Majestic- Superb- Unbelievable… Three adjectives that most certainly weren’t applicable to the match I witnessed on this sunny Saturday afternoon, as the 4th official in a local cup semi-final. Stuck on a muddy sideline, two miles from Old Trafford, I could only imagine the theatrics going on at the Theatre of Dreams through the patchy commentary of a die-hard City fan and his radio headset; as I endured a lacklustre 90 minutes & extra time, during the derby.
Nonetheless, I sat down this evening to watch Fergie’s men in action, against the title contenders in Blue, and was immediately surprised to see our leading scorer, Dimitar Berbatov, on the bench with the misfiring Wayne Rooney spearheading our attack. Rafael- who didn’t play for Brazil on Wednesday- was dropped to the bench as well, with Man United‘s third most experienced squad member, John O’Shea, playing as RB. Anderson (who has featured in less than half our games) also made a return to the team as part of a 5-man midfield which showed similar ambition to that of the home team at Eastlands!
Silva Showed Great Composure, Until the Finish…
City, without the influential De Jong, started on the front foot and gave United food for thought. Then, in the 4th minute, David Silva combined beautifully with Tevez & Yaya Toure before finding himself, at an acute angle, one-on-one with the keeper. With just Van Der Sar to beat, the travelling fans held their breath as they waited for their World Cup winner to slot the ball in the net, before seeing the Spaniard anxiously poke the ball wide with technique more reminiscent of a kid from Grimsby than Gran Canaria! Nevertheless, City continued to look good with Yaya Toure (who lost a header to Evra at one point) showing his impressive passing range and Micah Richards- who has seemingly started to bulk down a bit- showing the athleticism, power and drive which put him on Sir Alex’s radar a few years ago.
Lacking as an attacking force, with both Giggs & Scholes looking lethargic, United relied upon the ever-improving Nani to provide our goal threat, who had six of our ten shots all match. The tricky winger was faced with passing both Kolarov & Zabaleta, on City’s left hand side, but seemed to have both of them wrapped around his little finger with his ability to use his left/right foot with equal ease. City were dominant, with Anderson in particular struggling to get into the game, but United got ahead out of the blue (pun unintended) when the tenacious Wayne Rooney outjumped Lescott. As the ball dropped past the helpless CB, Ryan Giggs sent over a very ambitious through ball in the direction of the on-rushing Nani, who was on the inside of Zabaleta. Miraculously, thanks to an outstretched leg, the Portuguese winger took the ball down with consummate ease and calmly slotted the ball away low to Hart’s left to break the deadlock, in a manner rarely seen since the departure of Christiano Ronaldo. Remarkably, that finish means 8 of Nani’s last 10 United goals have been scored with his left foot (from @NickCoppack).
The Crowd Went Head Over Heels (Pun Intended)
In the second half, with the luxury of a 1-0 lead, United looked much more comfortable, without ever producing any sustained spells of pressure. City became increasingly frustrated, shown with Milner’s reckless challenge on Rooney, as they failed to break down the United defence, which included an imperious Chris Smalling (11 out of 12 match duels won). Therefore, Roberto Mancini brought on football’s forgotten man, Shaun Wright-Phillips, in order to change City’s game. The Englishman was applauded by Ferguson at the end for his effectiveness and it was the little winger’s (admittedly weak) cross which brought about the Blue’s jammy equalizer, when Dzeko’s mishit cannoned off Silva’s backside in front of the Stretford End. United immediately replaced Anderson with Berbatov, as a statement of intent, as they seeked to retain their advantage but the sloppy passing from Scholes, in particular, limited our goal scoring opportunities.
A draw, considering all things, seemed fair enough as United approached the last fifteen minutes. Both teams seemed pretty even, shown with City’s 482 passes against United’s 479.
However, Wayne Rooney had other ideas. The England forward, despite being in Kompany’s back pocket for most of the match looked energetic and seems to have returned to his pre-injury fitness levels as he bustled around the pitch. Then, in the 78th minute, Rooney produced a match winning, maybe even title winning, piece of magic as he executed an absolutely stunning over-head kick. Its mixture of flawless technique and epic brutality left Joe Hart, who had hardly had a save to make, stranded as the ball flew into the top corner. Old Trafford was delirious (on a par with that Macheda moment) as Rooney ran to the corner where he performed a rather peculiar celebration in front of the away fans. It is ironic that Rooney made himself a hero in front of the Blues, after City made United attack the Stretford End in the first half, considering the transfer saga in November. Is Rooney now forgiven by United fans? Is Rooney back in form? Has Rooney fallen back in love with football?
United now lead the Premier League by four points, ahead of Arsenal, having realistically finished Man City‘s title ambitions. Sir Alex will be very pleased with the result and will be hoping that the real Rooney is now back for the title run in. Arsenal may have the more favourable fixtures but the Reds should be confident if you look at our results against our main title contenders. This United side may not be The Invincibles, or the most fluent side Fergie has ever produced, but they certainly have the spirit, talent and determination to go on and win United’s 12th Premier League title… We can do it… In Fergie we trust!