rennox, Harry Thomas
Manchester City 2 – 0 Manchester United, FA Cup fourth round
Maine Road, Manchester (75,000), 19 February 1955
Three years before many of the Babes would die at Munich some of those caught in the tragedy, including clubs legends Bill Foulkes, Duncan Edwards and Tommy Taylor, appeared in this loss to City in front of a huge crowd at Maine Road. The fixture came just a week after the Blues had thumped United 5-0 at Old Trafford in the first division, with Matt Busby’s young side outclassed by the cross-town rivals three times that season. But United would finish higher in the table as the era of Red supremacy began. Meanwhile, the Blues went all the way to Wembley, but it wouldn’t be victory for City as Newcastle United ran out 3-1 winners. The Geordies’ last major trophy!
United: Ray Wood, Bill Foulkes, Roger Byrne, Don Gibson, Allenby Chilton, Duncan Edwards, Johnny Berry, Jackie Blanchflower, Tommy Taylor, Dennis Viollet, Jack Rowley
Manchester United 3 – 0 Manchester City, FA Cup fourth round
Old Trafford, Manchester (63,417), 24 January 1970
Two years on from United’s glorious European Cup win and the Reds were already in decline under new ‘chief coach’ Wilf McGuinness. No George Best or Denis Law for this one, but a resounding win over old rivals City nonetheless. Brian Kidd, still only 21, hit a brace and Willie Morgan the other to book United’s place in round five – the match when Best hit six against Northampton Town! But with United in poor league form, City manager Malcolm Allison had made much of the Blues chances in this one. It would blow up in Allison’s face in front of a bumper New Year’s crowd at Old Trafford.
United: Alex Stepney, Paul Edwards, Francis Burns, Paddy Crerand, Ian Ure, David Sadler, Willie Morgan, Carlo Sartori, Bobby Charlton, Brian Kidd, John Aston
Manchester United 1 – 0 Manchester City, FA Cup third round
Old Trafford, Manchester (54,294), 10 January 1987
Just two months into Alex Ferguson’s tenure at Old Trafford, and along came this massive test for the Scot. For fans and manager alike, losing was not on the agenda. Thankfully, big Norman Whiteside’s solitary goal won it for the home side on a frozen Old Trafford pitch. The match could have gone either way but the Northern Irishman’s smart finish half way through the second period beat City ‘keeper Perry Suckling. Both Manchester club’s would struggle that season, as United finished mid-table – Everton claiming the First Division – and City relegated. The Reds would fail in that season’s FA Cup too, with little Coventry City beating Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 at Wembley in May.
United: Chris Turner, Johnny Sivebaek, Colin Gibson, Norman Whiteside, Billy Garton, Kevin Moran, Mike Duxbury, Gordon Strachan, Frank Stapleton, Peter Davenport, Jesper Olsen
Manchester United 2 – 1 Manchester City, FA Cup fifth round
Old Trafford, Manchester (42,692), 18 February 1996
Well on their way to a famous double win, ‘Fergies Fledgelings’ overcame City in this tight fifth round encounter at Old Trafford. Lee Sharpe and Eric Cantona scored the goals to defeat City after the Uwe Rosler’s early goal. Cantona’s penalty provided the controversial turning point, with referee Alan Wilkie pointing to the spot despite City’s protests and media outrage. But in truth United was always on top as Sharpe volleyed in a stunning winner with 13 mintues to go. United would complete the tournament victory with a 1-0 win over Liverpool at Wembley, proving that Ferguson certainly could “win things with kids.” Meanwhile, the Blues were relegated from the Premier League. Not for the first time!
United: Peter Schmeichel, Denis Irwin, Phil Neville, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Lee Sharpe, Nicky Butt, Roy Keane, Andy Cole, Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs
Manchester United 4 – 2 Manchester City, FA Cup fifth round
Old Trafford, Manchester (67,228), 14 February 2004
United provided the Cup romance on Valentines Day 2004, with Paul Scholes, Ruud van Nistelrooy and teenage sensation Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the goals to beat the Blues yet again. Defender Gary Neville saw red for headbutting Steve McManaman (who could blame him?), but the dismissal did little to stop the United juggernaut as Ferguson’s side went on to record a comfortable victory. Neville had been accused of diving in an attempt to win a penalty, only to be confronted by the former Liverpool winger. But the Bluies couldn’t capitalise on the man advantage, with United ruthlesss in front of goal, The Reds went on to claim an historic 11th FA Cup win with victory over Millwall at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.
United: Tim Howard, Gary Neville, John O’Shea, Mikael Silvestre, Quinton Fortune, Cristiano Ronaldo, Phil Neville, Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Ruud van Nistelrooy
Manchester United’s 6-1 defeat to City on Sunday afternoon will live long in the memory for all the wrong reasons. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side committed tactical suicide in a second-half performance that saw the Reds concede five in the worst home defeat for more than 50 years. The disastrous result, called the worst of his career by Ferguson, has media tongues wagging and fan forums packed with predictions of further woe this season.
But what do you think the result means for United…
Sunday’s 6-1 defeat to Manchester City at Old Trafford was the second biggest loss in Manchester United’s history. Sir Alex Ferguson described the match as “the worst result in [his] history.” Still, the arrow of time points firmly towards the future and United must move on, starting with a visit to Aldershot Town on Tuesday night. But what lessons should the Reds take from Sunday’s defeat?
First, United must quickly sort out the midfield, which was again exposed. Many pundits and fans consider United’s engine room the weakest part of the squad. Rightfully so, as the cupboard remains rather bare, with only four senior central midfielderss available to Ferguson. Darron Gibson sits firmly in the reserves, while Ryan Giggs and Ji-sung Park can put in a shift but, mired in mediocrity, the options still look limited.
One option, certainly in the short-term, is to revert to the gridiron style 4-5-1 of last season, which would enable two central midfielders – two from Anderson, Tom Cleverely and Darren Fletcher – to bomb forward while allowing the deep-lying playmaker, Michael Carrick, to create. With Carrick also providing an anchor, the two more advanced midfielders are freed.
The current ad hoc, and rather brittle system as epitomised by the City game, of one staying behind while the other attacks can be abandoned. An ancillary benefit lies in the fact that their attacking takes off opposition pressure from Carrick, who is at his best with a bit of space and time.
Perhaps Fletcher summed it up when he called United’s tactics on Sunday “naïve”. With more than shots conceded to the opposition than any other team in the Premier League, they may have been all season.
“We kept trying to win the game when it was conceivably not possible,” said the Scotland captain.
“Maybe we were a bit naïve and should have sat behind the ball and tried not to concede. At the time you’re thinking we’re at Old Trafford and we always want to get the ball down and play. The players haven’t been brought up to sit behind the ball, defend and see games out. But to lose those goals late on was very disappointing.”
Ferguson’s other option is simply to make do with what is available for now and bring in some reinforcements in the winter transfer window. Luka Modric and Daniele De Rossi, for example, remain available – crucially neither is cup-tied in the Champions League. Yet, both are improbable acquisitions given the nature of Fergie’s previous winter deals.
Ferguson must also examine his full-backs. Patrice Evra has been in decline since the start of last season. On Sunday, the Frenchman’s poor positioning was responsible for the majority of goals conceded. It is worrying that a seasoned professional has been making such glaring defensive errors of late. Surely the day has arrived for Fabio Da Silva to be given a stint on the left, if only to shake Evra out of his funk.
The situation on the right must also be scrutinised. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, for all their bravado and composure on the ball, remain centre-backs out of position, and too often out of depth on the right. While there are legitimate arguments to be made for their deployment, with 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 looking increasingly untenable, the time has surely come to deploy a proper full-back in the mould of the Da Silva twins.
Then what of Ferguson’s strikers? The club has more strikers than it can deal with and implementing a more solid system means one less spot for a forward. Wayne Rooney stands out from the bunch and will be first-choice in such a regime. It is very hard on Javier Hernández, Danny Welbeck and Dimitar Berbatov but surely their feelings are secondary to the general well-being of the club.
Fluidity is hard. Barcelona pulls it off only because the majority of the club’s players are schooled in the same philosophy at La Masia. There is no shame in failing to emulate the Catalan club. Besides, whomever knocks Barça off its perch will likely do so with a unique brand of football, not a tiki-taka replica.
With United’s failings so brutally exposed by City the priority now lies in fixing the most obvious flaws, moving past the historic defeat, and not in attempting to uphold an unsustainable philosophy.
Ferguson commented that “there’s a lot of embarrassment in that dressing room and quite rightly so.” But the players have no time to wallow in their self-pity – there is a lot of work to be done.
It was, said Sir Alex Ferguson, the worst result of a 50-year career in football. Manchester City’s 6-1 victory at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon brought the Blues three vital points in the Premier League title race and total humiliation for the Scot’s side in its own back yard. Defeat to City in last season’s FA Cup semi-final was bad enough but a thrashing at Old Trafford is, for the Scot and fans alike, totally unacceptable. This reality, Ferguson says, hit home in a silent dressing room post-match.
If the result is a media-friendly ‘statement’ by City then Ferguson is right to hold United’s players predominantly to account for it. No amount of United pressure prior to the Blues’ opening goal will mask the Reds’ suicidal second-half performance. Jonny Evans’ dismissal after taking down Mario Ballotelli in the 47th minute was inevitable; the performance from then on in was absolutely not.
“It was our worst ever day,” admitted Ferguson.
“It’s the worst result in my history, ever. Even as a player I don’t think I ever lost 6-1. That’s challenge for me too. I can’t believe the scoreline. The first goal was a blow for sure but it was retrievable at 1-0. The sending off was a killer for us. We kept attacking when we went 4-1 down and we should have just said: ‘We’ve had our day.’
“When we went to 3-1, 4-1 we should have settled for that. We kept attacking and we should have just said: ‘We’ve had our day.’ But our two full-backs were playing like wingers. It’s all right playing the history books but common sense has to come into it. We just kept attacking. They were attacking three versus two. It was crazy football. I thought with the experience we’ve got – Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra – they would [defend more] but we just kept attacking. Sometimes there has to be common sense about it. It was a bad day.”
Indeed, the result was not only Ferguson’s worst-ever result but United’s heaviest at home for 55 years. Such, perhaps, is City’s progress since Abu Dahbi’s oil-fueled takeover in 2008. But not to this extent. Not at Old Trafford. Not under Ferguson’s watch. This was hara-kiri on a very grand scale, against the worst possible opposition, and a result that will not soon be forgotten.
Certainly the implied assertion that United should have at, say, 3-1, accepted defeat will not sit well with supporters. But Ferguson is also right that in playing to history, as the manager noted , indeed to the hyperbole of a ‘never-say-die’ attitude, United allowed defeat to become a calamity. Loss to City at Old Trafford after all the Blues’ recent spending comes with no overwhelming shock. Conceding six certainly does.
If there is any silver lining in this disaster – at least for those United fans prepared to throw themselves under the nearest bus – it is in knowledge that Ferguson will ensure no permanent damage to the collective consciousness. There can be no better manager for this situation than the Scot.
“We’ll come back. By January we’ll be okay. We usually get the show on the road in the second half of the season and that will have to be the case. We’ve played all the teams around us and they have all to play each other so the second half of the season is important to us now. We will react, no question about that.
“It’s a perfect result for us to react to because there is a lot of embarrassment in the dressing room and that will make an impact. What did concern me was the goals for and against. Goal difference may count. Last year it was in our favour, most years it is in our favour…this time maybe not.”
More results like this and Ferguson will have no need to be concerned with goal difference though – United will be fortunate to be within touching distance come May so inept were the Scot’s defenders. Not to mention a central midfield that was so effectively eviscerated by the opposition from 30 minutes onwards that supporters again offers cause to question both Darren Fletcher and Anderson’s effectiveness.
The manager’s decision to include no central midfield options on the bench was both a mistake and a reflection of Ferguson’s underwhelming resources available in this area. It is a concern repeatedly voiced over the past two years. No matter Tom Cleverley’s continued injury absence, a strategy that relied solely on the rookie’s fitness and form was always a busted flush.
One disaster does not a season make of course, and United will certainly return from this. Upcoming fixtures with Aldershot Town in the Carling Cup and Everton at Goodison Park will provide an immediate opportunity at redemption. In that there is temptation to send out the heavy artillery at Aldershot’s 7,000-capacity Recreation Ground on Tuesday night simply to get the process underway.
For Evans, whose fatal contribution to Sunday’s calamity cannot be ignored, the consequences may be more serious. While Rio Ferdinand’s poor header precipitated another City attack, Evans’ needless foul on Balotelli helped turn loss into club-wide embarrassment. The Northern Irishman recently admitted a downturn in form last season was due to complacency. One wonders whether the 23-year-old has eliminated that scourge from his game.
Belfast-born Evans recent progress will now halt as the defender sits out the Everton game, with Nemanja Vidic and Phil Jones both ready to step in. Whomever takes up the reigns it can, as the well-worn cliché goes, only get better.
There is little doubt that Sunday’s Manchester derby will provide a genuine marker for the season ahead. Lose and Sir Alex Ferguson’s United will side will find itself five points behind City in the Premier League. Victory, however, will propel the Reds back to the head of the table. The match is, in Ferguson’s words, is a “real six-pointer”.
The derby’s importance – relevance even – came into question during 35 trophyless years in east Manchester. Abu Dhabi money has changed all that, with the Blues now peerlessly rich, holding the FA Cup and now genuine challengers for United’s Premier League trophy. Cockiness has replaced calamity at Eastlands as £400 million of sovereign wealth is apt to do.
Indeed, City come into the match the team in form, with Roberto Mancini’s side having dropped just two league points this season, scoring 27 goals in the process at more than three a game. Ferguson’s team, meanwhile, has gone somewhat off-the-boil in the past six weeks, despite starting the campaign in such unusually thrilling style.
United’s comeback from two goals down in the Community Shield against City kick-started the season in stunning fashion. Yet, four draws in the past eight games have underlined the loss of form felt in Ferguson’s side since Tom Cleverley suffered injury against Bolton Wanderers in mid-September.
Cleverley’s return to fitness hasn’t come a moment too soon, although the 21-year-old is unlikely to start match Ferguson believes will be significant in this season’s title race.
“It’s early doors of course and there are a lot of winning posts along the way and one of the winning posts is this game,” said 69-year-old Ferguson on Friday.
“It could be a significant point of the season. But you can only judge that at the end of the season really. But it is a six-pointer, no doubt about that. Whichever team wins, it will make a difference. But you can recover from it if you lose. And the way we react in the second half of the season, you hope we will be better. It’s difficult to say sometimes what derby games will be like. Last Saturday against Liverpool was disappointing for 75 minutes but, once the goals were scored, it was a great game.”
United will surely have to play far better to ensure a result on Sunday against a City side that is superior to any in the blue half of Manchester for two generations. It is challenge that Ferguson accepts fully, although that has not come without the odd barb of course. After all, United’s noisy neighbours were always likely to get under the Scot’s ultra competitive skin.
Ferguson’s focus on maintaining United’s primacy is undiminished in the face of the new, more localised, threat though. It is a challenge, says the Scot, that the Reds must meet if a 20th domestic title is to head towards Old Trafford next May.
“It doesn’t matter where the challenges come from in this league, you know every year you are going to have to beat someone,” said Ferguson on Friday.
“This year it may be City, although people are being a wee bit premature in writing off Chelsea as far as I am concerned. You can’t discount them. We hope we finish above the both of them. That is the name of the game. City have done fantastically well and, but for throwing away a two-goal lead against Fulham, they would have a 100 per cent record, so we’ve got a game on our hands and we’re looking forward to it.
“The money they have spent doesn’t matter. They are where they are at the top of the league at the moment and at this club we always accept a challenge. We’ve done that time and time again. It’s another situation, another game in the history of the club and we have to deal with it. I enjoy that. It’s the type of challenge we have accepted well over the years.
“When Blackburn had that two-year spell when they were second one year and won it the next it was interesting. It was good for the game. We won the league in 1993 and the next year. Blackburn came along and took the title off us and we reacted in the right way. It doesn’t do any harm.”
In the more immediate future United faces the City challenge with returning midfielder Cleverley likely to make the bench. The youngster exploded into the national consciousness with a match-winning second-half display at Wembley in August. With Ryan Giggs injured, Ferguson will choose two from Darren Fletcher, Anderson and Michael Carrick in central midfield.
Meanwhile, captain Nemanja Vidic is likely to partner Rio Ferdinand in central defence in a rare outing for the pair this season, with Chris Smalling or Phil Jones deployed on the right flank of United’s back four. Wayne Rooney, who scored a brace of penalties in mid-week, will partner Mexican Javier Hernández in attack.
Midfielder Fletcher, who missed much of last season with a mystery virus, underlines the fixture’s importance, not only in the supporters’ consciousness, but for each side’s confidence too. Moreover, adds the Scottish national team captain, United’s pre-eminence is under threat from City. It is a challenge that fans expect United to meet head on.
“We don’t want to give City the confidence of winning trophies to get to our level,” Fletcher told the Daily Mirror.
“Our job is to keep Manchester United on top and as long as we keep on winning the big titles, it means they’re not winning them. If City were to go on a run of winning a lot of trophies, then they would become a global club. But for world recognition, United stands out alone.
The great thing about United is the history of the club. No-one can take away the Busby Babes, the Munich tragedy – all of these things are engrained in the club’s history. United are known all around the world for its history and success, which is what makes it so strong and such a special club.
“Teams like Chelsea have won trophies and built on that success, but that’s been maybe over a 10-year period. They still don’t have the global appeal and size of Manchester United and that’s how we want it to stay.
“The Manchester derby has always been massive, but now City are genuine title contenders for the first time, that makes it even bigger. In previous years, it was bragging rights in the city if you won – it’s a lot more than that now. For years, City weren’t really a threat to us in the league. The derby was always a big game, but now it’s huge in terms of the points at stake and where the title may end up at the end of the season.”
For the moment United remains the dominant force in English football. But City’s challenge is surely coming. How quickly depends, more than just a little, on Sunday’s fixture.
