Manchester Derby: Toothless display from United as City march on

Dzeko gives City a very early lead
United tonight had the opportunity to have their say as to where the Premier League trophy spent it’s summer holidays. They capitulated with barely a whisper. A second consecutive 3-0 home defeat.
By the end of the game David Moyes was sat in the Old Trafford dug-out with a look on his face that is all too familiar to United fans this season. Bewilderment.
No sooner had the game began and City had the ball in the back of the net. 45 seconds was all it took for United’s positivity, garnered from two wins on the trot, to dissipate. Rafael did well to block Silva’s initial attempt but the ball eventually found its way to Nasri. His shot cannoned off the upright into the path of Dzeko who was left with the easiest of tasks.
City had the game by the throat and you feared that United would capitulate in the manner of Arsenal at the weekend. Silva was a constant menace, popping up everywhere in the final third. In the midfield Yaya Toure was controlling the tempo without breaking a sweat. Ominously for United, Fellaini, the man best equipped to deal with Toure’s physicality, was brushed off the ball by the big Ivorian easily in the 7th minute.
Moyes looked furious on the touchline. Tom Cleverley was moved to the right wing from a central berth with Mata heading in the opposite direction. Antonio Valencia was stripped off and ready for action with a mere ten minutes gone and it looked like Cleverley was going to be the one to make way. He got a reprieve and showed some promise as the first half developed, linking well at times with Rafael down the line.
City’s movement off the ball however was just too much for United. Nasri, Navas and Silva flitted about, occupying United’s defence while their full-backs made inroads down the sides. Zabaleta in particular was getting the better of Patrice Evra, but the Argentinian was subdued somewhat after shipping two nasty challenges within 15 minutes of each other. Welbeck took him out with a sliding tackle after quarter of an hour, and Fellaini was lucky to stay on the pitch following an elbow to the full-back’s face with half an hour gone. Both United players saw yellow.
United gained a foothold in the game in the last 15 minutes of the first half, but couldn’t make any meaningful progress behind the City defence. If Moyes’ plan A is to get the ball out wide and cross it early, then so be it. If that’s the case however, it’s something that needs more work at the training ground. Aside from Wayne Rooney, who should be in the box and benefiting from decent deliveries, not one Manchester United player this evening looked capable of threatening the City defence with a cross. Rafael and Evra over-hit the majority of their efforts, Mata often hit the first man, and substitute Antonio Valencia rarely threatened the byline, having lost much of his pace at this stage of his career.
Pace. That’s at the heart of United’s problems this season. They have no-one with the searing pace of a Ronaldo who can turn defence into attack in seconds. When they are under the cosh, there’s no outlet with which to relieve the pressure. The ball may make its way into the midfield, but any build up play is laboured and clunky. While both have other attributes, neither Carrick nor Fellaini seem capable of imposing themselves on a game the way Yaya Toure does for Manchester City. A central midfielder (or two) of that ilk is desperately needed in the summer. Parachuting Rooney, their biggest goal threat, into the midfield is not a viable long-term solution.
Manchester City’s second goal highlighted United’s shortcomings in defence too. City were dominating without creating much in the early stages of the second half. However in the 52nd minute they had a corner and Fernandinho flashed a header over following a flick on from Kompany. Fellaini had failed to follow the run of his compatriot. United had been warned. Two minutes later it was Rio Ferdinand who lost Edin Dzeko at another corner, and the Bosnian volleyed in from close range.
The second goal effectively ended the game as a contest. Welbeck had two half chances either side of the 70th minute, but it was comfortable for City. Jesus Navas made way for Javi Garcia, who sat alongside Fernandinho allowing Yaya Toure to roam further forward. It was the Ivorian who delivered the final insult when a cross from sub James Milner deflected into his path and he finished coolly down to De Gea’s right.

The talk tomorrow will focus on Manchester United’s toothless display, but City’s quality cannot be overlooked. They march on with the Premier League title still theirs for the losing.  United will be hoping for a pick me up when they welcome Aston Villa to Old Trafford on Saturday. That’s because a week from today they’re in Champions League quarter final action. Against an irrepressible Bayern Munich.

