I gave it a few hours to sink in, mindful that writing in the immediate aftermath of such an epic contest, and victory, can have significant drawbacks. We won and we deserved to. The question of who deserves what is one closely examined in philosophical discourse but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll just keep it on a football level.
On a scale of 1-6, I’d rate my elation a 10. Not simply because of the victory but also because of its manner. A last-minute winner from our star man who was poached from the nostrils of the Wasteland scum. It doesn’t get better, really. Michael Owen, the scorer of one of the most memorable Derby winners in history, spoke on MOTD with a curious air of detached melancholy; like he was being eaten up by the rather uncomfortable mix of nostalgia and self-restraint. Then again, with customary propriety, neutrality is desired; it’s the BBC after all.
We were written off, counted out from the start. After all, Manchester city haven’t lost a home league fixture for over two years. It was not about to change because newly found whipping boys, Manchester United, were in town. A friend described our 1-6 loss last season as an ‘evisceration’; painful but tough to argue against. Of course, they forget that last season, our head to head with City read 2 wins, 2 losses. Surely we aren’t that bad, are we? It’s interesting that out last 3 victories against City have had the same scoreline (3-2) and none have come at Old Trafford. Perhaps something to do with the realities of the away fixture balancing our initiative just about right. I will discuss that later.
The starting line-up
De Gea started in goal, if not cementing then certainly lending credence to the assertion that he is certainly ahead in the race with Lindegaard. Rafael started despite the torrid time he received at the hands of Mcanuff against Reading and boy did he perform. Ferdinand, Evans and Evra made up the rest of the backline. In midfield, Carrick and Cleverley provided a mix of tactical awareness, passing and energy. Ashley Young, experiencing a recent upturn in form, continued down the left and Antonio Valencia made a welcome return to the side – he only plays one position. In behind Van Persie, Wayne Rooney continued in the role he has excelled in this season.
Ceding the initiative…but not quite
When we lost at the Etihad in May, it was probably the most embarrassing, spineless display of any Manchester United side I had ever seen. Shoving aside the now hackneyed issues of lack of a midfield enforcer or defensive midfielder, lack of true defensive organisation and structure, what struck me most then was not only the ceding of initiative to Manchester city in our selection of players but more fatally, our approach.
Park started that day – He never played for United again. We were dominated all over the park and while it might not have quite been derided as a travesty if Aguero hadn’t made history v QPR, there certainly would have been a distinct feeling that the 2nd best team had won the league.
Hence, when I saw the starting line-up, I was pleased. Considering our options, Ferguson sent out his strongest XI. No more acceding to the superior talents of Manchester City – give it your best shot and feel vindicated knowing you did not go down without a fight.
The approach was simple and one I believed would give us a good chance – cede possession to City, play a cautious high line so we don’t get sucked into the full back overlap problems that City created at the Etihad in May (through Zabaleta and Clichy) but when in possession, hit them with the pace we have down the flanks. It worked delightfully well in our FA cup victory over them in January and there was no reason that couldn’t be the case here. So it proved.
Rooney’s first came from brilliant counter-attacking football culminating in a scuffed finish. His second bore stark similarity to Van Persie’s goal against Chelsea in our victory at Stamford bridge. The quick movement of the ball down the wings, taking advantage of a turning defence allied to accurate delivery and very clinical finishing.
We should have been 3 goals up but for a wrong call from the assistant referee. This came from a quick break down the right once again.
We had 3 shots on target – we scored 3 goals. Mancini said his team “did not deserve to lose”. At 3-0, the game would surely have been dead and buried. The better team, on the day, won the game.
Robin Van Persie – more than his weight in points
In his short time at United, he’s won us 5 games by his goals alone. That’s 15 points I’ll ascribe to him (somewhat generous) but it’s a trend he firmly established last season at Arsenal. He won them 24 points by his goals alone. At 29, he’s gained sufficient experience to become a wily operator at the apex of teams. I remember pining for Van Persie when he was still a young, temperamental winger/second striker capable of frequent bits of outrageous skill. Today, we have a stone cold predator who ‘vaccinates’ opposition when his team needs it most.
That’s not to say he’s not capable of the flair that singles him out from many other strikers. His chest off to Ashley Young made the first goal, a sublime bit of awareness and improvisation. His shot which struck the upright followed a lovely cruyff-turn; made in Holland, ehn? His value to us extends beyond his goals, clearly. He sets others up, he links play, he defends at corners (Alan Hansen provided a lovely expose on his defensive work at corners yesterday – van persie cleared 5 alone)…
The free-kick topped it all off. Slightly fortunate with the deflection but as they say, you make your own luck. Make that goals against Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester city so far.