Manchester United versus Manchester City, Premier League, Old Trafford, Sunday 22 October 2011, 1.30pm.
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Jones, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Anderson, Fletcher, Young; Rooney; Hernandez. Subs from: Lindegaard, Smalling, Fabio, Evans, Pogba, Carrick, Cleverley, Park, Berbatov, Welbeck, Valencia, Owen, Diouf.
City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; De Jong, Barry; Nasri, Y Touré, Silva; Agüero; Subs from: Pantilimon, Taylor, Johnson, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Savic, Onuoha, Razak, Milner, K Touré, Hargreaves, Ballotelli, Dzeko.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (County Durham)
Assistant referees: S Beck, S Child
News that Manchester City CEO Garry Cook has sent an offensive email to Nedum Onuoha’s cancer-stricken mother is the latest in a very long line of gaffes from the former Nike executive. In recent times Cook, quite hilariously, has incorporated Uwe Rosler into the “Manchester United” Hall of Fame, accused AC Milan of “bottling it” when turning down City’s move for Kaká and revealed City’s transfer target list to Noel Gallagher on the back of a napkin. Classy stuff all round.
The latest gaffe has Cook (allegedly) emailing Onouha’s mother, Dr Antonia, mocking the doctor’s health. Dr Anthonia, who has represented her son throughout his fledgling career, had earlier sent Cook and City’s Director of Football Brian Marwood a message explaining that she would continue to negotiate her son’s new contract despite being “ravaged with cancer.”
“Ravaged with it!!” came Cook’s reply, addressed to “Brian”. “I don’t know how you sleep at night. You used to be such a nice man when I worked with you at Nike. G.”
Typical of the man, Cook denies sending the email, blaming instead an unnamed practical joker at the club. Dr Antonia has written to the FA and Premier League complaining about the club’s behaviour.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised though. After all, Cook, who has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth, once told us that “comedy has always been at the heart of what this club [Manchester City] is all about.” How right he was.
Cook’s best gaffes
July, 2008 – Cook proclaims City owner Thaksin Shinawatra “a nice guy to play golf with” despite the former Thai Prime Minister being indicted on charges of corruption.
“Is he a nice guy? Yes. Is he a great guy to play golf with? Yes. Has he got the finances to run a club? Yes. I really care about those three things,” said Cook, ignoring Shinawatra’s dubious human rights record when Prime Minister from 2001-2006.
“I worked at a company – Nike – where we were accused of child labour rights issues. I managed to have a career there for 15 years and I believed we were innocent of most of the issues. Morally, I felt confident in that environment. Morally, I feel comfortable in this environment.”
In February 2010 a Thai court found Shinawatra guilty on four counts corruption, seizing 50 per cent of the former Prime Ministers fortune, and freezing the rest.
January, 2009 – Cook accuses AC Milan of “bottling” a deal for Kaká when the Brazilian midfielder chose not to join Eastland’s Abu Dhabi revolution in a proposed £100 million deal.
“If you want my personal opinion they bottled it,” Cook told the BBC. “He clearly was for sale but we never got to meet with the player, the behaviour of AC Milan got in the way.”
Kaká joined Real Madrid later than summer.
November, 2009 – Cook is forced to write to 70 City fans with a grovelling apology after inducting Blue Nose legend Uwe Rosler into the City Hall of Fame with the words: “I’d like to welcome Uwe Rosler into the Manchester United Hall of Fame.” City fans were still booing Cook when Rosler stood up to accept the award. Cook fled the event early amid a volley of home-spun abuse.
January, 2010 – ahead of City’s 2010 Carling Cup semi-final against the Reds Cook boasts that City would reach Wembley “not if, but when, we beat United again”. Caught on tape at New York’s Mad Hatter Bar, Cook went on to boast that City would become the “biggest and the best” football club on the planet. United won the semi 4-3 on aggregate.
March, 2010 – Cook engages in a stand-up row with Everton supporter George Downing in the Eastland’s directors box, prompting the Merseysiders to demand a formal apology. Everton beat City 2-0, with the row starting after Downing joined in the Evertonian’s chant of “2-0 and we’ve spent fuck-all.”
July, 2010 – Cook scribbles a list of City transfer targets on a napkin for singer Noel Gallagher’s benefit ahead of the 2010 World Cup.
“I just had a big, long lunch with Garry Cook and the revelations you lot are going to hear in the next month are going to blow your mind,” claimed Gallagher.
“Garry was writing out these names on a napkin, about who was going to be in the squad. He put it down on paper, and the 24-man squad we will have will be looking to win everything next season.”
August, 2011 – Cook claims that City’s £400 million stadium sponsorship deal with Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad is “the most important arrangement in the history of football.” The airline, which is controlled by City owner Sheikh Mansour’s half-brother, will pump money into the Blues for the next 10 years. Sadly for Cook the renamed Etihad Stadium means “Unity” or “United” in Arabic.
There is something about the vibrancy of youth that is Manchester United’s signature, from the Busby Babes to Fergie’s Fledglings. It is a cliché of course but one that supporters buy into with full heart. Yet, in truth some of that youthful vigour had been lost from United in recent seasons, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad aging before our eyes.
No longer. The rash of retiring and released stars over the past year, together with youthful acquisitions this summer, has transformed Ferguson’s squad and reinvigorated its outlook. The United team that overhauled Manchester City in the Community Shield at Wembley on Saturday was aged on average just 22 in the second period, with 13 players in Ferguson’s matchday squad aged 23 or under.
Youthful abandon is not simply an empty soliloquy though. In football the lack of fear in youth so often translates to freedom of expression on the pitch. Indeed, United’s vibrant second half display not only sent thousands of Reds home happy but, arguably, for the first time since 2008, points towards a dynamic shape for the coming season.
United’s front four interchanged with such bewildering regularity that City simply could not cope. That Roberto Mancini at one stage resorted to fielding four central midfielders said much for both United’s attacking shape and the Italian’s defensive outlook.
Little surprise then that Ferguson praised his young team, which fought back from a two goal deficit at Wembley to secure victory in the final minute of injury time.
“For us I think it just confirms what I’ve thought,” Ferguson said.
“People were saying that we’re not the best United squad and things like that but you’ve got to remember a lot of young players will improve. We are very confident with this group of young players.
“I always wanted to expose Jones, Cleverley and Evans to that big-match environment. It was a big challenge for them and they did well. I’m very confident with this group of players.
“De Gea and Jones give us a good future. They are outstanding. Young was good as well. He is 25 and a mature player after playing for Aston Villa but he’s new to the type of challenge he is getting at United.”
United was the better side for much of the game, save for a period in the first half when City’s power in midfield threatened to overwhelm Michael Carrick and Anderson. While eventually Anderson offered his finest performance in a United shirt for some time, Tom Cleverley stole many headlines with a stand-out second half display.
The midfielder, who spent last season on loan with Wigan Athletic, offered the kind of central midfield dynamism that United has lacked for so long. Basingstoke-born Cleverley played a series of incisive one-touch passes, moved into space and – crucially – frequently ran ahead of the ball from central midfield. It is precisely the kind of incisive midfield play that was so lacking in Carrick’s performance during the opening 45.
“Cleverley has come back from Wigan and we brought Welbeck and (Mame) Diouf back from loans as well. These boys are good players,” Ferguson added.
“We toyed with the idea of starting Cleverley but I thought Michael Carrick’s experience was better suited to the game. Cleverley can get forward from midfield though and we probably needed that type of player.”
United’s flexibility with Cleverley, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Nani and Ashley Young in the side was no better illustrated than in the Portuguese’s equaliser. The slick, one-touch, move cut City’s normally parsimonious defence open with a passage of play that was more than a little reminiscent of Barcelona at its very best.
That each of the aforementioned quintet is comfortable in a variety of positions recalls United’s 2008 Champions League winning side, with Rooney, Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo interchanging at will.
Chris Smalling’s excellent performance at right-back and Phil Jones’ assured contribution during the second half simply adds to the confidence Ferguson will have gained from Sunday’s victory.
If that is all positive then City’s ability to over-power United in midfield reared its ugly head in the first half. Mancini’s team nominally had an extra man of course, although Rooney’s ability to drop deep augmented United’s resources. But Carrick in particular was unable to cope with the sheer physicality of the Blues for periods.
Then there is the David de question. Ferguson’s €20 million acquisition from Atlétics de Madrid this summer is the subject of much criticism in this morning’s papers. But the Spaniard had little chance claiming David Silva’s outstanding delivery in the 38th minute for Jolean Lescott’s opening headed goal, although the 20-year-old could surely have done better with Edin Džeko’s 35-yard drive just moments later. The late dip and swerve, together with Nemanja Vidic’s failure to close down the attacker, certainly did not help. But on these small details are major games sometimes won and lost.
“City are a big team and the delivery of the ball was good. Goalkeeper no chance with that,” Ferguson claimed.
“The second goal I thought we could have closed them down but the shot swerved a bit and just caught the goalkeeper on the wrong foot. But I think that you have to cope with these things and he’s [got] no problem.”
Indeed, moments earlier de Gea had claimed a high ball under pressure and the Spaniard’s distribution with foot and hand was excellent throughout. During the second period de Gea also made two outstanding saves, which augers well for the youngster’s confidence in games to come. The suggestion, made in more than one media outlet, that Ferguson will now drop his new ‘keeper in favour of Anders Lingegaard is nothing short of rumour-mongering.
Ferguson will also be delighted with Nani’s contribution to the game following an outstanding pre-season. Starting on the right, Nani drifted inside, frequently swapped with Young and contributed heavily to United’s victory. As with last season, Nani’s output is now outstanding.
So too Young, whose delivery from set pieces is a cut above anything in a United shirt since David Beckham left in 2003. Indeed, the former Aston Villa winger created Chris Smalling’s goal with a pin-point free-kick in the 53rd minute.
“Nani had a fantastic season last year,” said Ferguson.
“He contributed 18 assists and scored nine goals. He was unfortunate that Antonio Valencia came in at a time when we needed a bit of freshness and a boost to the squad. But you have seen Nani’s form in pre-season and again today. He will start the season.”
It is a campaign for which United started favourites but will now have gained even greater confidence at City’s expense.
“This shows who the best team is,” Rooney boasted in the wake of victory.
“All game we dominated. The difference the young lads made was outstanding. We never know when a game is finished. We took them apart. The scoreline is deserved. We’re champions and we’re the team to beat. We want to prove that.”
The Community Shield – that clichéd ‘traditional curtain raiser to the season’ – is, of course, little more than a final warm-up for the real business of winning the Premier League in the modern game. That task begins away to West Bromwich Albion next weekend, yet, with United facing local rivals Manchester City on Sunday afternoon, it is perhaps only Sir Alex Ferguson who remains exactingly dispassionate about the fixture this season, with all the emotional and psychological edge that this game brings.
Supporters feel differently of course but the Scot remains focused on bigger tasks ahead despite the local rivalry on hand. After all, major trophies are won in May not August, even if the Manchester sides are competing for this particular gong for the first time since 1956. The full house and local pride ensures that nothing less than victory is acceptable for the 80,000 Reds and Blues return home on Sunday evening.
“It’s very easy to get emotional about this type of game. I don’t think we’ll be changing our policy,” Ferguson said of the Community Shield.
“I’ve always viewed the Community Shield as a stepping stone for the first game of the season and there are two or three players who will need a game to boost their fitness.
“I don’t think it [the Shield] has made any difference at all to the leagues. We have lost and still won the league. It is at Wembley. That is the significance of it. When you go to Wembley, you want to win. That is the only significance.”
Ferguson is likely to be without a quartet of key players at Wembley, with Michael Carrick suffering from an achilles injury, Javier Hernández not risked following concussion in pre-season and Darren Fletcher only recently returned to full training. Antonio Valencia is perhaps a fortnight away from full match fitness after the Ecuadorian suffered an ankle injury at the Copa America.
The absence of midfield pair Carrick and Fletcher, together with Paul Scholes’ retirement, offers Anderson an early season opportunity to impress. The Brazilian scored in Friday’s 6-0 win over New York Cosmos at Old Trafford and should start at Wembley. With Owen Hargreaves released and Darron Gibson consigned to United’s reserve squad in pre-season, Ferguson needs the former-Porto midfielder to start the season in good form.
Anderson, together with youngster Tom Cleverley and veteran Ryan Giggs form Ferguson’s only central midfield options at the season’s start. The limited roster serving to highlight United’s obvious weaknesses ahead of the new season.
Despite this United begins the new campaign as favourites to claim a 20th domestic title. Yet, City will be in contention from the off, having spent £38 million on striker Sergio Aguëro in the close season. The 23-year-old Argentinian offers City both creativity and goals and will likely make City’s bench at Wembley, with Carlos Tevez still absent.
However, with three weeks until the transfer window slams shut, Ferguson believes opposite manager Roberto Mancini may yet add to his already burgeoning squad. It is a challenge the Scot appears to relish.
“Because of the particular facet of the club that they have the money to spend, I thought maybe they would spend more this summer, and that may still happen; they may still sign a couple more players,” Ferguson added.
“We get this almost every year when clubs round about us buy, and that’s how you view the importance of winning the league these days. Chelsea had this great spell of buying when José [Mourinho] first went there and we accepted that challenge. It’s good to accept challenges, it keeps the complacency away from your door and we carry on as best as we can.”
Ferguson also believes that the coming season promises to be one of the most competitive of his 25 year tenure at Old Trafford. Liverpool’s huge outlay in the past six months is a gamble that must be rewarded with Champions League football, with Arsenal seemingly the most vulnerable of last season’s top four. With Tottenham Hotspur also chasing a spot in Europe’s premier competition only four of six leading clubs will reach their goals come May.
Yet, for United – and now City – it is the Premier League title that remains the season’s priority, the Blue half of Manchester now with genuine pretensions to the crown.
“To win the league in England is very difficult. If you look at the Premier League you are looking at the top six fighting for four places,” added the 69-year-old United manager.
“I think 84 points will win the league next year. We had less last year but you have to consider the increasing competition. Liverpool are expected to be better, the top four we know about and Tottenham as well. You expect it to be a really tough league.”
If Ferguson still regards this weekend’s derby as a friendly then his star player Wayne Rooney is more in tune with United fans who travel to Wembley for the third time this year. Defeats to City in the FA Cup semi-final and Barcelona in the Champions League offered a traumatic end to last season. A third Wembley defeat in a row is unthinkable.
“You couldn’t get better motivation to start the season with a bang,” Rooney told Four Four Two.
“I hadn’t even thought about it until I turned on the TV and someone was talking about potentially the best Community Shield ever. Playing City is the best way to start.”
The Scouser may start up front with Bulgarian forward Dimitar Berbatov at Wembley – as the pair did against Cosmos on Friday – although Ferguson’s promise to deploy players in need of minutes may also offer Michael Owen, Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda an opportunity. Mame Biram Diouf, seventh choice striker, scored twice against Cosmos to stake a claim.
Elsewhere Ferguson is likely to deploy those players short of time in pre-season. Both Rafael and Fabio da Silva are in contention for a place in the side, with Ferguson boasting a full complement of defensive options, including new signing Phil Jones. With Valencia unlikely to play Ferguson will choose from Nani, Park Ji-Sung and Ashley Young in wide positions.
Friendly or otherwise United is protecting a proud record in the competition, including 18 victories overall and seven appearances in the past decade. City, meanwhile, is taking part in the match for the first time since 1973. The Blues lost that game 1-0 to Burnley, with Colin Waldron scoring the only goal.
The game could also be the final appearance in the Shield for Welshman Giggs, who turns 38 this season and holds the record for the most number of appearances with 13. What better tribute, in what might be the midfielder’s final season, than seeing off City at Wembley on Sunday just as the Reds did 55 years ago. On that occasion another United legend Dennis Violet scored the only goal of the game.
Manchester United versus Manchester City. Wembley Stadium, London. 2.30pm 7 August 2011
United – 4-4-1-1 – de Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Anderson, Giggs, Park; Rooney; Berbatov
Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Smalling, Jones, Evans, Young, Cleverley, Owen, Macheda, Welbeck, Diouf
City – 4-3-3 – Hart; Richards, Lescott, Kompany, Clichy; Toure, De Jong, Barry; Ballotelli, Dzeko, Silva
Subs from: Zabaleta, Bridge, Onuoha, Kolarov, Toure, Johnson, Milner, Wright-Phillips, Agüero
** Update – competition is now closed **
We’ve teamed up with McDonald’s, the official Community Partner of the FA, to offer ten readers the chance to win two match tickets to watch Manchester United take on Manchester City at The FA Community Shield, sponsored by McDonald’s, on 7 August at Wembley Stadium.
This year’s match will be a Manchester derby, which will see Manchester United and Manchester City go head-to-head in this competition for the first time since 1956. The Red Devils look to secure their 14th Community Shield victory against current FA Cup holders City.
McDonald’s has been the Community Partner of the FA since 2002 and aims to create more football opportunities for all. Since the partnership was formed McDonald’s has created over 20,000 qualified football coaches, offering two million hours of free, quality coaching to young players across the UK.
“This year’s FA Community Shield will no doubt be a sell-out as fans from across the country make their way to Wembley to support the Reds and the Blues. It’s going to be a great game – a fantastic match to kick-off the new football season and I wish everyone who enters the competition the very best of luck,” said Geoff Hurst, McDonald’s Director of Football.
To be in with a chance of winning this fantastic prize, answer the following question and email your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “McDonald’s Compo”.
Q: How many times has Manchester United won The FA Community Shield?
The Small Print
1. Rules: Please note that, in addition to these Provisions, entrants are bound by both the Promoter’s terms and conditions at http://www.unitedrant.co.uk/latest/win-tickets-to-the-fa-community-shield/ and the Supplemental Rules For Third Party Promotions Featuring Football-Themed Prizes Supplied By McDonald’s (“General Rules”) at www.mcdonalds.co.uk/policies/football-terms-and-conditions.shtml.
