Showing respect for Manchester City’s attacking proficiency following last year’s 4-3 thriller, Sir Alex dropped top scorer Dimitar Berbatov in favor of a fluid 4-5-1 system, with Giggs and Nani getting forward when in possession. Mancini matched the system with Tevez leading the line and in form full back Aleksandar Kolarov being deployed further up the field.
This surprisingly led to a more open first half with both sides carving out good chances, the best of which dropping to David Silva in the fourth minute as he ghosted into the United penalty area only to somehow poke his effort just wide.
With only Wayne Rooney as a target and a lack of forward running from the United midfield, the City back line looked comfortable for much of the first half. Vincent Kompany in particular was fantastic as he stifled Rooney of space, tracking him when he dropped deep and showing great sharpness to nip in front of the striker and take the ball away calmly time and time again.
The deadlock was eventually broken as Lescott failed to deal with a long clearance from Van der Sar, only for Nani to pluck a sublime first time Giggs pass out of the air and slide the ball home with consummate ease, a very slick United goal.
With half an hour to play Mancini decided to give Edin Dzeko and Shaun Wright-Phillips a chance to enamor themselves to the City fans. Following comments from assistant manager David Platt that Wright-Phillips may have to play an increasingly important role this season in the wake of Adam Johnson’s injury, the England winger was keen to impress. And he duly delivered by combining with fellow substitute Dzeko for the equaliser, scuffing a low cross into the box for the Bosnian to smash the ball into team mate David Silva’s back, deflecting it into the net and setting up an exciting finale.
Unfortunately for City Dzeko continued to look far from the finished article as he lacks full match sharpness and the assured first touch required at this level, spurning some good attacking opportunities.
In all it was a quiet performance from the City midfield as Yaya Toure failed to find his normal range of incisive passing which placed the onus on Silva and Tevez to create chances, only for the excellent Vidic and Smalling to overpower them more often than not.
The tie eventually boiled down to a piece of pure magic from Wayne Rooney, as he climbed high to smash an over-head kick into the top corner of Joe Hart’s net. It was a piece of inspirational skill and improvisation that you can only really sit back and admire. The goal eventually all but took the wind out of City’s sails and puts United an almost insurmountable eight points clear of their blue rivals with a game in hand.
2 Richards – 4 Kompany – 19 Lescott – 5 Zabaleta
7 Milner – 18 Barry – 42 Yaya Toure
21 Silva – 32 Tevez – 13 Kolarov
51 – 8 Wright Phillips on for 13 Kolarov
60 – 10 Dzeko on for 7 Milner