Man Utd 2-1 Man City: Rooney wondergoal
City started well but United grew into the contest, and Wayne Rooney’s astonishing overhead kick settled the game.
Sir Alex Ferguson went with his 4-5-1 system, dropping Dimitar Berbatov to play Rooney upfront alone. Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans were out so Chris Smalling started. Michael Carrick was the central midfielder left out.
Roberto Mancini left out Edin Dzeko to play Carlos Tevez alone upfront. James Milner played in Nigel de Jong’s position, and Aleksandar Kolarov started on the left. Joleon Lescott was chosen over Kolo Toure.
City were the better side in the opening 20 minutes, completing 99 passes compared to United’s 80. They also created the best chance in that period, through a brilliant neat passing move, but David Silva poked wide.
United start sluggishly
United’s passing was poor – they misplaced passes even when under little pressure at the back. Here, the absence of Ferdinand was felt – in addition to United having a much better defensive record when he is in the side, he also offers reliable, solid distribution from the back. The fault was not with Smalling, who had a good game, but Vidic feels the need to bring the ball out of defence more, and his passing range is not particularly impressive.
He is a superb defender, however. He and Vincent Kompany have probably been the division’s best two centre-backs this season, and according to OPTA’s stats, neither lost a challenge in this game.
United were better when they let Paul Scholes have the ball, and as in the meeting between these two sides at Eastlands last season, he was the difference early on. City’s distribution from the centre of midfield from Gareth Barry, James Milner and Yaya Toure was short, calm and reliable – nothing wrong with that – but Scholes’ long crossfield balls constantly changed the point of attack and made it more difficult for City to get into the right positions. The distance of his passes on the chalkboard is notable.
City’s midfield acted as a three, with Toure starting highest up but sometimes becoming the deepest player if Milner or Barry moved forward. This worked nicely, because Silva always moved inside and Milner overlapped to provide width – playing more passes from the right flank than Silva, despite their starting positions.
United’s wingers played different roles – Nani generally stayed on the touchline but Ryan Giggs came inside and saw more of the ball. Nani became increasingly frustrated at his lack of service, however, and started to wander. The goal came when both wingers were more narrow than usual, with Giggs playing in Nani to finish well in the 41st minute.
Mancini’s first change came soon after the break. Shaun Wright-Phillips (who had only played 130 minutes so far this season) replaced Kolarov, with Silva moving to the left – although as Silva comes inside so much, this didn’t affect his positioning much. Mancini could have taken off Pablo Zabaleta, who lost Nani for the first goal, and put Kolarov to left-back, but he seems to trust Zabaleta more than Kolarov defensively.
His second change was forced on him – Milner went off through injury – but Mancini took this as the opportunity to go towards more of a 4-4-2 shape, with Dzeko joining Tevez, and Toure deeper in midfield. The two subs combined for the City equaliser, a fortunate goal that deflected in off Silva’s back. Nevertheless, Wright-Phillips’ pace and directness did give City another dimension, stretching the United defence, so we should put that substitution down as a good move from Mancini.
Ferguson responded with a similar change – going to 4-4-2 with Anderson off and Dimitar Berbatov on. Having gone from six central midfielders at the start to just four by the end, the game opened up significantly and a third goal seemed to be on the cards.
Rooney’s winner, from a deflected Nani cross, was astonishing, and a fitting winner in any game.
Nothing too exciting tactically – both started at 4-5-1 to keep it tight, then switched to 4-4-2 to try and provide more goalscoring threat. In that respect, the game was rather like the Manchester United v Valencia game at the Mestalla earlier this season – where United also got a late winner.
The game was also notable for the identity of the forwards – the smaller, pacier Rooney and Tevez preferred over Berbatov and Dzeko from the start. The false nine is no longer an abstract concept, it has become an established role in modern football- especially in big games like this.