2. Participants: Must be 18 and over and UK resident
3. Duration of Promotion: Enter the Promotion between 6pm 18th July 2011 and 6pm 28th July 2011 inclusive.
4. Entry Criteria: Answer a question correctly to be entered in to a draw for a chance to win.
5. Conditions of entry: Limit of one entry per person.
6. How to Submit your Entry: Entries to be submitted via email. No other method of entry will be accepted. Email: email@example.com.
7. Prizes: The prize pool consists of ten prizes each of: Two match tickets to The FA Community Shield on 7th August 2011 at Wembley Stadium.
8. Prize Awards: Winning entrants will be notified by telephone and / or email and should be contactable no later than Friday 29th July 2011. Prize notification will be sent by email to the address registered at time of entry. If the winner cannot be contacted by telephone before 1pm on Monday 1st August, an alternative winner will be selected.
9. General: Winners will be required for promotional and media activity in relation to this promotion and other related McDonald’s football activities, including facilitating the publication of press releases, editorial and photographs on the UK websites of the Promoter, McDonald’s, and The FA, winners’ local media and in McDonald’s UK restaurants.
10. Promoter’s Details: United Rant, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.unitedrant.co.uk
Mario Balotelli will face no Football Association action after the Italian striker taunted Manchester United players and supporters on Saturday. Running towards the United section at Wembley, the Manchester City player kissed his badge, gesturing towards United supporters. The Italian’s behaviour provoked an on-pitch mêlée, involving Rio Ferdinand, Anderson, Patrice Evra and City coach David Platt.
If Balotelli’s provocation was not severe enough, the 20-year-old then winked sarcastically at Ferdinand as the players left the field. Unsurprisingly, the striker’s behaviour infuriated United’s frustrated players, with Ferdinand and Anderson confronted the player on the Wembley pitch, while winger Nani later criticised the former Inter star for his lack of respect.
“He was showing his badge to our fans. Anderson just took him out from in front of our fans,” said Nani. “Rio was very angry because it is not fair, it was very disrespectful to do that in front of the fans. We were not happy.”
Meanwhile, 32-year-old Ferdinand used social networking site Twitter to voice his post-match criticism of the City player: “If you score a goal and give a bit to opposing fans I kind of accept that, but at the final whistle [you should] go to your own fans and enjoy it, not opposing fans”.
Ferdinand lectured Platt on-the-field, telling the former United youth to “control his players” before pulling the 44-year-old aside to continue the debate post match.
Despite the provocative behaviour the FA will not seek to sanction the £30 million player, even though there is recent precedent involving United. Indeed, former Reds defender Gary Neville twice found the FA’s ire for provoking opposition fans – once fined £5,000 for celebrating a goal in front of Liverpool’s supporters.
And with the FA taking a hard-line on its ‘Respect’ campaign where it suits the organisation, United supporters will ponder the governing body’s inconsistent implementation of its own policy. Sir Alex Ferguson has recently served a five-match ban for criticising referee Martin Atkinson, while Wayne Rooney has missed two games for swearing. The FA’s lack of action over Balotelli only serves to underline United’s sense of frustration with the governing body in recent times.
Not that idiocy involving Balotelli can surprise supporters of any persuasion. The 20-year-old has received more yellow and red cards this season than he has scored goals, while earning a rebuke for throwing darts at a team-mate. The striker was also involved in a training ground fight with Jerome Boateng.
At Inter the striker was dubbed “unmanageable” by former coach José Mourinho, while incurring the wrath of team-mates including Javier Zanetti and Marco Materazzi.
Balotelli also has a history of winding up opposition – and his own – supporters, having been fined by the Italian FA for offering sarcastic appluase towards racially abusive Chievo fans. He earned a rebuke for wearing an AC Milan shirt on television, and for gesturing at Inter fans after victory over Barcelona at San Siro.
But the most recent Balotelli incident was not the only to highlight the FA’s Respect campaign over the weekend. Much like Balotelli, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish in unlikely to face FA charges after twice swearing at Arséne Wenger on Sunday. As the curtain came down on a dramatic match, Wenger reacted angrily to Dalglish’s attempted handshake, with the Scot first telling the Arsenal manager to “p*ss off” and then to “f*ck off” in quick succession, all for the aural pleasure of watching Sky Sports subscribers.
In fact Rant has recorded more than a dozen similar cases of audible swearing in the fortnight since Rooney’s FA sanction. In reality there are probably hundreds of acts of disrespect towards players, officials and fans each week, with the Soho Square-based body choosing only to enforce its own rules when the media spotlight demands.
In that there is a serious conflict between the FA’s demand for Respect – something clearly lacking in Balotelli’s actions – and the organisation’s ability to manage its campaign. There is even specific provision under section E of the body’s own rulebook to stamp out offensive and disrespectful behaviour.
“A Participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game,” states the FA’s own rule book.
“[Players] shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.”
It is a provision that the FA only enforces intermittently. Something for which Balotelli is surely grateful.
There’ll be dancing on the streets of Stockport tonight, to paraphrase the late, great, Bill McLaren. It was Manchester City’s day, with Roberto Mancini’s outfit leaving Wembley triumphant after Yaya Touré’s 52nd minute goal. In truth Sir Alex Ferguson’s players barely arrived, lacking not only energy and drive, but seemingly desire too. Perhaps his team’s hearts and minds were left somewhere on the M1, which so many supporters had struggled to navigate on the trip down.
This defeat was hugely disappointing, of course, but nor the ‘Manchester United way’ either; limp, lethargic, and worst of all, unambitious. That was the big picture but the game was also lost in the minutiae – Dimitar Berbatov’s criminally poor finishing, Michael Carrick’s sloppy defending, Park Ji-Sung’s inability to retain possession. None a virgin observation.
If the result is sickening for United supporters, then the red card and three match ban for midfielder Paul Scholes will also hurt. The flame-haired 36-year-old started the match as the only Mancunian on the pitch; he ended it in disgrace, rightly dismissed for a thigh-high second-half tackle on Pablo Zabaletta. That the Argentinian also raised his studs is moot of course. Retirement may now not be far away.
The victory increases City’s chances of lifting a first trophy since 1976, although the club’s capacity for comedy never fails to surprise. The winners of Sunday’s Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City clash awaits City in the final. Either will certainly give Mancini’s side a better game than United managed on Saturday.
Meanwhile United can be thankful only for the reduction in fixture congestion that defeat ensures, with United’s match against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park now confirmed for Saturday 14 May. It is no consolation for the thousands who made the trip south and with no further matches against City this season, Reds must now suffer months of Blue-baiting.
“The first 15 minutes after half-time cost us the game,” Ferguson admitted.
“Slack moments. Edwin (van der Sar) had a bad kick out and Michael Carrick couldn’t hold it and it was a goal. From then on, they were defending apart from a couple of counter-attacks. It’s disappointing as we should have been ahead in the first half as we were the better team.
“The chances that Dimitar missed – there was a great save by the goalkeeper but the second chance, from under the bar, if he’d have scored there, I had a feeling whoever scored first would win the match.”
Ferguson opted for the Bulgarian as United’s lone striker, a role that has so rarely brought the best out of player or team in the 30-year-old’s three seasons at Old Trafford. Retaining Park to bolster midfield, Ferguson dropped livewire striker Javier Hernández. If the plan was the remain competitive in midfield it failed, with City passing through or around United’s engine room with ease.
United started brightly though and fashioned the game’s opening chances. Twice Berbatov wasted openings, first racing clear only to see his shot saved by City’s Joe Hart, and then firing over from inches under the bar. It is a miss that will haunt the £30 million Bulgarian.
City though found a foothold in the game by half-time, with Gareth Barry firing into the side netting and then Mario Balotelli forcing Edwin van der Sar to tip over from long-range. The goal, minutes into the second half, was born both of individual errors and Touré’s power and drive. First van der Sar’s poor kick was collected by Carrick, and then the Geordie gifted Touré possession. The Ivorian needed no second invitation to fire past United’s legendary Dutchman.
Ferguson reacted by finally bringing Hernández into the fold, seemingly too little and far too late. The Mexican had little to do with Nani’s long-range free kick that smashed onto Hart’s bar and aside from the Portuguese’s strike there was little response by United; Ferguson’s side either unable or unwilling to change the pattern of the match.
Scholes’ red card on 73 minutes, while not fundamentally altering the match, did little for the Reds’ attacking ambitions. Heads dropped and United barely created a chance in the finally flurries.
“We’ve seen over his career Paul has had unbelievable moments – he’s one of the greatest players this club has ever had,” added Ferguson. “But he has his red-mist moments – he caught the boy on the thigh.”
There could be little in the way of argument with Mike Dean’s dismissal, even if the Wirral-based official has been the centre of repeated controversy in United’s matches.
In truth United’s performance was well below par, with early chances missed and defensive errors replete. Perhaps fatigue got the better of United, or the side missed Wayne Rooney more than expected, but with a trip to Newcastle United on Tuesday night, Ferguson’s players have no time to dwell on the most disappointing result of the season to date.
“If one of those goes in, maybe it’s a different game and they would have to chase us,” van der Sar told MUTV.
“In the second half, when they scored, we went to 10 men, one man down, and it was hard to chase and try to get the equaliser. We had some half-chances or possibilities to get the ball into the box but nothing really materialised. We were hoping for that famous injury-time goal again but I think our luck ran out a little bit.
“It’s not the way we normally defend so we have to do something to take the blame – all the players who have been on the pitch. Nobody really performed to their standard, I think.
“We had a go in the last 20 minutes but just maybe we were a bit tired also in the end. We have played quite a big amount of games in the last three or four weeks. We have got two days to recover from this game then, on Tuesday, it’s an important game.”
In that veteran van der Sar is entirely correct, with perhaps only defenders Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand performing to an acceptable level. Ferguson now faces the very real challenge of turning around his team’s morale and ensuring that the Premier League does not slip away as the cup has now done.
After the whistle Ferdinand and substitute Anderson ended up in a near brawl with Ballotelli; the Italian running towards United’s supporters to kiss his badge. If only United’s team had shown the same level of fight during the game.
United – 451 – van der Sar; O’Shea (Fabio Da Silva x84), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Valencia (Hernandez 65), Carrick, Scholes, Park, Nani; Berbatov (Anderson 74)
City – 433 – Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov; Y Toure, De Jong, Barry; Johnson (Wright-Phillips 79), Balotelli, Silva (Vieira 86)
Attendance – 86,549
Man of the Match – Vidic
Possession: City 44% – 56% United
Attempts: 10 – 12
On Target: 2 – 6
Corners: 7 – 6
Fouls: 14 – 9
Manchester City’s players departed for Saturday afternoon’s FA Cup semi-final from, where else, but Stockport as around 90,000 Reds and Blues make their way down the M6 for the 159th derby. It could be the first of three trips to Wembley for Sir Alex Ferguson’s team over the next six weeks, with both the cup final and Champions League final also held in north London.
It is this experience – of the big occasion at Wembley – that is key to winning Saturday’s match, according to Ferguson, with the Manchester United manager predicting semi-final nerves could decide the match in the Reds’ favour. In a week when Nemanja Vidic labelled City as “obsessed” with winning a trophy, the United manager expects his players’ mental toughness to come to the fore.
“I don’t know the mental side of any of their players, because I’ve not worked with any of them apart from Tevez of course,” Ferguson said on Friday.
“Only Roberto [Mancini] will know that, he’ll know his players much better. But it’s very difficult to block out the occasion, simply because sometimes it overrides everything else. And Wembley is an occasion stadium. When you go there it’s for an important reason, and that can affect some players. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. It’s a fact.
“I know my own players and they’ve obviously been used to big game situations many times, so we don’t have to conquer that. I have a group of players who are confident going into games, their attitude is great and I couldn’t ask for a better situation than I’ve got.
“The players are in form and the squad is getting stronger with players back [from injury]. It wouldn’t matter which game we were going into, I’d believe in these players. At the moment they’ve got a great momentum about them, which is a fantastic thing to have at this stage of the season.”
However, the United manager has a crucial decision to make on his side’s line-up, with two intense games against Chelsea in the past 10 days and a busy programme coming up. Ferguson is fortunate that Wayne Rooney aside – the striker is suspended for swearing during the Reds’ victory over West Ham United a fortnight ago – he can call upon an almost fully fit squad.
The 69-year-old Scot will recall Dimitar Berbatov to an attacking United line-up and Ferguson says he has some sympathy for the Bulgarian, the Premier League’s top goalscorer, who has spent much of the past two months on the bench. Javier Hernández’ form has seemingly pushed Berbatov to the periphery, not for the first time in the 30-year-old’s time at Old Trafford.
“It’s unfortunate for Dimitar because he’s a fantastic player, but the reasons are obvious,” the United manager said.
“The emergence of Hernández in the last couple of months has been startling. He’s improving all the time, he’s getting stronger and it’s very difficult to leave a player out when he hits that kind of form.
“He’s fantastic, with a natural instinct to move about the box. There have been a few top strikers who’ve had that quality. Ole [Gunnar Solksjaer] was one, always being in space in the box, and having a natural instinct to do that. [Gary] Lineker probably never scored a good goal in his life. It would always come off his chest, his shin or he would get a rebound off the goalkeeper. But he was always in really good areas, and the boy Hernández is the same.”
Meanwhile, Rafael da Silva, Antonio Valencia and Paul Scholes are also in contention for a recall to the United side, with 37-year-old Ryan Giggs due a well-earned rest. Darren Fletcher is still absence with a mystery virus, although the Scot began training this week, while Owen Hargreaves will miss the rest of the campaign with a shoulder injury.
City supporters, seeking a first trophy in 35 years, will travel south in equal numbers. It is, after all, the club’s first visit to Wembley since winning the Championship play-off in 1999 – the year United secured the treble.
However, City manager Roberto Mancini must do without Carlos Tevez, the former United forward who is out with a hamstring strain. The Italian is likely to deploy £27 million striker Edin Džeko, supported by Yaya Touré, the Ivorian midfielder who has been used in a more attacking role at City. Whether Mancini liberates his side from the stultifying tactics deployed in the last two Manchester derbies is another matter altogether.
Yet, while City’s obsession with United defines the club, Red legend Scholes says the Blue side of Manchester is a rival in geographical terms only. He is surely right – and until City manages to win a first trophy in 35 years few Reds will disagree. Indeed, with Abu Dhabi’s money now fueling the Eastland’s transfer market spending spree, any silverware claimed in the coming years is rendered meaningless in the face of the club’s financial doping.
“When they are fourth or fifth [in the league], I don’t think they can be classed as a main rival,” said Scholes.
“Our main rivals are obviously Arsenal and Chelsea. I think City are just a rival because of where they are [geographically] and Liverpool the same.
“It’s an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, it’s massive, there will be 30,000 fans from each side… it’s the biggest game we’ve had against City for a while. Whoever loses will be devastated. I remember the 5-1 defeat in 1989 and Andy Hinchcliffe scoring that goal. It’s painful. I can also remember going to Maine Road and losing 3-1 [in 2002] and it’s horrible. You hate losing against anybody, but City? It’s bad.”
Thousands of Reds at Wembley today will agree; defeat a result nobody is countenancing.
Scholes scored a last-minute winner at Eastlands last season to the joy of Reds everywhere – it’s a goal the ginger maestro describes as “one of the best things I have ever done”. Another Fergie-time winner for the Reds on Saturday will send one half of Manchester home happy; the other, presumably back to Stockport, will remain forever in United’s shadow.
City – 433 – Hart; Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov; de Jong, Barry, Touré; Silva, Dzeko, Ballotelli. Subs from: Boyata, Milner, Johnson, Taylor, Zabaleta, McGivern, Wright-Phillips, Vieira.
United – 442 – van der Sar; Rafael, Vidic, Smalling, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Scholes, Park; Berbatov, Hernandez. Subs from: Kuszczak, Owen, Bébé, Fabio, Park, Obertan, Gibson, Nani, Anderson, Ferdinand, Giggs.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
Assistant referees: Mike Mullarkey and Peter Kirkup
Fourth official: Chris Foy
United – WWWWWW
City – LWWLWL
There’s nothing quite like kicking on old foe when he’s down; a habit doing the rounds at Old Trafford it seems, with key defenders Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand cranking up the pressure ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup semi-final. Indeed, with Ferdinand claiming City’s sulking players would never make it at Old Trafford, and Vidic mocking the Blues’ desperation for a trophy, United’s finest have been unusually vocal during the build up to the big match.
Yet, there is more than a little truth to the pair’s comments this week. After all it is now more than 35 years since City’s last trophy – the 1976 League Cup – and with more than £150 million spent in the transfer market since Abu Dhabi’s takeover, silverware is long overdue.
Should City fail to lift the FA Cup or qualify for the Champions league – or possibly both – Roberto Mancini will almost certainly be out of a job come May. The Italian might well be anyway, with his squad in near riotous mutiny at times this season. James Milner’s tantrum on Monday night only served to highlight a growing problem at the Eastlands club, according to some observers.
It’s a crucial difference between United and City, says Ferdinand.
“You don’t see anyone come off the pitch shaking their head or being disgruntled or sitting on the bench in a sulk at this club,” said Ferdinand of City’s off-the-pitch troubles this season.
“That’s because everyone is delighted to play for this club and they all want to be here. The moment you show a bit of dissent like that, the manager pulls rank, and rightly so. It keeps people on their toes. People want to play here, they don’t want to be part of any other squad, and that’s the way it is at United.
“It comes out of respect for the manager, the club itself and the people who are here before you and present as well. There’s an unwritten rule here. You see it in the changing-room before games – there are no cliques. Players are wishing each other well before games, even if someone else is playing in your position. That’s just the way we are.”
But Ferdinand says nobody at United is taking Saturday’s semi for granted despite City’s heavy loss to Liverpool on Monday night. Indeed, even if former Red Carlos Tevez is out of the tie due to a hamstring injury, City can call on more than £50 million of forward talent in Mario Ballotelli and Edin Dzeko.
