United’s unbeaten record at home came to an end in incredible fashion as a second half collapse saw them conceding 5 goals.
For the last couple of seasons this fixture has been surrounded by an ever-growing hype and this year was no exception. City and United went into the game 1st and 2nd respectively both unbeaten with Mancini’s side grabbing the most unthinkable of victories (at least in terms of scoreline), which will, no doubt, strengthen their belief that they can challenge for the title. With the money City have spent they have to be challenging for titles but, today, United’s ineptitude played as big a role in the result as City’s expensively assembled team.
United have played some amazing football this season and dished out some lessons, but were on the receiving end today as Old Trafford watched on in disbelief. Fergie described this defeat as his “worst day ever” and United fans would surely agree. United lacked tempo, concentration and urgency, three essential requirements to win any game, let alone a derby of this importance.
Ferguson chose Evans to partner Ferdinand and opted for Anderson and Fletcher in the middle of the park, with Welbeck getting the nod ahead of Hernandez up front. City replied with a 4-5-1 formation, with Aguero the only nominal striker.
United dominated possession in the early stages but City struck with their first attack. Milner squared a ball into the box from the left and a poor clearance allowed Balotelli to sidefoot the ball into the bottom corner. United’s reaction never came, as they again enjoyed the majority of the possession without causing any troubles to Joe Hart.
A lot has been said about United needing a creative midfielder and, watching from the stands today, you had the impression that it’s really an issue that Fergie needs to address. Time and again Fletcher and Anderson came unstuck at the edge of City’s box, highlighting United’s lack of creativity in the engine room.
The second half got off to the worst possible start for United, with Evans getting sent for bringing down Balotelli at the edge of the box despite being ahead of the Italian when the ball was played through. Evans has come on a long way since making his debut, but he’s still occasionally prone to this kind of costly mistakes, which could turn a game. And turn the game it did.
United had their best chance after 55 minutes when Young made a meal of Fletcher’s pass after a well timed run by the Scot, but that wasn’t a sign of things to come, quite the opposite.
Despite the introduction of Jones and Hernandez, City doubled their lead on the hour mark, when Milner and Silva combined down the right wing before the former Villa man set Balotelli up for the simplest of finish. United’s defence got torn apart again less than ten minutes later, as Milner sent Richards clear – Evra would be furious with himself today – and Aguero slotted the ball home from the following cross.
United looked dead and buried but managed to, momentarily, restore some pride when Fletcher curled a wonderful shot into the top right corner of Hart’s goal after a quick exchange of passes with Hernandez.
United’s wonderful “Attack, attack, attack” attitude has been the vital ingredient to so many successes in the past but today it was their downfall as they charged forward desperately seeking to save something from the game but they were punished three times on the counter attack by Dzeko and David Silva (definitely City’s best player, and a class above all his team mates). One might argue that United didn’t have anything to lose at that point and a loss is a loss, but those 3 late goals made the score line humiliating for United fans.
In any other teams a 6-1 defeat at home on derby day against title contenders would spark panic and chaos, but United and Fergie – the hairdryer would have been on the dressing room, and will remain on for another few months – are different. As odd as it might sound, this game could prove pivotal for United’s season even more than for City’s as they’ll do everything they possibly can to bounce back, just as they’ve always done. If you need an example look no further than three seasons ago when United lost 4-1 at home against Liverpool, yet went on to win the title. Today’s result will surely help United to raise the bar even further in the following months, a 5 points lead in October counts for nothing. Fergie knows it, and he knows that United normally kick in after the Christmas period. City might have won the battle, but the war is very much still on.
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