It was an unusually sunny day in Manchester as the clock started counting down towards kick-off on one of the most eagerly awaited Derbies in recent times.
On the one side, you had United gunning for a fourth consecutive title and on the other hand you had City who’d just recently discovered Ali Baba’s treasure, literally.
The derby was always full of intensity, passion, and tension. There was one thing more important then points that was at stake; pride. To add to the sense of occasion was Tevez, returning to Old Trafford after making his move across Manchester.
When Rooney struck in the second minute score to make it six goals for him in as many games, I thought this was going to be a rout. But then the match swung in City’s favour when Barry scored off a Tevez set-up following school boy errors by Ben Foster and Rio Ferdinand.
Last season, United’s strongest area was the defence which set a record for minutes played without conceding anything. It was the foundation on which United built their bid for a third successive title. This season however there is still work to be done in this department.
An error like that was not acceptable for at least three reasons; This is professional football and you’re not allowed to make schoolboy errors, Tevez was prowling in the area and being witness to Tevez’s work rate as a teammate in the last two seasons, Foster and Ferdinand should have known what to expect and should’ve dealt with the situation proactively.
I am inquisitive by nature and that might explain my engineering oriented career and my various hobbies. However these days what triggers my curiosity is what goes on in the United dressing room at half time. It must have been a motivating talk or a blunt dressing down by Sir Alex because when United returned to the pitch for the second period, they looked possessed.
Soon enough the possession (pun intended) was rewarded as Fletcher headed home from Ryan Giggs’ cross. Lead restored and the crowd erupted in joy and relief. However this was short lived as Bellamy soon restored parity with a screamer. This time it was the sheer brilliance of Bellamy and the fact that O‘Shea failed to cover him that left the red crowd stunned in silence.
At this stage, Hughes may have made a tactical error by pushing Bellamy to a central role and moving Ireland wide. Suddenly United opened up and began to butcher the City midfield. If it were not for Shay Given’s shot stopping abilities, United would have gone maybe two or three more ahead in this period of twenty-five or so minutes when they squeezed the life out of City.
This was also the period when Valencia was introduced in to the fray. His sheer pace was enough to give grief to Wayne Bridge. On the left wing it was Giggs’ vision and ability, reminding us of his former self and the semi-finals goal of the 1999 FA Cup. The last time United had mounted any consistent and significant attacks on the opposition from either wing was when Beckham and Giggs were in their prime.
All the attacking finally paid off. Darren Fletcher, who I lavishly praised in my last article, stepped up again to head another Giggs cross into the net making it 3-2 to United, ten minutes from time. A wave of relief swept over the faithful and probably for the first time during the whole game they’d have expected to enjoy the remaining 10 or so minutes in peace.
It was not to be the case, for it was Rio Ferdinand again who played a lazy flick and Martin Petrov picked the ball up and passed to Bellamy who ran and ran till he deftly put the ball into Foster’s net making it 3-3 in stoppage time. Minutes before United’s third Michael Owen was brought on to replace Berbatov, who had an unlucky stint in front of goal with two superb headers stopped by Given.
Four minutes of added time were shown and United faithful were contemplating a solitary point. But as time rolled on, O’Shea won a free kick in the attacking area. It didn’t matter much but Ryan Giggs pounced on to the loose ball and slid it through to Owen, who scored a typical poacher’s effort to restore United’s lead and bring home all three points.
At the beginning of every season for the last four or five years people say the same thing about Giggs “he is another year older now and is not likely to be influential”. But time and again he has proved them wrong. He set up the last three United goals today and made some amazing age-defying runs. His presence and influence are very much needed in these times as United look to rebuild after the departure of two more influential stars during the summer.
This was a great entertaining game from a neutral perspective; however both sides have few issues to iron out, especially United:
· Defensive errors, despite being individual mistakes need to be addressed. One needs a repeat of last seasons’ defensive performance along with the attacking style displayed so far.
· Over-dependence on the ageing legs of Giggs and Scholes is a worrying factor. Either Nani needs to be moulded to take Giggs’ place or the hunt needs to begin for a fresh pair of legs for the future.
· Errors like today's against Chelsea or Liverpool may not be as forgiving as City. Like I had mentioned earlier, City lack balance and if it weren’t for Shay Given, a lot more would have gone in. Such is not the case with either the Londoners or the Merseysiders.
· Chelsea and Liverpool have settled into a good rhythm and playing style unlike City who are still in their forming stage with influx of a lot of new players. So United are yet to face their toughest tests.
Four goals and three points are fair enough but they do little justice to how far and how much City pushed United. In the end it may have been that stroke of fortune in the form of the final whistle that may have handed United this memorable derby day win. That’s why the season starts tomorrow.