“We need to make sure we put the bad result they had against Liverpool out of the equation and treat it like any other game,” adds Ferdinand, who has returned to full fitness in time for the season’s dénouement.
“City have invested heavily in a lot of players so they’ve got a lot of talented players to come in [if Carlos Tevez is injured]. You don’t spend £27 million on a player who is average. Edin Dzeko is a good player, he’s played Champions League football for a few years, he’s won the league in Germany, so he’s a good player. We won’t be underestimating City.”
It is this heavy spending, allied with United’s excellent position in both Premier and Champions Leagues that means the pressure is heaped on City this weekend, according to captain Vidic. With many pundits predicting that City and not United would mount a title challenge this season, Mancini must deliver on last season’s promise to “tear down” the Stretford End banner than mocks City’s long run without silverware.
“Manchester City have an obsession about winning a trophy,” Vidic told the Daily Telegraph.
“After the big money they have spent, they want to win their first trophy. In the last few years we have had a lot of success. We have always been in quarter-finals, semi-finals, two Champions League finals. We are playing at the top level. Every team wants to do their best against us. But we will be ready.
“We don’t want to be arrogant or think we are the specials. We are just trying to do our best. Manchester City will be a very difficult game but a few players haven’t won the FA Cup, myself included, and we are hungry to achieve it.”
United supporters will take heart in Vidic’s words, even if the FA Cup surely Ferguson’s lowest priority during the run-in. This is especially true given the packed Premier and Champions League schedule over the next month. However, with Ferdinand, Vidic and a number of other United stars having missed out on a cup final win – United hasn’t emerged victorious in the showpiece since beating Millwall 2004 – there remains a hunger to win.
It’s a fact that gives Saturday’s fixture an extra edge and one that may just colour Ferguson’s thinking. In recent cup semi-finals the United manager has heavily rotated, especially in the 2009 loss to Everton in which Ferguson selected several fringe squad members. However, last season’s Carling Cup semi with City saw Ferguson deploy his strongest line-up. It’s a fact supporters will draw on ahead of Saturday’s match at Wembley.
With Rafael da Silva in fine form, few expected John O’Shea to start yesterday’s Manchester derby. The Irishman, who is known more for his versatility than virtuosity, has been in poor form this season but his deployment was crucial to Manchester United’s 2-1 victory at Old Trafford.
There is no doubting Rio Ferdinand’s importance to United’s defence; a leader on the pitch, the English defender provides composure to the back line. United’s defence is much more prone to jittery moments without Ferdinand. With inexperienced Chris Smalling playing alongside Nemanja Vidic yesterday, it would have been too risky to play two attacking full-backs in Rafael and Patrice Evra. O’Shea limited his forward forages and helped stabilise the defence by providing extra cover.
It was a brilliant decision by Sir Alex Ferguson.
This column has previously argued that United’s deployment of two attacking defenders in a 4-4-2 based system has been responsible for United central midfielders’ collective poor form this season. Even against teams playing a lone forward, the Reds’ two at the back are exposed to too much pressure without support from central midfield. United’s central midfielders need to combat opposition midfielders, provide ammunition to forward players and defend as well; they end up trying to do everything and failing all.
With O’Shea, Smalling and Vidic staying back yesterday, Manchester City’s forwards were completely neutralised. United midfielders and forwards were freed by the extra defensive player at the back.
This freedom was particularly appreciated by Paul Scholes. As brilliant as he is, the English midfielder has performed noticeably worse in games where he is exposed to great pressure. Ferguson deployed Scholes deep to afford the midfield maestro extra time but even in this role, the midfielder was pressured as City played pressing game as a response to United’s deep line. With three behind him – instead of the usual two – Scholes always had an easy option to recycle possession.
In addition, Darren Fletcher and Anderson could play box-to-box roles because of the defensive stability brought on by O’Shea. O’Shea allowed Scholes to dictate the play and Fletcher and Anderson could make runs from deep, instead of helping out at the back.
Fletcher and Anderson’s running had two effects. Firstly, Scholes was afforded even more protection as United’s midfield runners pinned back City’s midfield players. Secondly, City’s defensive midfielders could not double up on Giggs and Nani.
City introduced Edin Džeko in the second half and switched to a 4-4-2. O’Shea’s presence allowed United to introduce Berbatov and match City’s system without Vidic and Smalling being overwhelmed by Džeko and Carlos Tevez.
O’Shea didn’t have a particularly spectacular game but he did what Ferguson had in mind. The game was won by a spectacular Wayne Rooney strike but the scene was very aptly set up by the Scot and his Irish defender.
Rio Ferdinand will miss Saturday’s Manchester derby, with the 32-year-old defender still suffering from the calf injury sustained last weekend. With Jonny Evans also injured, Chris Smalling is set to start alongside Nemanja Vidic in a reshuffled Manchester United defence – it’s a back-line that will face more than £100 million worth of Manchester City attacking talent at Old Trafford.
Ferdinand suffered the injury in the warm up to last week’s defeat against Wolverhampton Wanderers, with Evans lining up. But with the Irishman also injured during training with Northern Ireland this week two changes are forced on the United manager.
Indeed, Ferdinand’s loss is a huge blow not only to United’s hopes in the derby but potentially for both club’s title ambitions this season. Should City win at Old Trafford Roberto Mancini’s outfit will close to within two points of United. Should the Reds triumph then City’s hopes will be all but dashed for another season.
“Rio Ferdinand got a calf injury last week. He will be out for a couple of weeks,” Ferguson told the press on Friday.
“Jonny Evans was injured in training with Northern Ireland. He is out so Chris Smalling will play. I am sure he will do well.”
“It could have happened at any time. It is not as if it is anything to do with his back. That was our main concern last year but his back has been fine.
“You have to remember Rio has been in first-team football since he was 17. It is a long time. He will pick up little strains, like a lot of players do. This is not a long-term thing. It is a couple of weeks.”
The pressure will now pass to Smalling, who has started just 1 games for United this season, primarily in the Carling Cup and Champions League. However, the 21-year-old former Fulham defender has looked composed if a little raw during a fledgling career with the club and the derby will surely represent the biggest match of the £10 million signing’s career.
“Chris has made excellent progress this season,” added Ferguson.
“He got a bit of tightness in his back last Friday, which is why I used Jonny Evans as a substitute last week. We are very pleased with him. He has been outstanding since he came to the club.
“He has played a few games now. Of course, he lacks that big-game experience but in terms of the experience he has had, he has used it well and he has done well.”
The reshuffled defence hardly helps Ferguson, whose team lost so tamely at Molineux. While no motivation is required for the players against City, the Scot must still be concerned about the nature of United’s demise last weekend.
The United manager must also decide whether to deploy both Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov against City, whose likely three-man midfield posses Ferguson a tactical headache. Berbatov may find himself on the bench or Rooney wide left if the Scot chooses to match the opposition’s tactical system.
Park Ji-Sung could also play after recovering from the Asian Cup. The South Korean captain retired after the games, in which his side reached the semi-final before losing on penalties to Japan. But in central midfield Ferguson also faces a dilemma, with Michael Carrick woeful against Wolves and Anderson overlooked in recent weeks.
It’s a crucial call, with Ferguson acknowledging that the match could decide the Premier League’s destination this season.
“It’s a derby and it could be decisive in terms of the championship,” said the 69-year-old Scot.
“For both teams it could be decisive, and that’s what makes it such an interesting game. We just hope our home form stacks up, because I’ve been very pleased with our home form this season.”
In that there is a crumb of comfort after last weekend’s events. While United has performed poorly away from Old Trafford some of the football at home has inspired. The 7-1 thrashing of Blackburn Rovers was followed in quick succession by a 5-0 hammering of Birmingham City.
Meanwhile, City could be without both Mario Ballotelli and Nigel de Jong, with the pair both suffering injuries. Most intriguing though will be City’s formation after the ultra-negative approach in the tie between the sides at Eastlands earlier this season. New signing £27 million Edin Džeko may start on the bench unless Mancini changes the habit of a season and throws caution to the wind in a game the Italian is playing down.
“It’s a derby, a big game in Manchester when the top of the table plays the third in the table, but not the most important this season,” said Mancini.
“I’d like to win at Old Trafford. It is better to win there than at home…better for our heads and our personalities.
“Nobody would have thought that United would have lost at Wolves. And now The Europa League and Champions League starts again.
“Maybe United has more of a winning mentality than us because they have been unbeaten for a long time, but only this is the difference…when we start to win trophies then that can change. I think it is very important for us to win something at the end of the season.”
Probably the difference between Mancini keeping his job or otherwise.
Wolves – 451 – Hart; Boateng, Kompany, Toure K, Kolarov; Toure Y, Vieira, Barry; Milner, Tevez, Silva. Subs from: Given, Lescott, Jo, Zabaleta, Dzeko, Wright-Phillips, Razak, Guidetti
United – 442 – van der Sar; Rafael da Silva, Vidic, Smalling, Evra; Nani, Scholes, Fletcher, Giggs; Rooney, Berbatov. Subs from: Kuzszazk, Evans, Brown, Gibson, Owen, Bébé, Lindegaard, Fabio da Silva, O’Shea, Obertan, Hernández, Anderson, Park Ji-Sung, Carrick.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Assistant referees: Adam Watts & Scott Ledger
Fourth official: Martin Atkinson
United – WWWWWL
City – WWLDDW
This weekend’s 158th Manchester derby isn’t the most important fixture between the city’s preeminent football clubs, despite the inevitable hype. Far from it. But the match will go a long way towards deciding the fates of both United and City, with 13 Premier League matches remaining this season.
While defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers last Saturday reduced the Reds’ lead in the title race to just four points – five over City – United remains in pole position to take a 19th domestic league title come May. For City the match could effectively end Roberto Mancini’s hopes of title glory this season.
United’s 2-1 loss at Molineux has reinvigorate the challenge from Arsenal, Chelsea and City after Sir Alex Ferguson’s outfit reeled off a 29 match unbeaten run in the Premier League, 24 of them this season. The sequence of results, despite criticism over United’s performances, particularly evident away from home, meant that Ferguson’s side had threatened to run away with the title race.
Not so and a second defeat in a row could mean just a one point lead for United after the weekend’s fixtures. By a quirk of the fixture calendar Arsenal faces Wolves on Saturday, while Chelsea visits Fulham – both eminently winnable fixtures. It’s a challenge that United’s Scottish midfielder Darren Fletcher believes United will rise to, with the Reds arguably facing the toughest fixture list of any leading club.
“You have got to earn the title,” said the 26-year-old midfielder.
“Nobody gives you the trophy. The team that wins the league will be the team that deserved it and showed the best form throughout the season. That is always said and hopefully we can prove our title credentials in the next few months.
“The big games can ultimately win you trophies. We’ve got to go to Liverpool and Arsenal, still play Chelsea twice and we have Manchester City this weekend. But we enjoy big games. This club is all about performing and rising to challenges.”
Three of those fixtures are away from Old Trafford where United’s form has yielded just three wins on the road in the Premier League – at Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and Blackpool. Indeed, United’s points tally away from Old Trafford is better only than Liverpool of the current top six.
But Fletcher says that there is no complacency in the United camp despite the healthy league lead. If anything the sobering loss to Wolves and the accompanying performance – as insipid a United display as anything witnessed by supporters in the past five years – will have refocused the players’ minds.
“We know they lie ahead of us. We’re not naïvely thinking that the league is over,” added the Scot who is certain to start at Old Trafford on Saturday lunchtime.
“I am not saying we are going to win the treble, but we are still in all competitions and looking well. We are in a good position in the league but by no means are we taking that for granted.
“We are looking to kick on and keep winning these matches. The Premier League has shown that it is getting even more competitive. There have been so many shock results this season. We have to be wary of that and make sure we go into every game in top form.”
Meanwhile, Mancini’s Blues continue to perform sporadically. Victory over West Brom at the weekend followed a disappointing draw with Birmingham City and the recent loss to Aston Villa.
Criticism of the Italian’s tactics has been rife too and not without justification. Mancini’s tendency to deploy three holding midfielders in a five man midfield has led to accusations of a defensive-minded approach. Indeed, City’s ultra-negative outlook at Eastlands earlier this season produced a lifeless goalless draw in the 157th derby.
However, the recent £27 million acquisition Edin Džeko could start at Old Trafford along with Carlos Tevez and the returning Ballotelli. Throw Adam Johnson, David Silva and James Milner into the mix and City can boast a potent attacking force – if Mancini chooses to use them of course.
Saturday’s game is also conveniently close to the 35th anniversary of City’s last trophy, earned with a 2-1 victory over Newcastle United to win the League Cup on 28 February 1976. And much as Mancini promised to “tear that banner down” it will inevitably tick over in the coming weeks.
Saturday’s match, should it end in defeat for City, will surely end the Blues remaining hopes of title glory. With City out of the Carling Cup, facing a replay with Notts County in the FA Cup and up to 10 more matches in the Europa League, there is the distinct possibility the banner will tick over to 36 years before the Blue half of Manchester can claim another trophy.
In tandem with the club’s heavy spending, the conspicuous lack of silverware means the pressure is firmly on Mancini to deliver at least fourth place in the Premier League by May. A negative result could put even that scenario in doubt, with Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea each holding a game in hand and Liverpool resurgent under Kenny Dalglish.
Ferguson’s outfit will remain top whatever the result on Saturday. Victory, however, will go a long way towards securing that coveted 19th title in addition to those all important local bragging rights.
It was perhaps the most anaemic Manchester derby in a generation, with City far too scared to lose and United not possessing the will to wrest the game from the cross-town neighbours. Arguably the most shocking aspect of the match though: Roberto Mancini’s total lack of attacking ambition in front of the Eastlands crowd.
This coming from a side whose designs on the top four is both immediate and highly funded.
Criticism, especially in the local press, has been widespread, with Mancini taking the brunt of media and supporter ire for an encounter that promising so much and delivered very little.
Billed by some, although not the clubs it must be said, as the most important Manchester derby ever, the match failed to deliver either entertainment or a statement of intent. It was a night of frustration, claimed United’s ‘keeper Edwin van der Sar.
“City did not really come forward and leave their defensive position,” United’s goalkeeper said.
“They were clearly aiming for a point whereas we really wanted to win. They were so defensive I didn’t have anything to do apart from [save] one free-kick.”
It’s hard to offer too loud a Bronx cheer though, despite City seemingly settling for a home draw. After all, Mancini is under extreme pressure to deliver fourth place and effectively no more in the current cycle. City’s ten-year plan – accelerated to two with Abu Dhabi’s wealth on tap – involves qualification for the Champions League this season and a final bout of expenditure before UEFA’s financial fair play regulations kick in next July.
In that, Mancini’s risk was far higher than Sir Alex Ferguson’s, whose team has been so blunted by injury, illness and under-investment this season. United, as Ferguson said, never set out to draw away from home, even if the Scot’s team failed to take any risks to force a victory. To not lose was effectively each side’s mantra.
Yet, for all the grand talk at City, the preoccupation with Wayne Rooney’s – failed for now – capture and the summer heavy spending, there was, for want of a better word, so little ambition on show. One wonders what Rooney, watching no doubt from his Nike World campus base, thought of it all?
After all the 25-year-old Scouse striker was basically happy to ink the five-year £260,000 a week deal offered by the Eastlands club. Supporter, PR and Ferguson’s pressure eventually told – at least for the short-term – but Rooney’s head was certainly turned.
City is not yet among Europe’s élite despite the Eastland’s bluster, although Mancini insisted after the game, somewhat disingenuously, that his side is now “on a level” with United. In terms of playing resources perhaps. In mentality his side possesses a distinct inferiority complex.
“I wanted to win this game, but sometimes it is better to draw than lose, like last year. But we played to win this game,” Mancini claimed last night.
“I think it was a difficult game for both teams, but we improved from last year because we didn’t concede a goal in the last minute.
“I think that when you play against United, if you don’t play well and give them a chance to score, they score.
“We didn’t create many chances, but last season we scored against them and lost three matches all in the last minute.”
Yet City cannot hope to win the Premier League setting up with three holding midfielders, despite the recent win over Chelsea. It is now arguable whether Mancini’s side even intends to challenge.
Indeed, with just three victories at Eastlands this season, City’s problem will come when the opposition fails to be drawn out of its defensive entrenchment. Much, it could be argued, as the Blues set out to achieve last night.
That said, next summer will provide a pivotal moment in both clubs development. Should the Blues qualify for the Champions League one final transfer market splurge may beckon before the club must balance the books.
Certainly the rampant over-confidence demonstrated by the club’s supporters will bring pressure to bear on both manager and owners to deliver a winning outfit sooner than later.
Meanwhile, United may still find it a challenge to keep Rooney at the club, despite the apparent promise from Joel Glazer to release the purse strings. United, with £160 million lodged in the clubs bank account but a looming £750 million debt, has seemingly promised to spend big in the coming summer window.
Few with any basic understanding of the club’s economics believe that is a viable long-term approach. Indeed, if retirements, under-investment and debt further weaken United’s resources then City may yet claim the crown of Manchester’s finest.
That day is not now. Certainly not with City’s inferiority complex so vivid. Rooney could do worse than to heed last night’s lesson.
One of the most attritional Manchester derbies in recent times ended in stalemate at Eastlands, with both sides deploying five across midfield and a cautious approach for much of the game. This, in truth, was nothing like the drama the two clubs served up in four astonishing meetings last season as the 157th Manchester derby ended scoreless.
Given Manchester United’s recent trouble with injuries and illness, Sir Alex Ferguson would probably have taken a point from the short trip across town. In the end though, United failed to translate dominance of possession in midfield into clear chances or goals as the game petered out into congested trench warfare.
United though will end the match the more frustrated of the two sides, with the game there to be won but for City’s willingness to defend in numbers in front of its own supporters.
“City are very difficult to beat on their own ground and that’s obvious with the way they set their stall out in the second half,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.
“I was pleased with the control we had, we were very confident and had good possession of the ball but we needed to create chances. I think we had two, in that sense we didn’t do enough.
