Manchester’s El Classico: The Breakdown

With the dust settling on today’s epic Manchester derby I have broken this rollercoaster of a game down into bite size chunks and run the rule over the key moments.

The first ten minutes and Rooney’s deadlock breaker:

Having come strongly out of the blocks it must have been a huge blow to City to have conceded so early and to have done so completely against the run of play.

The first few minutes were territorially dominated by the hosts and they too had the lion’s share of the early possession, but Rooney’s moment of magic came as a sucker punch. Having dropped smartly into the hole he received the ball into feet and shifted it swiftly onto Luis Antonio Valencia whose measured first time cross was met with a towering header from Rooney. All jokes aside about Rooney’s hair transplant and a consequent boost in aerial ability, this was a magnificent finish. He quite literally put his neck on the line and bravely rose to divert the ball home from the penalty spot, beating his own team mate Nani to the ball. This fine opening goal set the tone for a romping first half from United.

The red card:

For me the referee got it right. Some might accuse me of seeing this through red-tinted glasses, but I honestly believe that this was the right decision according to the rule-book.

I wish that tackles like that of Kompany’s weren’t red card offences, but if you go in two-footed like he did then you run the risk of an early bath. The rules of the modern game are designed to bring greater control and Kompany was naiive to raise both sets of studs when really there was little need for such a committed challenge. A simple block tackle would have sufficed but Kompany’s slide gave the illusion of a lack of control when it simply wasn’t necessary, and now we’ll never know how City might have fared with 11 men over the whole 90 minutes.

Kolarov’s brilliant strike and the shift in momentum:

To even have the slightest chance of an unlikely fightback from 3-0 down at half time, City desperately needed a moment of inspiration. Fortunately for Mancini’s men, Aleksandar Kolarov duly provided this with a brilliantly accurate, dipping free kick.

As is so often the case, City’s fans were lifted by the wonder goal and got back on side. Their renewed support picked up the mood at the Etihad amidst the miserable lashing rain in Manchester, and for the next 20 to 30 minutes City were undeniably brilliant. Throughout this period they strained to get behind the ball when not in possession, and when they managed to steal the ball they looked forwards quickly and brought the outstanding Sergio Aguero back into the game. This period culminated in Aguero prodding in the rebound to his own saved shot and giving City what at half time seemed the unlikeliest glimmer of hope.

Paul Scholes’ return:

United’s little, ginger magician returned today and played a significant role in letting City get back in with a sniff. Soon after his return to action, his sloppy short pass was intercepted in a move that led to Aguero’s goal and consequently City’s renewed hope of getting back into the match.

However, from that moment on Scholes recovered and reminded us of his great strengths. His pass completion percentage in the match was 97%, which is indicative of the calm he brought to United’s attempts to keep hold of possession in the last 20 minutes of the game. He may have contributed to City’s revival attempts, but he also played a key role in diffusing their late onslaughts.

Whether you are a United fan or not, it is hard to deny that Scholes has been one of the greatest players of the Premier League era and that his return to action is a welcome one. He may not have the legs of old but his distribution and touch were still top notch towards the end of last season and I can see little reason why this would have deteriorated since then given his continued training with United ‘s reserves.

His chid like grin as he stepped over the white line suggested he was more than just a little happy to be back in the thick of it, and most football purists will be equally as pleased to have him back.

The victors, and their reward for their efforts…

So… after all the mayhem at the Etihad, United eventually came out as narrow victors. Sir Alex Ferguson is rightly bemused by his side’s defensive fragility in the second half, but when he wakes up tomorrow he will surely just be glad to have brought a triumphant end to a poor couple of games.

United’s reward for the win is a tasty encounter with Liverpool at Anfield. Lets hope this equally brutal rivalry will manifest itself in a similar manner to today, because if this is the case we are in for another cracking cup tie.

 

 

FA Cup Third Round: My Manchester XI

With the dawn of another epic Manchester derby on the horizon I have taken a close look at those available for the 3rd round FA Cup tie and picked my first XI out of the combined match day squads. My team is as below…

The club's two managers would surely love to pick players from each other's squads if they could

(4-1-3-2)

GK: Joe Hart

An easy pick. Neither David De Gea or Anders Lindegaard have really taken command in their respective bids to become Sir Alex’s number one and have both been under question for error-strewn performances. On the other hand, Joe Hart has revelled in his role of huge responsibility at City and is fast becoming one of the stand out goalkeepers in world football.

RB: Micah Richards

When he burst on the the scene a few years back Micah Richards looked set for stardom for both club and country. Though things haven’t exactly gone to plan since then, he has had a very decent season so far and will surely break Fabio Capello’s resolve eventually and make it into his Euro 2012 squad. One of his biggest rivals for a place in England’s squad is United’s Chris Smalling who after a very promising start to the season has tailed off a little. Richards would get my vote for the right back slot in the national team and he gets my vote here too.

