So, it’s advantage Roberto. The Italian has seen his side overhaul an eight-point deficit in just three weeks. Back then it looked as if April 30th might be the date Manchester City fans would have to endure seeing their neighbours win the title in their own back yard.
As it is, Vincent Kompany’s headed goal has taken City to the top of the table. Win their remaining games – which is by no means guaranteed – and they will be crowned champions for the first time since 1968.
With the revelation on Sunday that Roy Hodgson is set to beat the Greatest Manager of His Generation to the England job, this game had almost been forgotten about. Almost, but not quite. The equation was simple: win or a draw and United keep control of the title race, lose and the momentum, and probably the title, is lost.
With that in mind, Sir Alex Ferguson set his stall out to, in his words, “block midfield” by having Wayne Rooney lead the line on his own in front of a five-man midfield. The United manager insisted he was not playing for a draw but his side conceded the attacking advantage – 12 shots for City played just four for United – and while the tactic didn’t make for the greatest game, it worked for much of the first half.
However, in the final minute of the half, all their hard work was undone by a moment of inexperience from Chris Smalling who was making his first Premier League start in three months. David Silva swung in a corner and Smalling was caught ball-watching. Kompany, the man he should have been marking pulled away and took full advantage of the space to head home past David De Gea.
It was only the eighth first-half goal United have conceded in Premier League all season, but it is the one they will rue the most; the one that might well have cost them the title.
The visitors came out after the break with renewed vigour and after 10 minutes the switched to 4-4-2 with Danny Welbeck replacing Ji-Sung Park, Mancini responded by withdrawing Carlos Tevez in favour of the defensive Nigel De Jong. The Dutchman’s tackle on Welbeck 10 minutes before the end saw the referee produce a yellow card and the two managers square up to each other on the touchline.
In the end, United could find no way past City’s defence. Samir Nasri nearly sealed in the dying moments but he tired to walk his way through United’s defence instead of shooting when he had a chance. It seems you can take the boy out of Arsenal, but you can’t take Arsenal out of the boy.
Should City go on and win the title will this match go down as the moment the Premier League balance of power shifted to the Blue half of Manchester? Perhaps, only time has the answer.
Let’s not forget that having knocked Liverpool off their perch it seemed as if United had been overtaken by Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles and then The Special One’s Chelsea. But after three seasons without the title, United have won four of the last five. Their neighbours might be singing louder tonight but United haven’t lost their voice just yet.
Man City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Lescott, Kompany, Clichy; Barry, Yaya Toure; Silva (Richards 82), Tevez (De Jong 68), Nasri (Milner 90+2); Aguero.
Manchester United (4-5-1): De Gea; Jones, Ferdinand, Smalling, Evra; Nani (Young 82), Carrick, Scholes (Valencia 78), Park (Welbeck 57), Giggs; Rooney.
Did you know…Before this game, Manchester City had failed to score in five of the eight Premier League derbies against their cross-city rivals at the Etihad Stadium.
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