“I think there was too much tension for it to be kind of match people thought it would be. It’s a decent result but we don’t count draws away from home as the target before the game. Our target is to win the game and I think we had enough possession to do that.”
Ryan Giggs missed his first Derby in nearly 20 years, sidelined with a hamstring injury and the ‘flu in recent weeks. In his stead Ferguson opted for Nani and weekend goalscorer Park Ji-Sung in support of Dimitar Berbatov, with Javier Hernández perhaps unlucky to miss out given the Mexican’s recent good form.
If United’s line-up looked cautious then Ferguson opted to match City’s five in midfield, with Park also looking to tuck inside. City, meanwhile, offered up a powerful if defensive-minded trio of Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure.
With the younger Toure brother and Darren Fletcher often the closest of the midfield sextet to their respective strikers, the match was always likely to be characterised by more attrition than flair. Indeed, the cagey opening period lasted most of the tie.
Yet the the hosts almost created the first chance of the night, with Carlos Tevez evading Rio Ferdinand and failing to shoot when the opportunity presented itself. Long range efforts from Michael Carrick and Nani in the opening quarter barely tested Joe Hart in the City net.
No surprise then that it was more than 35 minutes into the match before either ‘keeper was forced into a save at full stretch, with Edwin van der Sar palming away Tevez’ free-kick. In truth either ‘keeper could have been forgiven for taking the night off on this evidence.
The second period began much as the first finished. United pushed the frankly abysmal Park into an even more central role in an increasingly congested midfield as the two side’s largely cancelled each other out. The South Korean, who scored twice against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday, lost possession 12 times in an often careless display.
Yet the visitors almost drew first blood, with substitute Wes Brown and Carrick working an opportunity for Berbatov to fire straight at Hart from eight yards. It was almost as good as it got at Eastlands.
United, hampered by injuries to both fullbacks during the match, resisted the temptation to use Hernández until 13 minutes from time as both sides sought safety in numbers. Indeed, the Mexican’s introduction was at the expense of Berbatov, who played well, but often far too deep to inflict real damage on the hosts.
United, though, continued to dictate the pace of the game and edge possession as Ferguson’s side had throughout. Carrick and Fletcher, aided by Scholes, out thought and often fought their counterparts in the City engine room. On this evidence, Geordie Carrick may well be finding his best form once again.
It wasn’t enough though, with United unable to find the opportunity in the closing minutes that characterised last season’s dramatic wins over the Blues.
“I think today we saw two teams that defended as units and a draw was the right result,” said United captain Vidic.
“It’s a hard place for us to come, we came here to win the game but City was a strong team today. We played some good football but we didn’t create too many chances.”
Man-of-the-match Vidic neatly summarised the match, which will be forgotten quickly. However, the draw extends to 25 United’s lossless steak spread across two campaigns.
The Reds will have to find a greater cutting edge to win the Premier League title, especially away from home, but there were at least more positives than often has been the case on the road this season.
City – 451 – Hart; Boateng (Kolarov 80), Kolo Toure, Kompany, Zabaleta; Milner (A Johnson 73), Barry, De Jong, Yaya Toure, Silva; Tevez (Adebayor 90+4).
United – 451 – Van der Sar; Rafael (Brown 49), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra (O’Shea 68); Nani, Scholes, Fletcher, Carrick, Park; Berbatov (Hernandez 77).
Attendance – 47,679
Man of the Match – Vidic
Possession: City 48% – 52% United
Attempts: 6 – 7
On target: 4 – 4
Corners: 8 – 5
Fouls: 10 – 12
Tonight is the 157th Manchester derby and there have been some classics, from the Busby Babe’s last Old Trafford derby to Michael Owen’s injury time winner last season. In between we’ve seen routs, famous comebacks and a Roy Keane special on Alfe Inge Haarland’s kneecap. Relive some Red favourites ahead of tonight’s match!
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.
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, 7 November, 1993
One of United’s greatest ever comebacks – this time in City’s backyard. Trailing by two Nial Quinn goals, United returned with strikes from Eric Cantona and Roy Keane, winning it in the final minute of the match. Sweet. “Two nil and you f*cked it up…” sang the United faithful.
Manchester United 5 – 0 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 10 November, 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 16 years ago today. It was the match that finally put the lid on City’s 5-1 victory in ’89 and allowed fans in the Red half of Manchester to raise their heads once again!
Manchester United 1 – 1 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 24 April, 2001
Roy Keane’s long running feud with the Norwegian Alfe-Inge Haarland led to this horror tackle by the midfielder. Keane saw red and was banned for three matches. Then in his biography the Irishman appeared to suggested that he wanted to hurt the City player. It cost Keane a further five match ban and £150,000 fine.
Manchester United 4 – 3 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 20 September, 2009
Michael Owen scored an injury minute winner in, perhaps, one of the most dramatic derbies ever. United looked to have thrown the match away despite leading, as Craig Bellamy drew City level in the final minute. Earlier Wayne Rooney and Darren Fletcher had given United the lead. Then the dénouement as Owen collected Ryan Giggs’ pass and fired home. Sir Alex Ferguson danced down the touchline and City fans haven’t stopped moaning ever since.
Sir Alex Ferguson says he has “no idea” who will be fit for tomorrow night’s 157th derby as the flu virus sweeps though Manchester United’s camp. The list of players who have contracted the ‘flu over the past week now runs to 12, with a further six players out or rated doubtful for the clash against Manchester City at Eastlands on Wednesday night.
In addition to Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen, who are both suffering from hamstring injuries, Nani has a groin problem and is rated doubtful by manager Ferguson, although that may be a typical pre-match ruse from the Scot.
Long-term injured duo Wayne Rooney and Antonio Valenica definitely miss out, while Ryan Giggs has trained for 10 days following a hamstring complaint but is unlikely to play after being hit with the virus.
In total a full team has been laid low by the ‘flu in the past week, including Anderson, Federico Macheda, Darron Gibson, Jonny Evans, Paul Scholes, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Darren Fletcher, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Carrick.
Meanwhile, Rooney continues to train on his own at Nike World campus just outside Portland, Oregon, with the SPARQ team and is not due to return to Carrington before Saturday. The striker looked fit while put through some simple jogging and ball exercises yesterday.
Ferguson, philosophical about his team’s reduced options, may turn to some of his squad’s lesser lights for the four mile trip across Manchester.
“We’ve still got some players out with ‘flu and some players were sent home yesterday,” said Ferguson.
“So we’re not in a great position at the moment. Hopefully tomorrow we’re better, but there seems to be a lingering aspect of this virus going around and there’s nothing we can do about it. We’ve a strong squad and we just carry on.”
Ferguson, dependent on his players’ fitness, is likely to deploy a loose 4-4-2 formation, with ‘flu-hit Berbatov joined by in-form Javier Hernández in attack and Nani supporting from United’s right flank. Park Ji-Sung will nominally operate from the left, while tucking in to support United’s central midfield.
United beat City on three occasions last season, with late goals proving the difference between the two sides. However, Ferguson is aware that City’s financial power since being taken over by the Abu Dhabi Royal Family in 2008, has closed the gap between the two clubs.
“If clubs have money and want to spend it, they will,” said Ferguson.
“Chelsea did the same. So did Sunderland back in the 1950s. It is not an unusual thing. It is a fact of life.
“The only difference is that City is an untapped well at the moment. But it is difficult to say whether it is inevitable they are going to win the league at some point. It is still a difficult league to win.
“Obviously, in many people’s eyes, having the money is a lot better than not having it.”
The latter Ferguson says without a hint of irony, having defended the Glazer family’s debt-fuelled business model over the past five years.
Despite United’s problems this season closing out wins Ferguson’s team has now emerged victorious six games in a row and is unbeaten in 24 matches spanning two campaigns. United has also won the last four Premier League derbies against City, since a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford in February 2008.
Meanwhile, left-back Evra says that City is obsessed with United, while the Reds focus on winning trophies. Something the Blue half of Manchester has not experienced in more than 34 years.
“I can say it would be nice to beat Manchester City because it is a special game – it is the derby and everyone wants to win – but it is not the priority,” Evra said.
“The priority is to win the league but make sure we don’t lose the derby.”
Asked what he thinks of City’s suggestion the blue half of Manchester is now the best team in the city, the defender said: “They always say that and they never beat us.
“We need to win every game. We don’t need to just win against Manchester City. We look to win the league, that’s it.
“If we win, it is a good result for Manchester United — it will be normal. It will not be so special. When we start the league season, we think about winning every game.”
City manager Roberto Mancini will be without striker Mario Ballotelli, who was sent off against West Bromwich Albion at the weekend. The Italian forward received a straight red card for stamping on Youssuf Mulumbu but has appealed the three match ban.
Emmanuel Adebayor is doubtful with a calf injury but former Red Carlos Tevez has returned from a trip home to Argentina and will play.
City – 451 – Hart; Boateng, Kompany, Kolo Toure, Zabaleta; Milner, Barry, De Jong, Yaya Toure, Silva; Tevez. Subs from: Given, Richards, Kolarov, Johnson, Vieira, Lescott, Wright-Phillips, Jo, Boyata, Bridge.
Van der Sar, Kuszczak, Rafael, Brown, O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Smalling, Evans, Evra, Fabio, Obertan, Bébé, Carrick, Scholes, Fletcher, Anderson, Park, Nani, Berbatov, Hernández, Macheda.
Referee: Chris Foy
Assistant referees: Andy Garratt & Bob Pollock
Fourth official: Lee Probert
City – WWLLLW
United – WWWWWW
Real Madrid goalkeeper Ilker Casillas knows something about ‘keeping. Alongside Petr Cech, Edwin van der Sar and Gianluigi Buffon, Casillas has arguably been the world’s finest over the past decade. Casillas now believes Manchester City’s Joe Hart is ready to take over the mantle – if he makes the crosstown switch to United first!
“Teams like Manchester United and AC Milan have ageing keepers and Joe would be perfect for either of them,” said Casillas.
“If I am being honest, over the last five years I don’t think there has been a keeper close to Gigi Buffon, or myself. But from what I have seen of Joe Hart, he really can be great.
“When Buffon and I are well into our 30s Joe will be at his peak and I expect him to be the number one keeper in the world. Everything he does is so natural and he has that goalkeeper’s instinct, which you can’t just learn.
“But like so many of City’s players, Hart needs to play Champions League football. If he doesn’t get it, he won’t stay. I think it’s fine if you want to go and be part of the revolution at City. But I would suggest all players write clauses into their contract about being able to leave the club if they don’t make it into the Champions League.”
Not that Hart would be the first City play to want out. To date Carlos Tevez, Roque Santa Cruz, Robinho (now departed), Steven Ireland (also departed), Emmanuel Adebayor, and even new signing Mario Ballotelli have professed a wish to play their football elsewhere.
Who can blame them?
Just in case there is any doubt about Manchester City’s massive ambitions – after spending close to £300 million in two seasons for a Carling Cup semi final – the club has confirmed it still boasts both the widest pitch and tallest floodlights in the land.
The massive news, confirmed through crowd sourcing encyclopaedia Wikipedia, comes as a relief to City fans, thought to be concerned that the 2003 move to Eastlands from Maine Road had diminished the club’s massive status.
… at reserve team level that is, with Manchester United’s second string overcoming cross-town neighbours 3-1 in the Manchester Senior Cup. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side sported six internationals and a similar number of Under-21s in arguably the strongest reserve outfit in memory, including returning Brazilian midfielder Anderson.
Federico Macheda struck twice and Tom Cleverley scored United’s other goal as the Reds eased to victory in the first derby of the season, against Manchester City’s preposterously named “Elite Development Squad”. The work of Gary Cook, no doubt.
The presence of so many internationals helped of course, with Anderson and Rafael da Silva each featuring for an hour, while Michael Carrick, Gary Neville, Wes Brown, Chris Smalling and Darron Gibson all played at Hyde United’s Ewen Fields.
One notable scorer, Cleverley, continues to have high hopes for the season despite not featuring in either of United’s Premier League games to date this season.
“All I can do is keep playing to my top performance level when I play, whether it’s for the Reserves or the first team,” he told MUTV tonight.
“As long as I keep doing that, hopefully the manager will see I’m doing well and I’ll get a couple of chances here and there.”
“Any game against City is a big one, but in our squad tonight I think we had six internationals and six under-21 internationals or something silly like that, so there was added pressure there,” he said. “It was one of the strongest Reserve teams ever.
“We didn’t start badly, then they got the goal and we lost our momentum a little bit. But we got one in the first half, kicked on in the second, got a couple of good goals, and it’s a good victory.”
Meanwhile, striker Mame Biram Diouf scored a hat-trick on his full Blackburn Rovers debut against Norwich City in the Carling Cup last night. The Senegalese player has made two substitute appearances for Rovers in the Premier League.
United reserves: Amos; Neville, Smalling, Brown, Rafael (Dudgeon 60); Gibson, Carrick (Gill 73), Anderson (W Keane 60); Eikrem, Cleverley; Macheda. Subs not used: Devlin, Norwood.
Sir Alex Ferguson says Manchester City are now genuine title contenders, with the Eastlands club likely to spend large sums before the new season kicks of in mid-August. Roberto Mancini’s outfit finished a 34th season without a trophy and failed to make the Champions League but will be heavy investors this summer.
Last season began with City signing former United striker Carlos Tevez and Ferguson accusing the cross-town rivals of being small-minded for crowing about the acquisition in a now infamous Manchester poster.
City’s pretension to the throne took a beating, with Ferguson’s Manchester United victorious over City on three occasions last season; knocking the Eastlands club out of the Carling Cup on the way to winning the tournament and doing a Premier League double with late goals in each tie amid much acrimony.
But with United’s transfer budget restricted by the Glazer family’s £716.5 million debt the 18 point gap is likely to close next season as Mancini’s side makes an assault on the title.
“They will be a lot stronger this time,” Ferguson told the Daily Mail today.
“With the experience of last year behind them they’ll be better equipped to go for the title because they will spend big money again.
“Winning the title is going to be more difficult for anybody. This time it’s been ourselves and Chelsea and Arsenal for a period, but I think we can all hear the horses’ hooves galloping closer.”
Much will depend on City’s transfer activity, with Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard probable summer targets, although neither deal will come easily. £11 million German international central defender Jérôme Boateng will get the ball rolling when he joins from Hamburger SV.
Money is no guarantee of success though. City’s £24 million spent on Joleon Lescott now looks more than a little embarrassing, while untold riches were unable to bring Brazilian Kaká to Eastlands 18 months ago.
Evidence of this is also present in Spain, where Real Madrid’s £260 million spent last summer bought precisely no trophies to the Bernabeau.
There is also no shortage of competition in the market. Barcelona will spend more than £80 million on Cesc Fabregas and David Villa in the coming weeks, while Real Madrid will surely be compelled to respond in kind.
Moreover, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has apparently sanctioned a £70 million bid for Torres as the domestic market heats up.
“In addition to City, I’m expecting Tottenham to be in the mix as well. I suppose the neutrals will welcome a situation where the competition is spread further as being good for the game,” added Ferguson.
Meanwhile the United manager is keeping his counsel when it comes to transfer activity, with many onlookers now believing that the Old Trafford coffers are empty.
But Ferguson, who claims United’s limited spending in the past year is due to ‘poor value’ in the market, insists that the club’s failure to land the Premier or Champions League this season will not spark a revolution at Old Trafford.
“Of course I’m disappointed we didn’t quite get there this season, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be making wholesale changes,” said the Scot.
“I believe we are well placed to make another challenge next season. We have brought in some young players over the past couple of seasons and they’re going to be a lot better this time. We also have tremendous experience in the side.
“I’d like to make a couple of signings, but the market is very narrow. There will be a few clubs trying to buy the same players and we all can’t get what we want.”
If that sounds disheartening for United supporters then the competition from the club’s noisy neighbours is only likely to intensify.
City is challenging United off the field too with the club’s owners, the Abu Dahbi Royal Family, spending heavily on redeveloping the area around Eastlands to include a fan zone, training ground and leisure facilities.
As the very definition of a vanity purchase, City’s spending is perhaps unsurprising. After decades in the shadow of United, the club must spend lavishly to catch up on and off the field.
United’s challenge in a city where Reds consistently beat Blues is to maintain the club’s superiority in an era of enforced austerity at Old Trafford.
Fresh from the disgraceful, if predictable behaviour of Manchester City fans at Eastlands on Saturday, supporters then beat up Mame Biram Diouf’s brother after the game. Proof, if required, that nouveau riche millions rarely changes clubs or their fans for the better. But reputation does matter for Abu Dhabi’s Royal Family.
City’s acquisition by Sheikh Mansour and co was the very definition of a vanity purchase. The club, much like Chelsea before, bought at the whim of the ultra rich with little interest in its history. Even profit appears to have little relevance, with more than £300 million spent on transfer fees and losses locked into the business plan for many years to come.
Rather, the ‘glory’ of owning a Premier League club for the world to see, with the associated prestige and glamour attracted Abu Dhabi as much as Roman Abramovich to Chelsea years before.
Saturday’s victory at Eastland was Manchester United’s third over the local rivals this season but in each City’s supporters and players have brought embarrassment on the club. From fans throwing lighters at Patrice Evra, to Carlos Tevez insulting Gary Neville after the United defender’s innocuous column, to Craig Bellamy thumping a restrained pitch invader.
Little else is expected of a club who’s “small minds” launched the season with the now infamous ‘Welcome to Manchester’ Tevez poster. Even Tevez dismissed the idea as little more than a cheap insult.
Led by the hapless ceo Gary Cook, City’s behaviour is not that of the ‘big’ club the owners wish it to become. It’s hardly possible to image Real Madrid or Barcelona wasting time with a media campaign designed to humiliate the other. Hatred may run deep on the Iberian peninsula but there are far bigger prizes at stake.
It’s a fact that Brazilian Kaká knew well when he rejected the club in favour of Madrid a year ago. Cook’s assertion that Milan “bottled it” an insult both to an organisation that remains a cut above and a player that could never sign until City joins the big boys. Both metaphorically, and in terms of Champions League qualification.
