United Beat City: Red Player Ratings

nigel smithCorrespondent ISeptember 20, 2009

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20:  Michael Owen of Manchester United celebrates scoring the winning goal in injury time during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 20, 2009 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

A goal by substitute Michael Owen in the sixth minute of injury time gave Manchester United a 4-3 victory over Manchester City in this most pulsating of derby matches.

The nature of United's victory is certain to spark controversy. City manager Mark Hughes will rightfully ask questions about the referee's timekeeping. But in truth, United's triumph was well-deserved. They simply monstered their visitors into submission in the second half of this absorbing match.

There was much to admire in United's play after a ragged last 30 minutes of the first half saw the champions take the lead on a Wayne Rooney goal, only to succumb to City's growing composure and a terrible error from Ben Foster, which granted City an equalizer.

Sir Alex's side, with Anderson and Darren Fletcher working Stakhanovite shifts in midfield, nevertheless looked in danger of losing the battle of the center against the alert and combative Gareth Barry, Nigel De Jong and Stephen Ireland.

However, it was a different story when the sides returned for the second half. Sir Alex must have dusted off the hair-dryer because his players were transformed and recovered the high tempo and pressing intensity that had distinguished the first 15 minutes of Red action.

Anderson reprised the form at White Hart Lane last weekend, seeking every opportunity to move the ball forward and quickly. Michael Carrick, again watching from the benches, must wonder how he will get back into Sir Alex's first choice 11 with Anderson in a purple patch and Fletcher scoring two goals and showing why United rarely lose with him in the side.

The Scotland captain's brio, energy and intelligent interceptions provided the platform upon which victory could be built. He was ably assisted by the immense Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov. Although the Bulgarian missed three excellent chances, he was a source of misery for the City defensive duo of Kolo Toure and the ill-at-ease Joleon Lescott.

But it was Ryan Giggs who will take most satisfaction from a performance which rolled back the years a decade. His movement and clever use of the ball proved the difference between the sides. Giggs's decisive pass to Owen, one the England striker converted with a gloriously deft touch, was a delight.

Yet, even in the aftermath of a famous victory, it must be said that United's victory was anything but a sure thing. Though United will claim the headlines and three points, City may console themselves by reflecting on the clear evidence that they have come a long way in a short time.

Craig Bellamy, who at last revealed the full range of his gifts, was a constant thorn in United's side and his goal, which brought the scores level to 3-3, will give Rio Ferdinand, guilty of needless ostentation, nightmares for years and years.

If Shaun Wright-Phillips had been able to have a similar impact against the estimable Patrice Evra, City might well have claimed the draw they must have thought they had earned when the score was 3-3 on 90 minutes.

With Carlos Tevez a minimal influence on his return to Old Trafford, it may be that Hughes will rue not sacrificing midfield solidity for extra attacking threat earlier in the match. City were always dangerous on the break but with fragility at the center of defense and Micah Richards' lack of concentration a powerful indication of why he has been discarded by England's Fabio Capello, the visitors always looked vulnerable to United's pace and power.
The result stalls City's late summer surge to the summit of the Premiership. It underlines the manager's faith in 4-4-2 and sends a warning to the division's elite powers that Sir Alex's side retains its hunger for glory.


United Player Ratings

Foster—4: First-half howler will haunt and he might have done better against Bellamy for City's third.

O'Shea—6: Struggled against the talented Bellamy. Must have twisted blood tonight.

Ferdinand—6: Looked composed until a dreadful error gifted City a third goal. Should give his win bonus to Michael Owen.

Vidic—7: With City lacking adventure upfront, coped well with limited threat.

Evra - 7: Got forward well and kept SWP quiet.

Park—5: Another poor contribution from a player who rarely looks the part.

Anderson—8: Excellent show from the young Brazilian. Imaginative and attacking use of the ball and kept moves flowing.

Fletcher—9: Tireless running, two goals and man-of-the-match.

Giggs—8: Fletcher gets the Magnum but the veteran gets the plaudits for a super display with three goal assists.

Rooney—8: The rock upon which the Red machine is built

Berbatov—7: Enjoying himself now and might have had a hat trick but for Given's heroics.



Carrick—5: Danger here for the England midfielder. Needs to find form quickly.

Owen—6: Found his touch when it mattered.

Valencia - 6: Some good touches. Maybe unlucky not to start.


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