Manchester Derby: United hoping to derail City’s title ambitions

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City ran out 4-1 winners in September’s reverse fixture

Sky Sports may have raised a few eyebrows when they pronounced tonight’s Manchester derby as the “Race for the Title”, but regardless of Manchester United’s position in the table, they can still have a say in the destination of the trophy come May.
Tonight’s game is their final chance to do so however, as City are the last team they encounter this season still in the running. Manchester City could afford to lose tonight, as winning the rest of their games would most likely put them one point ahead of Liverpool and level on points with Chelsea with a superior goal difference come the 11th of May. However, with crucial games coming up against Arsenal and Liverpool, they would be leaving themselves with a mountain to climb should they capitulate at Old Trafford.
It says something about the shift in power in Manchester that United go into tonight’s game on home soil as underdogs. That’s something that would have been unthinkable during the Ferguson era. Such has been David Moyes’ maiden season in charge however, that home advantage hasn’t guaranteed one point, let alone three. West Brom, Newcastle, Spurs and Liverpool have all left Old Trafford with maximum points this season.
It seems that Moyes’ struggles to make the best out of the less than stellar squad bequeathed him by Ferguson has been met with a certain amount of Schadenfreude from opposing fans and the media. Where other manager’s travails have slipped under the radar somewhat, the focus on Moyes has been intense and unrelenting. While this may be unfair in some respects, some blame has to attributed to Manchester United’s transfer dealings, or lack of same, last summer. With a clear need to strengthen in midfield and at the back, United’s efforts in the summer ultimately amounted to the capture of Marouane Fellaini on the final day of the transfer window.
In contrast, Manchester City, themselves under new stewardship with the introduction of Manuel Pellegrini, identified their targets early and had time to integrate them into the squad before the start of the Premier League season. Fernandinho and Alvaro Negredo in particular have come in and strengthened the squad. When Manchester’s new managers went to battle for the first time at the Etihad in September, the home side ran out 4-1 victors. The tone for the season had been set.
However, while a Capital One Cup victory and possible Premier League success constitutes an impressive season, Pellegrini’s belief that his side could attain an unprecedented quadruple was misplaced. Defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League, after a second consecutive defeat at the hands of Wigan in the FA Cup, left that dream in tatters. The only English teams left in the Champions League are title rivals Chelsea and who else? Manchester United.
And so back to tonight’s game. United manager Moyes has kept his own counsel this week regarding the availability of his centre halves. With Michael Carrick having to deputise at the back in Saturday’s 2-0 win at West Ham, United fans will be hoping that at least one of Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Rio Ferdinand will be fit to face Kompany and co.
Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata started at the weekend, with the Japanese international occupying the number 10 role apparently coveted by Mata. Moyes has stated that the Spanish playmaker is happy to occupy any position for the side. With City usually deploying full backs who like to get forward however, perhaps the manager may move Mata to a more central attacking role in order to facilitate a more defensive minded winger.
With Robin Van Persie unavailable yet again due to injury, United will very much depend on Wayne Rooney for goals tonight. Having found the net five times in his last five appearances against City, the £300k a week striker should be a key concern for Pellegrini. Two goals at the weekend will have boosted his confidence and City should aim to keep him, above all others, under wraps.
With Sergio Aguero out injured, and Alvaro Negredo in a poor run of form, it may be up to free-scoring midfielder Yaya Toure to inflict damage on United tonight. Fresh from a hat-trick against Fulham at the weekend, the Ivorian international will be City’s key player. While United fans may flinch at the idea of adapting tactics to stop other teams rather than just playing their own style of football, it is imperative that Moyes’ midfield tonight is set up right. Liverpool’s 3-0 victory 9 days ago at Old Trafford is a case in point. Jordan Henderson was allowed too much space and was involved in much of his side’s good play. With all due respect to Henderson, Toure is an infinitely more accomplished player at this point in time. If he is allowed the same space as the Liverpool midfielder then United will surely miss their chance to dictate where this year’s Premier League title ends up.