Ferguson and Mancini: Increasingly close competition
Following a four-year period of consistently vast sums of expenditure, it appears as if the Premier League title may finally be on its way to the seemingly inevitable destination to the Etihad Stadium.
The 1-0 victory over bitter rivals and closest competitors for the league crown, Manchester United puts Roberto Mancini’s side back into pole position. But who was to blame for the collapse at the Eastlands?
While retrospect may be a priceless gift, the cogs of the Red Devils’ machine just weren’t able to push into first gear on Monday and while Sir Alex Ferguson’s men might have failed as a group, there were those on the visiting side who stuck out more than others, and for all the wrong reasons.
Though United remain in the race to retain bragging rights over their local enemies, Monday was a more than subtle signal of the power shift currently occurring in English football.
So, let’s continue with the five Manchester United players who didn’t live up to expectations in what was touted as one of the most important derbies in the history of English football.
Smalling: Swamped by City attack
Despite playing a considerable role in the United back four this season, Chris Smalling had an easily forgettable ninety minutes on Monday.
The 22 year-old made his first start in ten games due to the injury of Johnny Evans and lined up alongside Rio Ferdinand at centre-back. However, the youngster struggled to match the performance of his teammates and mentors, meaning that if any City efforts did go through the middle, Smalling was at the heart of it more often than not.
The shortest, yet arguably the most telling of Smalling’s negative contributions led to City’s goal after he failed to match the run of Vincent Kompany in first-half stoppage time.
It’s no secret what happened from there.
Smalling has established himself as a potential staple in the United backline for some years to come but showed the kind of immaturity and inexperience in this vital clash that is treacherous for all players in a side who are to clinch Premier League glory.
That being said, one player can’t be held responsible for the entirety of the defensive woes of this top of the table encounter, leading us onto our next candidate.
Jones: In over his head
Following a £17m summer transfer from Blackburn Rovers over the summer, Sir Alex Ferguson was quick to integrate Phil Jones into his starting XI.
It’s still down to personal opinion whether the Preston-born defender operates best as a centre-back or a defensive midfielder but Jones has also been tried out on more than one occasion at right-back.
Rafael’s disappointing display in the 4-4 home draw against Everton meant that Ferguson opted for Jones ahead of Rafael but it would seem that a left-sided Manchester City assault of Gael Clichy and David Silva was simply too much in the end.
Jones was on hand to keep an early Samir Nasri effort out from off the line but had an otherwise quiet display and finished in the book of Andre Marriner for a foul on Gareth Barry.
The 20 year-old completed just 71 percent of his passes on the night.
Little surprise as the ball seemed to find Jones more than he would have liked, taking an accumulative 90 touches in the game, involved every minute of the way.
It speaks volumes that Ferguson is prepared to show faith in his youthful defenders playing out of their natural position, but the Scot may be forced into the transfer market this summer in search of a more established right-back.
Nani: Off the pace
A surprise inclusion in this fixture, Nani took a starting spot against Manchester City ahead of Antonio Valencia, a player whom many have pinned as a possible player of the season for United.
While one would say that hindsight is a beautiful thing, it would have been easy to argue in Valencia’s corner before this game had even kicked off given the way the Ecuadorian has performed this season compared to the inconsistency of Nani.
And the Portuguese international showed this inconsistency too, showing fans the gung-ho and overzealous version that can tend to rear its ugly head.
Going head-to-head against an attack-minded Clichy, Nani failed to make good on any real chances he may have got on the right-hand side.
In defence of the 25 year old, Manchester United simmered away as a unit in the second half, getting forward only a handful of times.
However, should he have summoned up the kind of continental flair that all Red Devils know he is capable of producing, Nani could easily have been the catalyst to send the visitors into elation.
Park Ji-Sung: Lack of recent playing time was evident
Industrious. Workhorse. Busy. It isn’t any mystery as to why Ji-Sung Park was fielded from the get-go against Manchester City.
The former captain of South Korea has made a habit of turning up in the big games much like illness-stricken teammate Darren Fletcher.
He did no such thing on Monday.
Although Robert Mancini has been criticised in seasons past for favouring defence-minded teams in the big games, it was Ferguson's turn to seek the draw in this derby.
United may have taken preference with a 4-5-1 approach, leaving Wayne Rooney as a lone striker but amongst a packed midfield, it would have been easy to forget that Park featured at all.
The Old Trafford veteran lined up with Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick as a central three but went unnoticeable against Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry who encountered partial resistance against the trio.
It’s no doubt that Park did the mileage as he always does but after being substituted before the hour mark, it would seem all that effort went to waste.
Giggs: Failed to create with little in front
It’s little surprise that the Manchester United midfield occupies the majority of the spots on the list seeing as it had the most participants from their starting XI in Monday’s derby.
What is surprising however, is the inclusion of Ryan Giggs on a list of disappointing performers.
One wouldn’t have been ridiculed for predicting the Welsh maestro to be one of the key players for the visitors in the match, orchestrating play in the unselfish and endlessly creative manner that he has done all season long.
In other circumstances, a 38-year-old veteran of the game may have been forgiven one bad performance, but at this level and at this stage of the campaign, even legends aren’t invulnerable to criticism.
Giggs completed a below average 75 percent of his passes, and despite all his majesty, he looked inundated amongst the likes of Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta who put in a thoroughly impressive show.
As aforementioned, even legends aren’t invulnerable to criticism and youthful exuberance certainly proved triumphant on this occasion.
It’s unfortunate that all the players featured in this article comes from the losing side, but Manchester City truly made their case as English giants by completing a league double over their bitter rivals this week and not a single player on their team fell short of the grade.