CB: Vincent Kompany (c)

Kompany has been outstanding for City throughout 2011 and looks set to carry such imperious form into the new year. He is to City what Nemanja Vidic is to United, and the injury-enforced absence of Vidic from United’s plans is arguably the difference between the two sides at present in the Premier League title race.

CB: Phil Jones

God knows where this hugely talented young man will end up playing for club and country, but he has had a brilliant first season at United no matter where they’ve been playing him. In spite of his great promise, he has endured a couple of very tough outings this past fortnight and his inexperience and naiivity was exposed at times by Newcastle. He might not be at his best at the moment, but Jones is a fantastic young player and will surely go on to be a major success story for United. In this line-up his pace and ball playing ability would compliment Kompany’s strength and discipline very nicely.

LB: Patrice Evra

Though I am one of many who thinks that Evra is perhaps something of a fading force, there is no questioning his remaining ability. He may not be in great form at present, but he is immensly experienced and still has the pace to fly up and down the left flank. For me he is still a far better left-back than Gael Clichy or Aleksandar Kolarov of City.

CDM: Nigel De Jong

In the absence of the suspended Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure who has left for international duty Nigel De Jong will be a hugely important player for City in the coming weeks. In my eyes he is a stronger option than the absent Gareth Barry even when he is available, so to slot him into City’s holding role will hardly weaken their side. In this role United barely provide any competition to De Jong.

Nani excelled against City in the Community Shield

RAM: Nani

The word mercurial is certainly applicable to Nani. When he is at his best he is damn near unstoppable as City found out in the Community Shield in August, but when he is at his worst he is wasteful, greedy and a bad influence on his team mates. Putting to one side for a moment his more irritating tendencies, Nani has become one of the world’s best wide men over the past two seasons. His electric pace, fast-feet, improved delivery and ability to score match-winning wonder goals has seen him rise from a frustrating talent to being one of United’s most potent attacking forces. There isn’t a side in the Premier League that he wouldn’t get in to.

CAM:David Silva

The brilliant little Spaniard has been a little quiet of late but there is no doubting his quality. If there is no Premier League side that Nani wouldn’t get into, then there is no side in world football that Silva couldn’t. United will still be having nightmares about the ‘magicians’ role in the 6-1 win at Old Trafford.

Silva was key to the 6-1 demolition of United @ OT

LAM: Samir Nasri

Like Nani of United, Samir Nasri has phenomenal ability and can at times be a match winner in his own right. His form this season though has failed to live up to his impressive showings in an Arsenal shirt. The man who it seems had the choice of the two Manchester clubs in the summer has a point to prove to the City fans and his manager Roberto Mancini. What better time for him to produce the goods than against United in the cup?

STR: Sergio Aguero

With Mario Balotelli set to miss out with injury, and Edin Dzeko too, the burden of leading the line for City is likely to fall upon Aguero’s shoulders. The Argentine live wire has been instrumental in City’s success so far this season and has racked up a very decent goal count for his first half-campaign of Premier League football. He would comfortably make it into United’s line up at present.

STR: Wayne Rooney

There are few more dangerous forces in world football than a hurt Wayne Rooney. Off the back of disciplinary troubles with United and an abject performance against Newcastle, Rooney will no doubt be more determined than ever to play a part in the demise of United’s local rivals. A partnership of his creative self and the electric Sergio Aguero would be about as good as it gets in world football.

Honourable mentions:

Chris Smalling: A good start to the season seems to have left a lasting impression both upon Sir Alex Ferguson and national team manager Fabio Capello, but on recent form Micah Richards is worthy of getting the nod ahead of him at right back.

Luis Antonio Valencia: A slow start to the 2011-2012 campaign seemed to indicate a struggle for form and fitness, but Valencia has had a good month. His role in the back-to-back 5-0 wins in December and the win over QPR will have gone some way to once again endearing himself to the Old Trafford faithful. He pushes Samir Nasri very close for a place in my line-up.

James Milner: I can’t quite find a way to include him in my combined team, but he seems to have finally found his place at City. It seemed initially that he was struggling to find his best for his latest club, but the England international has impressed when called upon this season.

Javier Hernandez: Hernandez is enormously talented but for me he lacks technical ability. There are few better operators inside the 18 yard box in world football but when required to drop in or pull wide in order to create, Hernandez just isn’t quite up there with the likes of Aguero who also possesses the ability to score from range unlike ‘Chicarito’. Lets look forward to a 30 yard winner from Hernandez tomorrow then!