Defeat against the team across Manchester condemned United to a tenth league defeat of the season. Two defeats in ten days against the two main rivals gives little to cheer or discuss, but it was a night where the Reds were comprehensively upstaged by our Blue counterparts. The heap began to form even before kick off. With a team selection that included Carrick, Cleverley, Mata, and Fellaini, it was hard to see how the midfield would tackle City’s strength and pace. Both structurally and tactically, it was a puzzle to understand the intentions of David Moyes.
They say the first five minutes of a game are key. Both teams are meant to go out and get a grip of the pace, tempo and style of forthcoming 90 minutes. However,this clearly hadn’t been reported back to United’s starting XI as it took just fourty-five seconds for City to carve open the back line. After a Rafael slip allowed Nasri the space to thump a shot against the post, De Gea was helpless to prevent a tap in from Dzeko. Old Trafford descended into a place of shock.
Therein, the atmosphere became a lot more subdued. Yes, there were the chants to get behind the team, but relative to the week before against Olympiacos, Old Trafford was dormant. Twenty minutes passed with wave after wave of attack from City. Yaya Toure the conductor, orchestrating many a pass to either Navas or Silva.
Tearing apart our midfield was far too easy, as roles were far from defined leaving us instead to chase shadows. Neither Carrick, Cleverley or Fellaini understood their role, with the later being out on the wing. There was no rigidity to the side as his physical presence was failed to be benefited from in the centre of the park. What the optimists saw as a potential 4-2-3-1 line up quickly descended into the same old 4-4-2 we have seen throughout this season.
As the first half closed, a maintained level of possession was established by United. Passes were strung together as Mata and Rooney dropped deep. Too often though, a careless touch of sloppy pass would put and end to this. City were starting to feel the pressure, as Cleverley was able to release Rafael, and Evra the same with Welbeck.
The best chance of the half came after Rafael scampered forward and took the ball along the byline, only for Mata to sky his wayward effort from the drag back. There was no doubting the work of Welbeck, Mata and Rooney, just the link up was not there in the evidence of play. To further put things into perspective, even Tom Cleverley was having a decent game by his standards.
The introduction of Shinji Kagawa for Cleverley at the break signalled Moyes’ intentions to introduce some pace and width to our game. Despite his ‘get it wide’ tactics this season, we were visibly far too narrow in the first half, inviting the attack onto us. This move also allowed Fellaini to drop into midfield, to bolster his physicality in a match up with Yaya Toure.
However, sloppy defending once again from Rio Ferdinand at a City corner allowed Dzeko to volley in his, and City’s second of the game. Here in the heads began to drop, despite the rallying calls from the Old Trafford faithful. Width intended to be created from Kagawa’s introduction failed to materialise. Both he and Mata continued to switch from the no.10 role and the right wing, with little link up play like we saw at the weekend. Half the team seemed unaware of the concept of a Manchester Derby, and the pride and bragging rights at stake.
United dropped deeper and deeper, at times lining up as a 5-4-1 with Carrick as a sweeper and Rooney dropping into midfield. Valencia and Hernandez failed to provide the flair needed to spark the match alight, replacing the tireless Welbeck and dubious Fellaini. The Belgian was perhaps lucky to remain on the pitch after an earlier yellow for a potential elbow.
The game was becoming an exhibition for our rivals. As they spread the ball about, United were unable to get near them. The nail in the coffin was finally sealed as the clock hit ninety however. Yaya Toure, instrumental in his teams success, fired into the corner and ensured two defeats in ten days for Moyes, with little sign of where, or how he intends to change this around.
Times like this call for a leader to emerge. As much as it pains me to say it, Wayne Rooney was the only man out on the field who warranted that. This is the man who has twice wanted out of the club, only to get a payrise and get his own way. It pains me to see the propaganda the club put out in a bid to secure him captaincy despite his controversial record. However, on performances like tonight, who else merits it?
As if Moyes could not make the night more miserable, then came the post match quotes. There is one that stands out as a shock statement. So, ahead of the lunchtime kick off with Villa, I leave you with this.
“Manchester City are playing at the level we aspire to.”