Then the dénouement, with City fans’ attack on Abdul Biram Diouf Saturday night. Supporters kicked, punched and left Diouf in a shrub after the game. The 28-year-old brother of United’s Senegalese striker wore his sibling’s Carling Cup final shirt at Eastlands, leaving no doubt about the attack’s motivation.
It marked a night of trouble in the city, with more than 20 arrests on both sides of the divide after post-match fighting.
Perhaps little surprise though with City fans engaging in now typical United-baiting during the match; singing songs about Munich and launching blow-up aeroplanes into the stands. Ignorance of their own club’s history perhaps but management has done little in the intervening years to rectify its supporters’ behaviour.
To fail to condemn is to tacitly condone, after all.
Sheihk Mansour should worry. After all what’s the point in a glamour buy if the club’s ceo, players and supporters bring shame on the family?
But perhaps the Greater Manchester Police sum up the difference between the two clubs better than any condemnation on this site. GMP report that one City fan, arrested on Saturday night, picked up and threw fresh horse manure at United supporters with his bare hands.
Elbow high in faeces while United fight it out for a 19th domestic title and a record fourth in a row.
Sir Alex Ferguson praised goalscorer Paul Scholes and hailed Manchester United’s never-say-die spirit as Reds overcame Blues at Eastlands today. United’s win brought Ferguson’s side to within a point of Chelsea at the head of the Premier League with the Londoners losing 2-1 to Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane in the late kick-off.
“We’ve three last-minute goals against them now this season but deserve it,” said Ferguson, whose team has scored at 90+6, 90+4 and 90+3 against City this season.
“We had the best chances but it did not look like anyone was going to win.
“The game became very open in the last 10 minutes.
“Derbies are derbies and the way we have won has given our supporters great excitement. To do it that way on City’s own ground is a great result for us.
“We wanted to keep a clean sheet because we know if we get back to zero against it gives us a chance. One-nil wins have played a big part in our title wins and 1-0 today shows that’s true.”
Ferguson also reserved special praise for the magnificent Scholes, who rolled back the years to dictate the game and score a match winning header with just 17 seconds remaining.
“No-one is better than him at ghosting into the box,” added Ferguson.
“He was man of the match today, he was wonderful, he’s such a skilful player.”
35-year-old Scholes signed a new contract with United this week that will keep the Bury-born midfielder at the club until June 2011.
Sir Alex Ferguson charged on the pitch as Gary Neville embraced match-winner Paul Scholes and fans danced on their seats. Scholes’ injury time strike won the Manchester derby in an encounter low on quality but high on drama. City may feel its time will come but for now, deep into ‘Fergie time,’ the Reds retained local honours.
The game began with Ferguson placing trust in veterans Neville and Scholes, together with Ryan Giggs. In recent fixtures the United legends’ ponderous displays have seen Ferguson’s side knocked out of Europe and all but cede the Premier League to Chelsea.
But experience told, with man-of-the-match Scholes rolling back the years. Imperious in the middle of the park, Scholes’ goal capped a team performance that places pressure on Chelsea with just three games remaining.
“Obviously we’re now hoping Tottenham win tonight,” said Ferguson, whose side was just 17 seconds away from a draw that would surely have ended the Premier League title race this afternoon.
“If they do, then the title’s back on
“Our win is a big boost to Tottenham because they can go fourth tonight, we think that’s where their incentive comes. After tonight we’ll know better.
“I think we’ve deserved to win the game. I don’t think there’s any question about that. But I couldn’t see a goal coming to be honest.
“Towards the end, City made a bit of a charge themselves. The game got a bit open. It freed us, I decided to put Scholesy up and it’s paid off.”
United began in frantic mode, eager to capitalise on Wayne Rooney’s return to the starting line-up. But withdrawn by the 75th minute, the striker’s inspirational qualities failed to mask Rooney’s obvious lack of fitness.
Before Rooney left the action, United created the first opportunities of an opening period the visitors dominated. First, Darren Fletcher struck a 20-yard shot just wide and then long-range specialist Darron Gibson missed the target with another overly ambitious attempt.
The first moment of controversy came with half an hour of the match gone. Wayne Bridge, returning to the City team after injury, handled in the area only for referee Martin Atkinson to miss an obvious spot kick. City’s vocal criticism of the official this week, who added six minutes to the Old Trafford fixture in September, having the desired effect.
But United continued to create opportunities with Antonio Valenica at the heart of the action.
The Ecuadorian created a chance for Rooney, whose drop of the shoulder bought space before he sent a left-footed drive wide of Shay Given’s goal. Valencia, giving Bridge a torrid time, then crossed for Giggs whose weak flick found only the City ‘keeper.
Not that United had the tie all its own way. City hit back with former United forward Carlos Tevez drawing a flying save from Edwin van der Sar in the visitors’ goal.
Much of United’s best work channelled through Scholes, who given time and space by City’s outnumbered midfield, dictated both tempo and direction of the Reds’ play. It took Roberto Mancini more than an hour to change City’s shape and bring the home side into the tie.
First Craig Bellamy fired wide with Emmanuel Adebayor well placed in the area and then City claimed a penalty when Gareth Barry fell under pressure. Replays showed an outrageous dive by the England midfielder that went unpunished by officialdom.
It mattered little with United pressing hard for a winner the spirited display had earned. First Giggs just failed to reach substitute Nani’s cross and then Dimitar Berbatov, on for Rooney, headed inches wide with the goal at his mercy.
Then came the stunning dénouement, with Scholes demonstrating the heading art to a tee to send United’s fans, players and management into raptures.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side make the short trip across town for the 156th Manchester derby safe in the knowledge that his side’s dominance of both domestic and local football matters is at stake. While nobody in the United camp is giving up on the title just yet, local pride dictates that fourth-placed City will do everything to end the Reds hopes today.
The stakes are hardly any smaller for City, with a place in the Champions League next season essential to the Blues’ ability to attract the players the club’s limitless wealth can afford.
Indeed, Ferguson rates the match as the most highly anticipated Manchester derby in his 23 years at the club.
“There is a definite emphasis on this game that has never been there before in my time at United,” said the United manager.
“It is the first time we have played City when they have a chance of actually achieving something. The neutrals would say that scenario is fantastic and it makes the game even more fascinating.
“City’s form over the past few weeks has been excellent. Five goals against Birmingham last week – nobody has done that to them this season.
“It is a different derby because of what both clubs can achieve out of it – and what both can lose. This fixture must be an accident because you couldn’t have planned it.
“It is the most pivotal week of the season for us, Chelsea, Spurs and City and the scenarios are fantastic.”
It’s a match United must win, with Chelsea four points ahead of Ferguson’s side. Victory for United will draw the reds to within a point with just three games to go.
Chelsea visit Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday and must also travel to Anfield, with Ferguson realistically needing the Londoners to lose both matches.
“We hope Chelsea lose because it will put us back in it,” Ferguson added.
“It is not going to be easy for us because Chelsea can afford a draw but it all makes for an interesting and exciting day.”
Ferguson hopes to include Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand. The injured trio have trained this week, although Rooney’s injured ankle is now less worrying than injuries to Ferdinand and Giggs according to the Scot.
United also includes Owen Hargreaves in the matchday squad. The Canadian-born midfielder hasn’t turned out for the Reds in more than 18 months but is now considered ready for a place on the bench despite only one reserve team appearance in that time.
United’s limp performance against Blackburn Rovers last weekend means Ferguson will make changes for the Eastlands match, with Paul Scholes, Dimitar Berbatov and Gary Neville most at risk.
John O’Shea will continue his recovery from long-term injury and may start at right-back.
But Ferguson realises that challenge from City extends further than Saturday’s lunch-time kick off, with the Eastlands club set to spend huge sums of Abu Dhabi money in the summer.
The Blues’ challenge is to reach fourth this season but Ferguson recognises the club’s long-term oil-fueled ambition is to win the Premier League title.
“City would still have the small problem of United, Chelsea, Arsenal and, possibly, Liverpool, who have been disappointing this season, to overcome, but they will be revved up to do better,” added Ferguson, who called City small minded earlier this season.
“But the great thing about City is that they have an amazing amount of buying power. They can go and buy another team and you can be rest assured they will be buying.”
The great thing about football is that only 11 can take the field on Saturday. With United having already knocked City out of the Carling Cup and scored an injury-time winner at Old Trafford in September local bragging rights remain firmly in the Reds’ camp.
“When we go to Old Trafford, we will take that banner down. This is the last year, because we will win.” – Roberto Mancini, Manchester City manager.
“This football club is, without doubt, going to be the biggest and best football club in the world.” – Gary Cook, Manchester City CEO.
Carling Cup semi-final second leg, Old Trafford, 27 January 2010
Manchester Untied 3 – 1 Manchester City
FA Cup Fourth Round replay, Britannia Stadium, 24 February 2010
Stoke City 3 – 1 Manchester City
1. Chelsea – 61 pts
2. Manchester United – 60 pts
5. Manchester City – pts
Time to update the Stretford End banner…
John Terry may wish to look away after a high court today lifted a so-called super-injunction that banned publication of lurid sex secrets. England Captain Terry, alleges a popular Sunday tabloid, had an affair with former Chelsea left-back Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend. The Chelsea skipper had sought to stop details becoming public.
The News of the World, is it reported in today’s Guardian, is due to print an exposé that alleges Terry, 29, had an affair with Vanessa Perroncel, the French actress and model who dated the 29-year-old Manchester City defender until late last year.
Perroncel, who gave birth to a son Jaydon Jean Claude Bridge in November 2006, split with Bridge before Christmas 2009. She reportedly remained in Surrey following the defender’s £12 million transfer to City in January 2008.
But lifting the banning order, Mr Justice Tugenhadt said that it is no longer in the public interest to keep the relationship secret.
“I do not consider that an interim injunction is necessary or proportionate having regard to the level of gravity of the interference with the private life of the applicant that would occur in the event that there is a publication of the fact of the relationship, or that the applicant can rely in this case on the interference with the private life of anyone else,” said the judge today.
Terry claimed in January 2008 that he was sad to see Bridge go.
“He’ll be missed and I’m still in shock a little bit because it’s a shame to see one of the lads go who you have grown up with and been with a long time,” said Terry of the Bridge transfer to City in January 2008.
“I’m disappointed, but for him it was the right decision.”
Terry may now have reason to regret the decision he made to sleep with a teammate’s girlfriend far more.
Hackers have broken into hapless Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook’s Wikipedia page, making it far more accurate than ever before. Branding Cook an “experience liar” who lives in a “f*cking dreamworld,” hackers lampoon the former-Nike executive who is universally disrespected in the football and media communities.
The page goes on to claim that time-traveler Cook, who regularly plays golf with Bananaman, personally spearheaded a bid for Pélé, before inventing the colour yellow.
Cook recently claimed that City will become the “biggest and the best” football club on the planet, before predicting that it was a matter of when, not if, his side would beat Manchester United in this season’s Carling Cup semi-final.
Selected highlights of Cook’s wiki page include:
Cook worked at sports were giants Nike for 12 years, working his way up to head of the Nike project “Brand Opportunism”, before leaving Nike in June 2008 to take over as CEO of Manchester City. Although he’d been a resident of the USA since 1985, and spent four years in Amsterdam, Garry currently lives in a f*****g dreamworld. He’s an experienced liar, with experience at covering up child slavery at Nike, making him ideal for a deluded Manchester City.
Cook says he moved to the U.S in 1996 and started working for Nike eleven years earlier in 1985, presumably using a DeLorean DMC-12 travelling at 88 miles per hour. He would spend 12 years at Nike where he would become president of the very successful Brand Jordan, Cook says that he worked very closely with basketball superstar Michael Jordan while working at Nike. But then, he also told everyone that his dad is Thor, Norse god of thunder.
One of Cook’s first tasks with his new club was to find a new manager after Sven Goran-Eriksson had been dismissed; he targeted Herbert Chapman of 1930’s Arsenal. After finding out that he’d been dead for 74 years, he reluctantly settled on Mark Hughes of Blackburn Rovers.
Cook’s new task was player recruitment, and he did deals for Tal Ben-Haim, Jo, Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta and Shaun Wright-Phillips but failed in a bid for Roy Race, who doesn’t actually exist.
After the 2009 January transfer window opened Cook sealed deals for Wayne Bridge, Craig Bellamy, Shay Given and Nigel de Jong. However, he failed in a world record bid to bring Pele to the club, blaming the breakdown in negotiations on Santos, stating, “If you want my personal opinion they bottled it, He clearly was for sale but we never got to meet with the player, the behaviour of Santos got in the way.” Santos replied by pointing out that Pele retired from football more than thirty years ago.
Cook also did much work away from transfers introducing the “I’m From Manchester, Honest” campaign where supporters of the club write in their opinions of why Stockport is actually in Manchester & that they shouldn’t go to watch County instead, these have then been placed around the interior of the stadium. Many fans have contributed to this including the likes of Ricky Hatton.
Along with Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Cook has seen the complete overhaul of the club’s training base Carrington and scheduled a 2009 summer tour of the Moon where the squad met Marvin the Martian and played the Arctic Monkeys in the Vodacom Challenge.
He made a gaffe by welcoming Uwe Rosler to the Manchester United Hall of Fame instead of the Manchester City Hall of Fame and was booed by Manchester City fans, although that didn’t actually happen because City fans are the most loyal in the world and never boo. He wrote apology letters to 70,000,000,000,000 Manchester City supporters clubs.
Cook is married to Girls Aloud and is a keen player of Golf amongst where he regularly competes against Adolf Hitler, Bananaman and Richard Blackwood. Garry invented the colour yellow.
Manchester City’s cocky nouveau riche attitude fell a peg or two last night as Manchester United deservedly reached the Carling Cup final. It was City’s biggest night in years and the Abu Dhabi-owned Bitters badly choked at the final hurdle. With City in the FA Cup it is premature to raise the “35 years” Stretford End banner, but surely that’s only a factor of time.
“This football club will be without doubt the biggest and best in the world,” the hapless City CEO Gary Cook said in a New York bar last week.
“People don’t like to hear it but I’ll make no excuses for saying it, and I will never stop saying it because I truly believe it with the resources and capabilities that we have – and when, not if, we’re at Wembley having beaten Man United yet again!”
Cook later backtracked and claimed to believe the meeting was “private” despite the presence of a TV camera crew. The CEO is widely mocked in football circles after City’s incompetent failed bid for former-AC Milan midfielder Kaká last year, where he accused the Italian outfit of “bottling it.” Classy. Not.
Then the Brummie lied to the national press, claiming not to have opened talks with manager Roberto Mancini before incumbant Mark Hughes found a P45 waiting in his Eastlands office.
Not that Mancini’s predictions have born any more fruit.
“When we go to Old Trafford, we will take that banner down,” said the former Italy international striker who no doubt believes City have the Premier League’s widest pitch, tallest floodlights and bluest shirts.
“This is the last year because we will win.”
Perhaps about time City stopped staring into that blue-tinted the crystal ball, eh?
Old Trafford rocked as Manchester United reinforced local bragging rights after a dramatic win last night. City, fresh from taking a first leg lead amid claims of being the “world’s best,” slumped on the biggest night for the blues in decades. Heartbreaking for the men from Eastlands but magnificent for the majority at Old Trafford.
Inevitably it was the peerless Wayne Rooney who stole all the headlines with a wonderful performance and a match winning injury-time goal.
So long Carlos Tevez, who had scored twice at Eastlands and once again last night to bring City back into the tie. In between veteran Paul Scholes drove United ahead and Michael Carrick sidefooted home before the Reds’ claimed victory in a dramatic night of Carling Cup football.
United had made the late call to keep Rio Ferdinand within the side by appealing the Football Association’s violent conduct charge against the England defender. It proved the right choice, with the former-Leeds United defender adding calm authority amid the storm of an electric Old Trafford atmosphere.
In midfield, Ferguson chose to deploy Scholes, Carrick and Darren Fletcher. While some fans are rightly wary of leaving Rooney alone up front, the like-for-like formation against City proved the Scot right once again. Fletcher, in particular, was instrumental in supporting Rooney from midfield.
But it was Ferdinand who brought the first moment of controversy, challenging former-United striker Tevez in the area, for the Argentinian to fall under the challenge. Referee Howard Webb felt that the defender’s challenge was fair as Tevez only half-heatedly appealed.
The the striker, who had insulted United’s Captain Gary Neville in midweek, brought a good save from Edwin van der Sar as City stood toe-to-toe with United during a first period that failed to meet the heights of entertainment to come.
If the emphasis was on Rooney to spark United into life then the former-Evertonian rarely lets anybody down. Indeed, it was Rooney’s magnificent driven cross-field pass that set up the opening United goal. Ryan Giggs, forced wide by Shay Given in the City net when through on goal, found first Nani and then Carrick in support. But it was Scholes, playing further forward than is the norm these days, who needed no second attempt to drive the ball home when squeezed out to him on the edge of the area.
The goal deflated City and United, now well on top, drove home the advantage with 25 minutes to go. Carrick coolly placed the ball past Given after Fletcher’s attempt was blocked.
But for all United’s dominance, the home side was only ever a goal ahead on aggregate and within minutes Tevez had stooped in ahead of Ferdinand to flick home to bring the tie level. The defender, perhaps ring-rusty after three months on the sidelines, failed to attack the ball and United paid the price.
Then the dénouement in stoppage time, with Rooney heading home Giggs right-wing cross and celebrating wildly as the roof came off Old Trafford.
Rightly, Ferguson withheld his deepest post-match praise for the Scouser who in Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence has taken his game to the very highest level. But the Scot also praised supporters in a week when he offered no quarter to the fans’ anti-Glazer campaign.
“It was much better than Saturday,” Ferguson said of Rooney who once again ploughed a lone furrow up-front.
“I know he scored four goals but here his control leading the line and his link up play was fantastic. Overall it was a wonderful performance. World class.
