The vital experience of a Premier League title challenge was the flavour of the day at Old Trafford as Manchester United taught rivals Manchester City the key qualities needed in pushing the Premier League big boys. The likes of Ryan Giggs, Darren Fletcher and Rio Ferdinand have all done it before – not to mention the man in charge Sir Alex Ferguson. This experience and know-how helped United come through the difficult derby day clash against Mark Hughes’s newly formed set of superstars wanting to cause havoc upon the top four. No doubt the Carlos Tevez affair and Craig Bellamy’s response to a fan running on the pitch will have added a sense of controversy to the game, however Manchester United’s eyes were focused and they battled until the bitter end to earn a 4-3 victory despite a resilient effort from City coming back a staggering three times.
The usual pre-match war of words had already begun circulating around the red and blue halves of Manchester as the battle to gain first blood within the press was being hotly contested between the master, Ferguson, and his understudy, Hughes. Claims that “City are not capable and not ready for a title push” from Sir Alex were met with comments that United were “running scared of City” from Hughes. The competitive streaks of both managers were coming out in tense and clever press conferences – a key part of any derby game – especially one of such importance to fans and also the Premier League itself.
A major question on everyone’s mind was the fitness of Tevez. The diminutive Argentine made the move from Old Trafford to Eastlands in the summer – a move which has seen the striker go from hero to villain with the United faithful. With Emmanuel Adebayor facing suspension and Robinho and Roque Santa Cruz both with long term injuries, it was vital Tevez was announced fit to provide balance and also give that fiery edge to the derby which City wanted. Hughes opted for the strong midfield duo of Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong to offer bite in the City midfield. A partnership is blossoming superbly between the two players with Barry’s ability to pass and create combined with the strong tackling and running de Jong gives the side. Stephen Ireland, Shaun Wright Phillips, Bellamy and the pantomime villain Tevez made up the attacking quartet of City.
However, despite the financial clout and stars within the City line up, United possessed the experience and aura of a Premier League side that have seen off many challenges before. Their line-up oozed class and combined fresh, hungry and youthful players ready to prove a point to Ferguson and the rest of the Premier League. The exuberance of Wayne Rooney worked beautifully with the guile of the likes of Giggs, proving money cannot buy experience and know-how of the Premier League. Giggs has become a master-class of the league in his incredible 18 seasons, changing his game from pace, dribbling and skill to vision, craft and experience which is something only quality players can do. A defence-splitting pass from Giggs to Michael Owen, who finished like his old self, was enough for United to gain not only a vital win in terms of the title but a also came as a huge psychological boost.
Although City did fantastically well to come back at Old Trafford three times, the disappointment will still remain firmly in their minds. However, the future looks superb at Eastlands with Robinho, Santa Cruz and Adebayor to return to add that attacking threat and bring fear to other sides. A top four finish will be in sight for Mark Hughes, however City seems to lack that aura or experience of a title challenge which the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have.
Liverpool’s Fernando Torres returned to his wonderful best on Saturday evening, scoring a double in a 3-2 win at Upton Park. The Spanish star showcased his striking ability perfectly with a neat near-post finish along with a brave header in between two centre-halves. This ability to interchange and score goals from anywhere is the reason Torres remains one of the best strikers in the world and will be a major threat to any defence.
The Premier League this season is certainly going to be one of the best in living memory. In the 56 games played so far there has only been four draws – an incredible stat showing how open and expansive the league has become with teams going for victories and attacking football more than ever. With sides like Tottenham, Manchester City and Aston Villa playing with no fear this campaign looks set to be superb.