If I had a reservation, it’s that he should really score more. He’s had some bad misses this season but I don’t think there’s a contest – he’s been our man of the season so far.
Wayne Rooney – ‘Robin’ reminds us of his star quality
In Batman cartoons, Robin’s the ever-loyal sidekick, the dude that will demure to the more glamorous, high-profile caped crusader (well, a bigger, blacker and badder cape). He knows his role. As does Wayne Rooney.
When Van Persie signed for United, one wondered what would happen with Rooney. A grossly disappointing performance in our first day loss to Everton cemented Van persie’s spot as first choice striker. Van Persie, as mentioned, has quickly justified this, scoring crucial goals for fun.
Coming from a team in which he was the star man (and striker), one wondered how he and Rooney would gel. After all, Rooney was just coming off his most productive goalscoring season as well (35 goals).
As seen in previous years, Wayne Rooney can and will willingly play the back up role. He moved to the wings for Ronaldo in a hugely successful switch (for the team), he has partnered strikers from Ruud van nistelrooy to Louis saha, displaying an ego-less altruism and selflessness.
Hence, it was doubly delightful to watch Wayne take centre stage. He’s known as a big game player, serving up the goods on huge occasions. His two goals, from what is now his usual deeper position behind Van Persie illustrated his undoubted influence on our team. In scoring his 2nd, he became our highest goalscorer in Derby history, a fine accomplishment at 27 years old. He still plays Robin though – Robin got the winner and the accolades.
Right wing Torrents
Yet again, our right-wing was the scourge of the opposition. It has become recurrent, an avenue so obviously productive that I’m surprised no team has yet tried to go all Fergie and used a defensive winger to restrict our output. Statistics indicated that we played two times the number of our passes down the right than we did the left. Also, reminiscent to games v Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea (the biggest), the damage has been wrought down that side. It should perhaps a measure of relief that when our right side has an off day (against Reading, Valencia, the robot, was getting maintenance work done and Rafael had no support before being duly subbed on 30 mins), the left side can serve up some juice.
While Valencia didn’t have his most productive in an attacking sense, he remained dangerous, reminding me a lot of the role Ronaldo played at times with his directness, running and sheer presence if not topped off by output. He pegged Clichy back and apart from his overlap and cross in the first half, Clichy remained subdued in an attacking sense.
Can we credit Rafael with two assists?? Ah, generous yet again, but it was his overlap and cross that set Rooney up and his surge forward in injury time won the free-kick from which Van persie scored. His performance was what we have come to expect from him – dogged, skillful, and very efficient.
While an impressive victory, it should not detract from the fact that we so nearly threw away a two goal lead again. Our concession of goals is a bit alarming and even though it’s Manchester city, we let them back in it with a couple of sloppy goals. For the first, it did come after the disallowing (bad decision) of Ashley Young’s goal but after de Gea makes the double save, you’d expect the ball to be cleared. For the 2nd, a problem from corners once again. City attached our near post a lot but when the ball is cleared, there has to be someone on the D waiting
to mop up. From the replays, it looks like it should have been Ashley young.
While I praised Michael Carrick in my last post, he didn’t have his best game here. Indeed, he completed just 73% of 60 attempted passes, a drop from his stellar average of 88% (courtesy of whoscored.com). However, he did make crucial contributions with his tackling and interceptions (led the team with 4). Tom Cleverley, next to him, put in an encouraging display of urgency and energy when in possession.
A rather curious observation is how many times over the last couple of years we have beaten City with last-minute goals. Scholes’ header in 2010 at the death, Owen’s in 2009, Rooney’s in the Carling Cup the same year. That hunger and desire is back.
Our next game is against Sunderland at Old Trafford. With 1 win this season, we should be confident of taking three points. Injuries are clearing up with Vidic and Kagawa not too far from returns to the team. We have lost Jonny Evans (hamstring) and it is hoped he is not out for too long. In any case, the deputies are bountiful.
In a rather unsavoury incident, Rio Ferdinand was struck on the eye by a 2p coin, causing a cut from which blood flowed freely. City have apologised and an investigation is being carried out by the FA. At least Rio saw the funny side of it all – check out his tweet >>> https://twitter.com/rioferdy5/status/277813337813819392
A bit of trivia – Name the last 4 African international players to play for Manchester United
Till next time, take it easy! Enjoy