“It’s a derby game and you like to win your derby games. The atmosphere tonight, and the fact it was a semi-final tie, added a lot of spice to the match. And the fact we scored so late in the game brought a special type of celebration.
“Nothing really happened in the first half. They sat very deep. What we said at half-time was to keep playing our football and keep spreading our play.
“I’m proud of the team. I also must pay tribute to our support. They were unbelievable.”
Indeed the supporters were, who traveled home jubilant after once putting local upstarts in their place. City’s time will come of course – unrestrained spending is highly attractive to mercenary players like Tevez. But for now it is the Red side of Manchester that will travel to Wembley in a month’s time.
Sir Alex Ferguson, sanguine in defeat to Manchester City last night, says Manchester United will win the return leg in a week’s time, with an Old Trafford crowd behind the team. Ferguson’s men were beaten by two goals from former Red Carlos Tevez, who pointedly ran towards the United bench following the Argentinian’s headed winner at Eastlands.
“It is just the way these things happen. Football can be like that. It can bite you,” Ferguson said.
“We have had a few players leave the club and score against us. There is no issue. I am happy with the players we have got.
“We played well and dominated the match. We were reasonably in control, but we had a mad five minutes before half-time that brought them back into the game.”
Ferguson, unhappy with referee Mike Dean’s award of a penalty for a foul clearly outside the area, refused to publicly criticise the Merseyside-born official despite the shocking award. Dean also awarded a disputable corner from which City scored a second.
The Scot, banned for two matches after he labeled another referee “unfit”, has seen key decisions go against his men in games against Liverpool, Chelsea and City this season.
“Everyone can see the penalty for themselves. It is the kind of decision that has gone against us, but could go for us on another day,” the United manager added.
“But with the crowd at Old Trafford and the occasion and what is at stake we will be okay.”
Meanwhile, veteran Ryan Giggs, who scored United’s opener on the quarter hour, said that Dean’s decision changed the game in City’s favour, with United on top before the Bitters’ equaliser.
“It was the perfect start,” Giggs told MUTV.
“You always want to go 1-0 up in a cup tie away from home. After that we probably weren’t as crisp with our passing and kept playing the ball backwards.
“We let City back into it, really. We felt we were a little unlucky to go into the break at 1-1 but we also knew we could play better.
“(The penalty decision) was a turning point. If we’d have gone in 1-0 up it might have been a different story. Sometimes you get decisions and sometimes you don’t – you just have to get on with it.”
Giggs, who played in his 31st Manchester derby, bemoan United’s failure to convert chances when Ferguson’s team was on top in the opening period. United lost the opening leg of last year’s Carling Cup semi-final before sweeping away Derby County at Old Trafford.
“We created plenty of chances but we didn’t have that stroke of luck or composure in front of goal. Hopefully we’ll have that in the second leg – hopefully we can put the chances away this time.
“After they scored (the second) we played well and probably deserved to get that equaliser. Last season we comprehensively beat Derby County in the second leg of the semi so hopefully we can do that again.
“It’s going to be tough – City are a good team, but there were enough signs, especially in the last half-hour to suggest we’re good enough to beat them.”
The second leg, which takes place at Old Trafford on Wednesday 27 January, could go ahead without Gary Neville who faces the prospect of an FA charge after appearing to make an obscene gesture in the direction of Tevez. The Argentinian twice ran towards the United bench after scoring the disputed penalty and a headed second.
Manchester City came from a goal behind to beat Manchester United at Eastlands, with Carlos Tevez scoring two wildly celebrated goals to hand the blues a narrow advantage. The former United forward, who joined City for between £25 and £47 million in the summer, struck home a fortuitous penalty and a headed second to inflict more pain on an embattled Sir Alex Ferguson.
Manchester United’s away contingent provided an electric atmosphere before the match but referee Mike Dean handed Manchester City a gifted penalty in the Carling Cup semi-final first leg to spark some life into the tepid home support. But the defeat – a fourth in nine games and eighth this season – piles the pressure on United following a week of lurid headlines about the club’s financial situation.
United dominated possession early on with Anderson supporting the magnificent Wayne Rooney in attack and Antonio Valencia looking dangerous on the right wing. Sir Alex’ formation handed the visitors an extra man in midfield, to which City struggled to adapt in the opening period.
United’s early possession, which had fueled chances for Ryan Giggs and Patrice Evra in the opening minutes, was rewarded on the quarter hour as the Welshman tapped home. Valencia, always the out-ball for Ferguson’s men, found Rooney at the near post and Giggs prodded in the rebound from Shey Given’s save.
City, subdued with three defensive players in midfield, almost struck back on twenty minutes as Shaun Wright-Philips skinned Evra to provide an opportunity for Tevez on a plate. Amazingly the striker headed wide from six yards out. It was a foretaste of things to come as United’s defence, once again missing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, was exposed.
There looked no way back into the game for City, with the fans as quiet as the team on the pitch. As United pressed, City dropped back with the away side well on top and home support more interested in singing their favourite ‘Munich’ tunes as is commonplace.
Indeed, it took a disgraceful decision from Dean to hand City a route back into the match. Rafael, holding Bellamy’s shirt well outside the area, gave away the softest of penalties as the Welsh striker finally tumbled in the box. Referee conned – another all too keen to make himself a name in a high profile match – and Tevez gleefully slammed home the spot-kick to bring the home side level.
It breathed life into City, with Bellamy flying into first Valencia and then Evra as he escaped the referee’s sanction. But the visitors still created the majority of chances with Rooney forcing an outstanding save from Given as he broke behind the City defence, and then Giggs almost addeding a second as he met the Scouser’s left-wing cross at the far post.
Finally City started playing like the home side and Tevez completed his brace from a dubious corner. Dean, having a ‘mare, spotted a deflection off a United player when few others, including the chasing Bellamy, could. But United failed to deal with the problem, defence all at sea as Wes Brown and Jonny Evans chased the ball rather than defend space, to leave the Argentinian all alone to head home a simple winner.
United rallied, with Fletcher’s drive blocked, Rooney forcing yet another save from the classy Given and Nedum Onoua clearing substitute Michael Owen’s goalbound effort off the line.
Rooney – the game’s standout player but criminally left to forage alone up front – then capped a wonderful United move, ghosting past three defenders and bringing out a finger-tip save from the Irishman in City’s goal. United laid siege as Giggs twice played teammates into open spaces as City dropped deeper, with Valencia managing to miss an open goal from just yards out.
Finally, Ferguson introduced striker Mame Biram Diouf as United sought a desperate equaliser. But the Senegalese forward, handed Tevez’ old number 32 shirt, headed wide when unmarked. The Blues sang “Fergie, Fergie sign him up” to sum up a woeful evening.
To whet your appetite ahead of tonight’s 153rd Manchester derby, which began in 1881, here are some modern classics. Forget the Blue Noses who mention Dennis Law’s back-heal, or the five goals scored at Maine Road in 1989. Consign them to history. Think about United’s five in 1994, comeback from three down a year earlier or Michael Owen’s winner in September.
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 Nial Quinn goals, United returned with strikes from Eric Cantona and Roy Keane, winning it in the final minute of the match. 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 shut the Blue Noses up and allowed right-minded Manchester folk to lift their chins up 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 by the midfielder. Keane saw red and was banned for three matches. Keane’s biography, in which he suggested that he wanted to hurt the City player, cost the Irishman a further five match ban and £150,000 fine. Such a pity then that Keane and Carlos Tevez couldn’t meet on the pitch this weekend, some of a crueller disposition might say.
Manchester United 4 – 3 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 2009
Michael Owen scores a wonderful 96th minute winner to beat City at Old Trafford. City boss Mark Hughes’ complaints over injury time dominated the headlines but United was excellent on the day with three defensive errors allowing City into the game.
When Manchester United face Manchester City in tomorrow night’s Carling Cup semi-final first leg there is more than a Wembley place at stake: for the first time in a generation City start the match with greater confidence. The decision for Sir Alex Ferguson is whether to meet that challenge head-on or place trust in youth.
When the two clubs met at Old Trafford in September, United won the day with Michael Owen’s 96th minute winner. While Mark Hughes’ misdirected complaint over the length of injury time dominated the headlines, in truth the Reds were vastly superior on the day. Four months on and United’s form has stuttered, while City is revitalised under new manager Roberto Mancini’s stewardship.
Indeed, United’s FA Cup third round loss to Leeds United 10 days ago may have changed Ferguson’s mind about the Scot’s promise to trust in youth for the rest of the Carling Cup campaign. So poorly did Darron Gibson, Danny Welbeck and others perform that the Scot may bring out the ‘A’ team for tomorrow night’s clash.
City, who lost at Everton this weekend after four straight wins, is already a major threat to United’s supremacy according to Ferguson. City has not reached a domestic cup final since 1981 and failed to take home any silverware since 1976.
“You have to recognise they are a competitor now,” said Ferguson, who first faced City in a January 1987 FA Cup tie.
“We have had to wait a long time for it to be like that but they are obviously making a much better fist of their league programme this year than they have done in the past.
“You could not compare it to Rangers and Celtic but having rivals in the same city does create far more emotion.”
Edwin van der Sar, restored in goal for United’s weekend clash with Burnley, may keep his place as the Dutch legend continues to build match fitness after two months on the sidelines.
In defence Ferguson could restore Rafael da Silva at right-back, in place of Gary Neville who had a shocker against Burnley. Meanwhile, Paul Scholes – also off the pace at the weekend – will drop out of the starting eleven in favour of Darren Fletcher.
However, Ferguson is sweating on the fitness of Dimitar Berbatov, who limped through the Burnley match not with a knee problem as many suspected but a dead leg. Meanwhile, Ryan Giggs is unlikely to regain fitness in time to make the team for his 31st Manchester derby.
Typically, Ferguson has deployed five through midfield in the tougher matches this season but that decision will depend on whether the Scot chooses to deploy Wayne Rooney or not. With Michael Owen not suited to the lone frontman role, Ferguson may hand Mame Biram Diouf another shot at forcing his way into the first team picture following his weekend goal against Burnley.
But one player who doesn’t buy into the theory that City is in the ascendancy, with United – burdened with massive debt – on the slide, is Neville.
“I don’t see the game as an opportunity to reassert our dominance over City,” the former-England right-back told The Guardian.
“We’re quite comfortable with where we are. We are second in the league, we’re in the Carling Cup semi-final and we’re in the second phase of the Champions League, so we have nothing to prove.
“Our two games against Manchester City in the Carling Cup are massive for us. It is a competition we have done well in over the past couple of years, and no doubt they will want to do well too.
“It’s a local derby and one of the biggest games we have played against City for a long time. Certainly we expect it to be difficult. They are in good form, and it’s always difficult away against City. We will have to be at our best for the game at their ground.”
United will again face Carlos Tevez, who swapped Old Trafford for Eastlands in the summer after a £25 million deal was struck by City’s owners. The Argentinian, who has scored 12 Premier League goals this season including a hat-trick against Blackburn Rovers last week, has been vocal in his desire to put one over his former employers.
“The manager over the years has made many decisions with regard to players coming and going, and he has almost always been proved correct,” said Neville.
“I can’t disagree with his decision on Tevez. He was a good player for us but if the financial demands are too big then that’s just the way it goes. Other good players have left this club in the past; it’s not the first time it’s happened.”
As Neville once said, United is a club that moves on quickly. Should the Reds’ new number 32, Senegalese forward Diouf, strike home a late winner tomorrow night, nobody on the Red side of the City will care for Tevez.
Manchester United’s attempt at football redemption will have to wait for another day with the Carling Cup semi-final at Eastlands postponed due to severe weather in the North West. United was due to play Manchester City on Wednesday night but heavy snow means the match is now rearranged to Tuesday 19 January.
ManUtd.com reports that the second leg, scheduled for Tuesday 19 January at Old Trafford, will now take place on Wednesday 27 January with the Reds Premier League fixture against Hull City shifted to an unconfirmed date.
The postponement will relieve Sir Alex Ferguson of a team selection headache. Plan A – the deployment of United’s younger players at Eastlands – was firmly thrown out of the window after the team’s FA Cup defeat last weekend. United will now field a full-strength team away at Birmingham City this weekend, with Carling Cup selection very much dependent on results in the coming Premier League matches against Burnley and the second city team.
Just as Manchester City fans thought it was safe to raise their heads above the parapet the old comedy routine rolled out again. City’s takeover by the Abu Dhabi Royal Family around a year ago should have lifted the club to a higher level. Indeed, to raise standards over and above that of crosstown rivals Manchester United.
Mark Hughes’ brutal sacking this week has place a question mark over the club’s ethics.
Hughes’ departure, confirmed after reports leaked out of the club prior to the weekend’s 4-3 win over Sunderland, comes 18 months into the former-Wales and Blackburn manager’s tenure at the club. The odds never favoured the 46-year-old coach when, just weeks into his job, Thaksin Shinawatra, the disgrace former-Thai President, was forced out of the club.
When the Abu Dhabi-based Abu Dhabi United Group Investment and Development company completed a takeover of Manchester City on 1 September 2008 it did so with a promise of higher standards than Shinawatra could offer. As the very definition of a vanity buy, City’s standing in the world of football matters to the owner Sheikh Mansour al-Mubarak. It’s a footing that has taken a hit in the past week.
In an extraordinary press conference this week City’s beleaguered Chief Executive Gary Cook first denied that the club was seeking an alternative manager behind Hughes’ back and then admitted – in the same breath – that the Eastlands outfit had done exactly that.
“I think it is important for people to know that Roberto was only offered the job after the Spurs game; we negotiated on Thursday and finalised his agreement on Friday,” the utterly hapless Cook lied in a statement at the conference, Monday.
The former-Nike executive was then contradicted by his new manager, Roberto Mancini, who admitted to having met with City Chairman Khaldoon al Mubarak to talk about the job more than a fortnight ago.
“Two weeks ago Roberto met with Khaldoon,” Cook squirmed in an increasingly bad-tempered performance, culminating in a round of table thumping.
“After the Spurs game, there were further discussions on a more serious level. The [original] discussions were general. They were about football. We were considering our managerial options at the time. It [the manager’s job] was discussed in general terms.”
Cook, remember, is the executive who said with a remarkably straight face that AC Milan had “bottled it” over a proposed £103 million transfer of Brazilian midfielder Kaká last winter. And it was Cook, whose position is now untenable, who happily allowed Hughes to take charge of City at the weekend knowing the coach was a dead man walking.
Saving face indeed.
Amid the skullduggery City at least confirmed the club’s true intentions this week. Despite earlier talk of building for the long-term, Hughes’ dismissal after the club set the former-United striker a sixth-place finish this season reeks of short-termism. Rumours abound that Mancini does not expect to stay at the club past this summer. This makes sense if, as third choice for the job behind Guus Hiddink and Jose Mourinho, he does not lead the club into the Champions League.
Despite this few tears were shed for Sparky, who has proven himself a less than amiable manager. With Blackburn and Wales Hughes drew over-achieving performances from under-talented players. With City, Hughes was not able to control the egos of superstar players such as Robinho, Elano and Emmanuel Adebayor.
Like Glenn Hoddle with England before him, Hughes the manager may have fallen into the trap of great players turned coach. The frustration of working with players that do not share Hughes’ work ethic led to dressing room conflict.
More recently Hughes fell out with Arsene Wenger, who refused to shake the Welshman’s hand. The striker, who scored 129 goals in 345 league games for United, also took great delight in the City’s “Welcome to Manchester” poster in Deansgate this summer. Sir Alex Ferguson called it a “small club mentality” – probably where Hughes fits best as a manager.
As for City, the club has rapidly become the Real Madrid of the Premier League, albeit with no history of silverware. Sheikh Mansour will sanction unlimited spending, while managers will surely come and go. They always have at City. This time expectations are set a little higher.
Just not, it seems, when it comes to the ethics of managerial employment.
Manchester United will meet cross-town rivals City in the Carling Cup semi-final after the draw tonight. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team will play City in the two-legged semi after Mark Hughe’s team thrashed Arsenal 3-0 at Eastlands tonight. The matches, which will take place in January 2010, are the first time United has met City in the League cup semi since 1969.
City, who Ferguson labeled at “small club with a small mentality” earlier this season, famously has not won a trophy since 1976, when the club beat Newcastle United 2-1 to lift the League Cup at Wembley.
“We’re just taking in the events of the evening so we’re on a high at the moment, but I’m sure the whole of Manchester will be looking forward to those two games in the semi-final,” said Hughes, who may need to win the competition to keep his job.
“We’d have fancied our chances against anyone in the draw so bring them on. We played really well tonight and ran our comfortable winners.”
Blackburn will play Aston Villa in the other semi-final, with a Wembley final place at stake.
First leg matches are due to be played week commencing 4th January 2010, with the second leg a fortnight later
Two Manchester United stewards stand accused of committing GBH after an incident in which a Manchester City fan broke both legs at Old Trafford. Greater Manchester Police has charged the pair, Mark Roberts, 46, of George Street, Oldham, and Paul Stringer, 45, of Grange Way, Runcorn, who will appear in court next week.
The United stewards, accused of pushing the victim Peter Sweeney down a flight of stairs during the September derby clash, will face a judge at Trafford Magistrates’ Court.
Sweeney, no relation to the 1970s TV cop or the fictional murderous barber of Johnny Depp fame, claims he was twice caught smoking inside Old Trafford.
Manchester United has not commented on rumours that the pair will be award medals.
“This guy was nothing but a bully. He’s there to protect the fans – not attack them. I’m lucky he didn’t kill me,” Sweeney, 46, told The Sun while prejudicing the case in one move.
“I agreed to leave without a fuss. But as we headed along the concourse he shoved me in the back three or four times with real aggression
“When I protested he told me he was entitled to ‘use reasonable force’. With that he led to the top of the stairs and pushed me straight down.
“I wasn’t drunk. I’d had a pint and a half of Guinness but I can’t drink more because of my condition,” he added.
It’s the first time that being a Citeh fan has officially been defined a ‘condition’.
