Monday, 9 January 2012

The strength of 10 men

It could have been a mauling, instead it turned into a cup tie and a half. City ultimately lost their FA Cup crown amidst a first half that was not good enough, whatever is said about the sending off of Vincent Kompany. United will gloat, but they will kick themselves that they did not push the sword in further.

The Blues started well, forcing their opponents back, but there was really nothing they could do against United’s opener, a top drawer header from Wayne Rooney, who seems to save some of his best performances for City.

We were down but far from out, and then came the sending off. The club will appeal the decision but I can’t help thinking there’s no point in doing that. The officials will close ranks and back Chris Foy, but really, there was nothing in the sending off at all, apart from a referee that appeared to be trying to make a name for himself.

With our captain and best defender off the pitch, we went to pieces at the back and United capitalized. We couldn’t clear the ball out of the area, and when we did, we couldn’t hold it long enough to give our defence a breather. It was classic United and there was no doubt that with a man less, it was going to be difficult.

United pressed and Wellbeck’s goal came as a result. I have to commend the strike, taken at an awkward angle and with perfect precision, the young striker showed great athleticism.

But the truth is, he was allowed to do this because we were soft in the area – in this case Nigel de Jong was the culprit. If you are de Jong in this situation, you have to be putting extreme pressure on the man, but instead, de Jong appeared to duck out of the challenge. It might have been out of fear of fouling Wellbeck, it might have been out of fear of deflecting the shot. Whatever it was, it gave the young United striker the window he needed to execute, and suddenly we were flapping.

There can be no qualms over Alexander Kolarov’s tackle on Wellbeck for the penalty. Costel Pantilimon did well to save Rooney’s penalty, but could do nothing with the rebound. It was a baptism of fire for our Romanian stand in keeper, a strange game to rest Joe Hart in.

But it was a credit to the Blues that Wellbeck’s second was the last United scored in open play. In the second half the ten men regrouped, got our heads right and Mancini got the tactics right. We were too belt and braces in the first half, even after we went behind. We needed to slow things down, have a bit of possession, wait for them to come at us, and then hit them. And that’s exactly what we did. Replacing Adam Johnson and David Silva with Pablo Zabaleta and Stefan Savic, we were much more able to repel United’s attacks.

It was the classic dilemma of playing against 10 ten. United were unsure what to do. Do you go for the fourth and kill the opposition off? Or do you wait and allow them to come onto you? The strength of ten men here cast doubt into United's overall play in the second half.

Ferguson helped us with his substitutes. Subbing Nani and Wellbeck took the edge of United’s offensive play. Introducing Paul Scholes particularly slowed things down for them, and as the game wore on, United surprisingly became less of a threat.

Kolarov’s sublime free kick was just was the doctor ordered, the first chance of the second half in the back of the net, start-as-you-mean-to-go-on stuff. Kolarov needs to start weighing in with a few more of these. We all know his defensive frailties – for me he still isn’t cut out for the position of left back in this league – but if he can bring goal scoring free kicks to the table then that weighs things out a bit more.

The game then changed. United continued to have possession but our counter attacking became more effective. Sergio Aguero was ploughing a lonely furrow for the majority of this encounter, but he did what all top strikers do and immediately switched on when he was needed. A brilliant cross from James Milner (who is probably having the season of his life) found Aguero unmarked in the box and the Argentinean scored City’s second, forcing the ball home after Lindegaard had parried his first effort.

Things were looking particularly dicey for United at this point. That is the central difference with Ferguson’s men this season. They are showing a brittleness at the back and throughout the spine of the team. Most sides are sensing blood and exploiting it, and that’s what we did here.

We on the other hand are showing steel, and our character came through.

As things became increasingly tense, too good penalty decisions were turned down. Kolarov brought down Valencia and then Phil Jones handballed inside the penalty area. On another day both could have easily been given.

A late, late Kolarov free kick, parried away by the United keeper in a penalty area full of players, could have gone anywhere. We threatened yet again with a corner, with Micah Richards attempting a scissor kick, but the ball could not be scrambled home. Instead, United scrambled away with a victory. It was a far cry from the thrashing they were surely expecting to give us. Nowadays, its a different City. It wasn't inconceivable that we could have won the game if some more decisions went our way - and all this with a man less.

There is something strange about United this season that I cannot quite put my finger on. There seems an air of capitulation about them, something rarely found in the Ferguson era. The script of this match started as a potential rout for United, but it ended with them on the back foot, exiting stage left as quickly as they could as they hung on while we ended the match heroically. Perhaps it is this inability to keep to the script that is now troubling Ferguson’s squad?

United will take the victory, but with 10 men, and a comeback that was almost United-esque in its manner, City will take the psychological edge.


  1. I think City are the first team I've seen to put up such a fight with 10 men against such an elite team as Man United. Yes, a defeat is a defeat, City's resilience made for an absolute cracker of a second half and will still give us a lot of confidence going into the rest of the season. I think it'll put us in a good mind frame for a win over Liverpool in the Carling Cup this week and we'll take a big step towards the league with a good result against Spurs later this month too.

  2. Yep, hit the nail on the head there mate. Resilience was the key word here. Fair enough to United, they did their job and are of course in the next round whereas we are out, but our performance should be good for the squad's mentality.