At the end of this season’s Charity Shield, Wayne Rooney said that Manchester United had taught City a footballing lesson. If that was a lesson, then yesterday, City returned the favour with interest. Only this was something more akin to an education.
It is rare indeed that United find themselves on the receiving end of a defeat so emphatic, but there’s no other way of looking at it. Yesterday, United were hammered 6-1 in their own back yard. And I’m not even being partisan there either. This was Manchester City at their very, very best and United couldn’t cope. It’s a wonder the stands of Old Trafford coped with the Poznan too, such were the amount of times City fan were called upon to observe it.
The game had a familiar feel about it in the opening exchanges. United were out of the blocks quicker and were harrying us all over the pitch. Whenever we tried to search for the outlet, they closed us down. We defended well though, largely restricting United to shots from distance.
And that resolute defence was just as important as the flair we showed going forward. Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott were solid. Indeed, perhaps the more disturbing element of this match for United fans was not the fact that they were cut wide open. If they are honest, they perhaps know that defensively, they are not at their optimum. Maybe the more level headed United fan might even say that they had this coming, but on balance, attack has for the most part got them out of jail. So it follows, that the most disturbing element here for them was the way we controlled that attack. Apart from Darren Fletcher’s excellent strike, only Jonny Evans came close.
When you are under the cosh at Old Trafford, finding an outlet is key. For those first 20-odd minutes or so we couldn’t really find it. And then? Enter Mario Balotelli, with a superb strike from an excellent Milner cross that outwitted the United defence. We were on our way.
I have to say there can be no complaints for the sending off either. Evans was left for dead, and Balotelli would surely have netted. De Gea is good, but he is not Van Der Sar just yet because he does not have the presence. Then the rest was history, as United were blown away. And talking about history, the Blues created quite a bit of it on the way. How about 81 years since United let in six at home in the league? That’s unbelievable.
And at the centre of it all, the irrepressible, the magical, the sensational David Silva. The Spaniard played out of his skin. The pass he gave Edin Dzeko for the final goal was out of this world, something to die for. That pass, and the Spaniard’s goal, were the icing on the cake. It could have easily been seven or eight.
The unofficial United mantra of ‘strength in adversity’ went out of the window here. Instead, they just got weaker and weaker. As Joe Hart said, United were already bleeding when Evans brought down Balotelli. All that was required then was for us to administer the diagnosis. And boy did we go in for the kill.
We did exactly what we needed to do. 2.0, 3.0. Then came the Fletcher goal, a glimmer of hope, a comeback to end all comebacks. And the answer? 4.1. Want some more? 5.1. And by the way there’s a sixth for afters. Crushed. This was an utter Derby humiliation, on a completely different level to that of 1989.
This is the way to play against United at OT. In general, in the past United have been rewarded for being United: positive, going forward, with the belief that they can salvage almost any cause. But every team has its limits. Here’s they got punished for showing those exact same values – they got punished for doing the exact thing that has got them out of jail on so many occasions. They got punished for being United.
The unusual thing was, they didn’t seem to understand what was happening to them. As Ferguson alluded, they were probably guilty of believing their own hype. In trying to hold true to the idea of United, they only did themselves more damage. But in the end, all empires overstretch their reach. It will happen to Barcelona one day, and it happened to United here – in the worst possible circumstances.
The stock response of many United fans: "its only three points", shows how little they really have to say about this hammering. What they should be saying is: "fair play". They know they can’t complain. Sometimes you just have to take it on the chin and respect the fact that you were beaten by the better team. Mancini is right to be humble. United are reeling now, but they won’t need any more galvanising. We know they’ll come back at us.
Nothing has really changed at this point in terms of the league. United are still the favourites because they are the champions, and we’re still incomparable to them on that front because they’ve done it so many times whilst for all those years we fought amongst ourselves, got relegated and sacked managers. As Mancini said, things will only start to change once we secure that first league title.
But the context surrounding City and United has changed, its impossible to deny. On and off the pitch, this is a different City nowadays. Ferguson can only label us as noisy neighbours for so long. To be honest, we’ve been a whole lot more than that for sometime. Remember the 4-3 at Old Trafford? Remember the Carling Cup Semi Final defeat at Old Trafford? And now this. In the wider context, of course things have changed. To deny that is to be out of touch.
One thing’s for sure, the return leg at the Etihad Stadium will be an explosive affair. We’ve certainly given them something to think about.
This was us at our best. Aside from the mercurial Silva, Milner was also another standout performer. Aguero and Balotelli were as menacing as ever. Mario is still one for the future, I don’t think we can rely on him 100% yet, but his performance here and in previous matches proves that his mindset has changed somewhat. That’s not to say he won’t go and take five steps backwards. But that’s part of the madness of Prince Mario. Here United couldn’t control him. The Italian is explosive, that much is true. He has that little bit extra that you know could make him great. Unpredictability, audacity. If channelled in the right direction, Balotelli could be formidable.
Ditto for Sergio Aguero. This lad is the one to watch for me. Aguero has the look of a man that will win us serious trophies. I like his style: a true footballing brain and a glint in the eye that says he is up for the fight too. This is where our special added value will come this season. If he can stay clear of injury, then it’s going to be a better year than last for sure.
And as for Mancini – his hand continues to strengthen at the club. I have great respect for the Italian. He’s a professional and he took this victory like a professional. He has proved his doubters wrong this season. I think everyone has been surprised with just how progressive we have been since August. It is a different City than last year, a more optimistic side, more adventurous. Mancini is still experimenting, pushing the limits of what we can do going forward. And credit to him for doing that. To build a Premier League dynasty, we need to strike a balance between the flair of Arsenal, the pragmatism of Chelsea and the ruthlessness of United. It’s a task of the highest order, but Mancini is certainly moving towards that. He has to be praised for doing that.
If we’d have had an indifferent start to the season, playing with the same defensive mindset, the anti-Mancini faction would have grown, such is the short termism in football these days. But the Italian has nipped that in the bud. He’s the man who ended our 35 years trophy drought. He’s the man who led us into the Champions League. He’s the man who has just issued United with probably their worst ever Derby defeat, at Old Trafford. He’s already in the history books.
1955, 1989 and now 2011. I was there at Maine Road in 1989 when we beat United 5-1. It’s one of the clearest memories of my childhood – being passed over the barrier in the North Stand because some United fans had got in and were causing trouble. But I must admit, even though I watched this demolition in a bar in Jakarta, this day was so much better.
It was one of the greatest and will be for quite some time to come. Good to know too, that this defeat still means an awful lot to some people. Now, we must move on, get our heads down, and carry on with the job.