Manchester City 2 Manchester United 3
If last season’s first derby supplied a question — ‘Why always me?’ emblazoned on Mario Balotelli’s t-shirt — here was a brutal statement from the current Manchester United side that runs almost like a motto.
Despite the continued fretting over defensive concerns, Alex Ferguson’s team, who were beaten to the title on goal difference in the dying seconds in May, must be living by the theme ‘Always just enough’ after a thrilling triumph at the Etihad Stadium.
Wayne Rooney put them into a two-goal lead at the interval but slowly they were ground down by City, with Yaya Toure pulling one back moments after Ashley Young had an effort wrongly ruled out for offside before Pablo Zabaleta thumped in an equaliser with five minutes left.
United were clinging on but when they were provided the chance of a free-kick after Carlos Tevez clipped Rafael, Robin van Persie’s effort deflected off Samir Nasri, who waved a leg at the shot from the wall rather than standing strong, and past the helpless Joe Hart to take Ferguson’s men six points clear.
Much to Roberto Mancini’s fury, Tevez had already pulled away from the wall, but the manager was withering in his criticism of Nasri. When asked if he wanted four players in the wall rather than three, Mancini’s response was: “We ended up with two and a half. If they shoot at the face you should put your face out because there are some teams that won the championship for this reason.”
There was something symbolic about that final goal, which handed United a big advantage in the title race. Nasri’s decision to choose City over United in the summer of 2011 was another indication of the Blues out-muscling their old rivals, a changing of the guard, and the league title that followed seemed to have proved him right.
But van Persie made the opposite call in the summer and his 14th goal of the season means he has now won his team 16 points.
It said much about City’s summer transfer business that their only derby debutant was Matija Nastasic. The Serbian defender, 19, will be a top player in time but, much like the captures of Javi Garcia, Maicon and Scott Sinclair, he has hardly taken City to another level.
That, coupled with the fact City have not beaten a team of note since their pivotal 1-0 win over United last season, raises yet more questions about the Premier League champions.
And yesterday United inflicted City’s first defeat of the season, a first home league loss in 38 games over two years, and while they have already overcome Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool; City are yet to register a win against Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton and Chelsea.
For such a successful man, Mancini certainly does baffled frustration well and this performance was reminiscent of the unravelling experience of the 1-0 defeat at Arsenal in April at times.
That loss left City eight points behind with six games left and they still went on to win the title so it would be folly to give United the trophy today. But it was hard to overplay their victory and the celebrations said everything about the pain they still feel about last season’s demise.
City actually began the game playing some of their best football of the campaign but United ripped them open when Van Persie opened City’s defence up with a simple chest down, Young scampered clear and pulled across for Rooney to finish with nice disguise.
Mancini replaced the injured Vincent Kompany with Kolo Toure, leaving Joleon Lescott on the bench, and there was a second for United when the excellent Antonio Valencia fed Rafael and Rooney swept in from the Brazilian’s cross to move ahead of Bobby Charlton with a tenth derby goal.
Rooney’s influence is said to have been eroded by Van Persie’s arrival but if he can continue to play like this, no United fan will complain.
Playing behind the Dutchman, he was key to the swiftness of the visitors’ counter attacks and what better occasion to finally nail the view that they can not play together?
When Yaya Toure prodded in a rebound City thought they snatched a point after Zabaleta thumped in.
But two minutes into added time, van Persie saw the opportunity left by Tevez moving off the end of the wall and his corner glanced off Nasri and in.
Manchester City (4-4-2): Hart 7; Zabaleta 7, Kompany 6 (Kolo Toure 21, 5), Nastasic 7, Clichy 6; Nasri 5, Yaya Toure 6 (Dzeko 84), Barry 6, Silva 6; Aguero 6, Balotelli 5 (Tevez 52, 7).
Manchester United (4-4-2): De Gea 7; Rafael 7, Ferdinand 7, Evans 7 (Smalling 49, 7), Evra 6; Valencia 7 (Jones 84), Carrick 8, Cleverley 6 (Welbeck 88), Young 7; Rooney 8, Van Persie 8.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
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