United put the upstarts City in their place in a Manchester derby classic. It was a match full of drama, goals and plenty of hapless defending, with the winner coming from a former Liverpool hero. You couldn’t write a script this good. But as United fans filtered out of Old Trafford delirious with the result, Mark Hughes was busy ruining what little respect the red side of the city may have held for him.
For the neutral it was a match that had everything; most fans will have left with a few extra grey hairs. Three times United took the lead in normal time, only for City to peg Sir Alex Ferguson’s side back on as many occasions. While ‘plucky’ City can be pleased with their character in fighting to keep on terms, in truth the home side were vastly superior.
But for some truly awful defending – gifting City their first and third equalisers – United would have won at a canter. It was a point not lost on Ferguson after the game.
“We made three horrendous mistakes which you don’t even half associate with our team and it kept them in the game,” Fergie told Sky Sports after the match.
“I am unhappy about the goals we conceded because it spoilt [an otherwise] really emphatic victory – we could have scored six or seven.
“The fact that we made the mistakes probably made it the best derby game of all time so you-re left wondering, what would you rather have had – won 6-0 or won the greatest derby game of all time, and I would rather have won 6-0.”
Before all the drama, the derby came to life as early as the second minute, with Rooney holding off two City defenders to slot past Shay Given in the visitor’s goal. Patrice Evra created the chance, finding space on the left flank to cut back for United’s leading scorer. Magic.
City were back in it within a quarter hour, Ben Foster losing the ball to the returning Carlos Tevez, and Gareth Barry slotting home the little Argentinian’s pass. Comedy defending but it wasn’t funny for United’s number one. That Foster is still playing with such nerves six weeks into the new season is deeply worrying. Foster, talented though he is, got himself out of position on more than one occasion, gifting City their first equaliser. With Edwin van der Sar back inside a month, Foster has even more reason to feel under pressure.
United were dominating possession and the chances continued to flow, especially in the second period. Dimitar Berbatov in particular will regret not taking at least one of his four good opportunities before being substituted for Michael Owen.
United’s pressure was telling though and City’s expensively assembled central defensive partnership struggled all afternoon with United’s pace and movement. Ryan Giggs was utterly peerless, having a hand in all four United goals. At 35 years old, Giggs can still tear them apart after all these seasons. It was the Welshman’s running and passing that helped create a dozen chances for United in the second half.
In the end for all United’s free flowing attacking football City lost the match by defending set-pieces and crosses poorly. United’s second and third came from the unlikely head of Darren Fletcher, who had yet another storming game in central midfield.
In between Craig Bellemy twice pulled City back into the game. His first an outstanding strike from 25 yards, after cutting in from the left onto his favoured right boot. City’s third equaliser came with just seconds to go, Rio Ferdinand guilty of being lazy in possession and gifting the Bitters a chance at an undeserved point.
But as long as Ferguson lives and breaths United will continue to play until the final whistle. Giggs’ wonderful pass released Michael Owen in the 96th minute, the striker’s first touch was true and his neat finish sent the home crowd into raptures. Fergie’s Mourinhoesque arm-pumping dance down the touchline was bliss personified. His staff and substitutes invaded the pitch in an end reminiscent of that in the same stadium against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993.
In the post-match analysis Fergie couldn’t resist the opportunity to goad the defeated opposition.
“There has been a lot of expectation on Manchester City and with the spending they have done they have to win something,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.
“For us, it’s unusual for us to accept that they’re the top dogs in terms of media attention but you know, sometimes you have a noisy neighbour and have to live with it. You can’t do anything about them if they keep on making noise but what we can do, as we showed today, is you can get on with your life, put your television on and turn it up a bit louder.
“As far as the players are concerned, they showed their playing power and that’s the best answer of all.”
Watching despairing City supporters’ faces – still bitter after 34 years without silverware – as United’s fourth hits the back of the net was sheer poetry. That their team contained the returning Carlos Tevez iced the cake.
But another United old boy, the City manager Mark Hughes, was unable to lose with dignity, complaining about the amount of added time and United’s ecstatic reaction to the winning goal. Hughes also went on to defend Craig Bellamy, who hit out at a United fan, just as he had supported Emmanuel Adebayor’s in the wake of the striker’s deliberate stamp on Robin van Persie a week ago. Hughes should be bigger than that.
“They did seem quite excitable at the end of the game. It was reminiscent of Brian Kidd and Sir Alex in days gone by. And I saw Gary Neville running on like a lunatic as well, so it showed how much it meant to them,” said Hughes.
“It’s something we’ll take out of the game. We knew we could come here and compete against the United of today.”
Compete City did, but bitter City remain.
To whet your appetite ahead of the weekend’s 152nd Manchester derby, which began in 1881, here are some modern classics. Forget the Blue Noses who mention Dennis Law’s back-heal, or the five goals scored at Maine Road in 1989. Consign them to history. Think about United’s five in 1994, comeback from three down a year earlier or Roy Keane’s assault on Alf-Inge Haaland in 2001.
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 Nial Quinn goals, United returned with strikes from Eric Cantona and Roy Keane, winning it in the final minute of the match. 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 shut the Blue Noses up and allowed right-minded Manchester folk to lift their chins up 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 by the midfielder. Keane saw red and was banned for three matches. Keane’s biography, in which he suggested that he wanted to hurt the City player, cost the Irishman a further five match ban and £150,000 fine. Such a pity then that Keane and Carlos Tevez couldn’t meet on the pitch this weekend, some of a crueller disposition might say.
City arrive at Old Trafford this weekend having usurped the champions as the wealthiest club in the Manchester, with ambitions of extending that superiority to the pitch. The City ‘project’ has come some distance since last summer, with more than £200 million spent on a series of high profile, if over-expensive, new players. If there was any doubt that the club’s Abu Dhabi-based owners are serious about breaking into the Premier League’s top four, then there shouldn’t be any now.
The Eastlands outfit cross town in good form, having won four Premier League games in a row, including a controversial 4 – 2 win against Arsenal last weekend. But manager Mark Hughes heads back to his old stomping ground with around £100 million worth of talent unavailable. Carlos Tevez is unlikely to be fully fit, Roque Santa Cruz has yet to play this season and Emmanuel Adebayor has taken it upon himself to perform boot-based facial surgery on an old team-mate, while picking a fight with his former club’s supporters.
Sir Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, will hope to pick from a full squad – less the suspended Paul Scholes and injured Owen Hargreaves and Rafael da Silva. Rio Ferdinand will face a late test on his fitness, having picked up a minor groin injury after the victory over Tottenham Hotspur last weekend. Johnny Evans stands by to partner Nemanja Vidic, while Ferguson will pick from Michael Carrick, Anderson and Darren Fletcher in central midfield.
There will be a close focus on United’s tactical outlook for the match, with the manager having used Wayne Rooney as a lone striker against Besiktas in midweek and in the home game against Arsenal. Are City to be considered a genuine threat this season, or will the manager go for the jugular and include Dimitar Berbatov alongside Rooney?
With Hughes missing key talent and United at home, Ferguson must sense that now is the time to set down a marker.
“They’ve had a softish start to the season with two or three easier games, but the result against Arsenal on Saturday was the one that surprised people. Scoring four goals against Arsenal was an emphatic result,” said Ferguson.
“When you get off to a good start, it definitely galvanises you and gives you the confidence. And of course, they have such a big squad and a lot of players – they have about seven centre-forwards. But when you have spent that kind of money, and the wages they are paying, you have to win the league with that kind of investment.
“That is where the difficulty will come for them and it will be very difficult for City when you see the likes of ourselves, Chelsea and Liverpool and Arsenal.
On the terraces fans are looking forward not only to United’s team taking City down a peg or two but welcoming the liar Carlos Tevez back to Old Trafford with a special brand of warmth and affection. Ferguson, though, isn’t concerned about the little striker’s return. “I am not bothered whether Tevez plays or not,” said Ferguson. “Manchester City’s best player won’t be playing. Adebayor is their star player”
United take on City at Old Trafford Sunday in the 152nd competitive Manchester derby. United leads the fixture by 61 wins to 41 in competitive matches, although there were also 44 matches during the war. This derby has a little extra spice, however, due to the £200 million that City has spent on new players in the past year. For the first time in decades City actually has a competitive side.
Brian Kidd, the former Manchester United player and assistant manager, has joined the oil-fuelled revolution at Manchester City as technical development manager for the club’s academy. Kidd will act as both coach and mentor in the club’s academy, returning to the game after a brief spell as Portsmouth’s assistant manager under Tony Adams and Paul Hart last season.
Kidd played more than 200 league games in an 11-year playing career at Old Trafford, scoring in the 1968 European Cup final as a teenager. He later had three seasons as a player across town at City, before spending a decade in coaching roles under Sir Alex Ferguson, eventually becoming the manager’s assistant.
But Ferguson voiced his doubts about Kidd’s ability to succeed him at Old Trafford in the book Managing My Life. Kidd responded by damning the book as a fantasy. The row, which erupted in 1999 when Kidd was manager of the soon-to-be relegated Blackburn Rovers, ruined a successful relationship between the two men.
Later Kidd took on coaching roles at Leeds United, where he suffered significant abuse from the club’s fans, England, Sheffield United and Portsmouth.
Sir Alex Ferguson broke his relative silence on Manchester City’s controversial city-centre poster campaign with an outspoken attack on the Eastlands outfit. Ferguson hit out at City’s spending, their mercenary players and that Carlos Tevez poster – branding the club a “small minded and arrogant.”
While Fergie doesn’t normally pick fights with clubs that pose no threat, he has clearly taken exception to a Deansgate poster that proclaimed “Carlos Tevez – Welcome to Manchester.” Manchester City fans, who have waited 34 long and bitter years for a trophy, have often found amusement in the fact that Old Trafford is located in Stretford, and the club itself paid for the prominent billboard.
“That billboard really is City, isn’t it?” said Sir Alex ahead of today’s 8-2 victory against Hangzhou in China. “They are a small club with a small mentality. All they can talk about is Manchester United. That’s all they have ever done and they cannot get away from it. That is stupid. That arrogance will be rewarded in the right way. It’s having a go at us.”
“I don’t look on City as my biggest challenge. They think taking away Tevez is a triumph. It is poor stuff. I thought a long time ago that he would go to City. Now I don’t have to deal any more with players who are miserable because they are not playing. I have good professionals here.”
Another player prone to throwing a strop is Emmanuel Adebayor, the former Arsenal striker, who signed for City in a £25 million deal last week. The deal was delayed despite a fee being agreed amid rumours that Adebayor had been offered to United. A rumour confirmed by Ferguson, who revealed that Adebayor had all but begged to join another Champions League club before joining City.
“At the last minute, from what I can gather, either Emmanuel Adebayor or his agent phoned us after they had agreed a deal with City and then did the same with Chelsea. He was desperate to get to either Chelsea or us.”
Ferguson also attacked City’s spending on wages, which have attracted Tevez, Adebayor, Robinho and Gareth Barry to the club. While each of the four has claimed ambition and trophies were behind their moves, the club hasn’t come close to winning any silverware this millennium.
“When someone offers you that kind of money, it’s a big attraction to people nowadays. That is the reason they have gone there. Do you know what City’s biggest triumph is? It’s getting those players there. I don’t know if they will do anything with them. It is not easy to get into that top four so the biggest success of all is to just get the players there.”
“There will be three teams to beat. Ourselves, Liverpool and Chelsea will be very close together.”
It was a surprisingly dismissive attack by the United manager but only reflective of the fans’ view, who regard City with little more than pity, despite the club’s new found wealth. After all, you can take the petro-dollars out of Abu Dhabi but you can never take the Bitter out of City.
Or as RoM might put it, pity the fools…
Why hasn’t United spent big this summer, despite receiving £80 million for Cristiano Ronaldo? Because manager Sir Alex Ferguson won’t “pay over the odds for mercenaries not willing to give their all for the club.” Now who could have the Glazer’s spokesperson on the Asia tour, Teshin Nayani, be talking about? Surely not. After all, the cross-town ‘project’ is all about trophies, isn’t it?
“City’s boss and owner came with a very good proposal.
“They showed me that City has the ambition to be one of the biggest clubs in the world. This made it easy to make the move. Money was never important.”
Estimated wage: £150,000 per week.
“People who think that I have joined City for the money are wrong.
“If I had made a move for that reason then I would have been playing for Barcelona or (AC) Milan last season. They gave me bigger offers than Arsenal did for me to stay.
“I want to win silverware and trophies. That is my ambition. The team has got quality and a manager who knows what he wants and is a nice guy.”
Estimated wage: £170,000 per week.
Mark Hughes on Gareth Barry
“We can offer an opportunity to give players a chance to make a mark in the game.
“It is about understanding where we are as a football club and where we want to go.
“It is an opportunity to be part of something and hopefully in the near future we will be able to win trophies and be one of the better teams in the Premier League.
“It is not about money, it is about making your mark.”
Rafael Benitez on Gareth Barry
“When you are a player thinking of moving to a new club, you have to make sure it is for the right reasons, because, if it is just for money, you may make a mistake, like Gareth Barry did.
“It is 100 per cent clear that it was down to money.
“I have this idea that everyone in football at this level earns big wages and that money should not be the main thing. You have to enjoy your career, strive to improve and look to play at the highest level you can.”
Estimated wage: £100,000 per week.
Real Madrid on Robinho
“We have sold Robinho for reasons of a human nature and for sporting reasons.
“The fact that he has accepted an offer from Manchester City says that he is not going for sporting reasons.
“It’s an important sum of money. For reasons of human and sporting nature, it has been decided this is for the best.
“It’s a decision agreed by all the coaching staff, who understand it is best for the player and for the club.
“He’s a great kid, but badly advised.”
Deco on Robinho
“To leave Madrid to go to Chelsea is OK, but I have my doubts with respect to City.
“We will have to ask Robinho what happened. It’s not normal to change Real for City, only for the money.
“Robinho has the standing to play in a team which aspire to titles.”
Estimated wage: £135,000 per week.
Manchester City trophies in the last 34 years: 0
To abuse an old cliché, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will be Manchester City. And while Sunday’s derby match served to highlight the gulf between two teams on the pitch, it also served to remind us of the vast difference between the status of the two clubs off it.
City’s mega-rich Abu Dhabi owners are eager for success of course. More still, they’re keen to be seen as punching their weight at the top table of European club football. Their Bitter Blue fans, meanwhile, just want some glory, and they want it now. Starvation for 30 years can make a fan hungry.
But Sunday’s easy win for the Red half of the city not only helped to demonstrate that success for the Blues may well take some time, but that they will have to gain it the hard way. In fact so far are City behind, that Sir Alex Ferguson felt confident enough to leave key plays such as Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney out of the side altogether.
In many ways the match on Sunday helped to contrast the gulf between United’s years of success and City’s nouveau riche. City, of course, beat United twice last season without oil-millions spent on Brazillian superstars. But while those victories were gained amid a backdrop of giant killing, City now have pretensions of being one of the big boys of the European Elite. In this context, City rolled over rather meekly.
Ferguson, of course, has evolved this iteration of the United team over many seasons. He endured criticism during years of transition but held fast in his belief that trophies would be the inevitable result of this process. Ferguson’s patience is in marked contrast to the aspirations of City’s new maga-wealthy owners, who are essentially trying to build a top-four side from scratch. Indeed, while the last fantasy-Premier League side, Chelsea’s strategy was to add £200 million worth of players to a side already on the cusp of the top four, City are building from a low base. It will be a tough ride, no matter how much their wealth.
City’s is a huge project that may cost upwards of £500 million over the next three years in transfer fees and vastly inflated wages. This comes without any guarantee of success. Thus, patience is the name of the game for City’s owners and fans alike. If Sunday’s match is anything to go by, they will need it. The question is, with pressure being piled on former United hero Mark Hughes to win silverware, will he be afforded it?
United welcome Abu Dhabi’s Manchester City to Old Trafford this Sunday for the 151st Manchester derby. It’s a tie that always has an edge of course but this time out it’s also a crucial match in United’s hunt for a third Premier League crown in a row. With only four games left, and United needing just seven points for the title, the Reds will be looking to secure a vital win. City, who are still chasing a potential place in next seasons revamped Europa League, come to Old Trafford in decent form, with four wins in their last six. But with the opposition far from clever on the road this year, a season’s double over City should entail after United’s 1-0 Victory at Eastlands in November.
Indeed, it’s been an up and down season for City since the takeover by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour. The Blue Noses, who in addition to being The Richest Club in the World®, have the Planet’s Tallest Floodlights® and The Widest Pitch in the Known Universe® at The Council House®, have largely fallen below expectations this campaign. This despite spending north of £80 million on a couple of fitful Brazilians, a no-mark Dutch midfielder and a Chelsea reserve. But in the final weeks of the season, they have finally begun to pick up enough points to save Mark Hughes’ job. For now.
Not that Hughes has been all that popular with City fans, who have always had delusions of grandeur. Now, fuelled by millions of petro-dollars, Blue Noses expect instant success. They’re a big club, you know. Massive in fact. Inevitably, even with a place in the Champions League always a remote possibility, some Bitters have been calling for Hughes’ head. They’ve waited 33 years since their last trophy, you’d think another season would make no difference.
City fans, of course, have taken their new owners to heart. Just as they’ve shown blind faith in the string of fools who’ve run the club over the past three decades. It’s a nice welcoming club like that. But then again, they were big fans of the human-rights defying Thai fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra last year so perhaps City supporters aren’t the best judges of character.
Abu Dhabi’s takeover might be different though, as the Emirates principality seem keen to throw money at their new toy. It has to be a long-term project though. Multi-million oil dollars spent this summer are unlikely to attract anything more than mercenaries or leading clubs’ ageing cast offs until City acheive some tangible success. As Kaká proved, money is one thing, but for the very top players trophies are something else altogether. Still, for owners willing to spend £17million on somebody as average as Nigel de Jong then eventually they might just buy their way to some silverware.
Until then, let’s welcome City to Old Trafford, the European Capital of Trophies.