Manchester United: 6 Reasons Why They Lost to Manchester City
I was at the Manchester United vs Manchester City match today. It's not the end of the world, but it comes as a shock when you haven't seen anything like this in 80 years. I now know what Arsenal fans must have felt like when I watched them demolished 8-2.
Like the Arsenal fans, the Old Trafford faithful sang on. Outside the ground, walking away, there was a deathly hush. We're not used to this. Nor is the manager, who said he had never had such a bad defeat in his career. Nor are the players, as you could see, even at 4-1.
It's not the end of our title hopes; far from it. It's three points lost; possibly a six-point swing against our most likely title rivals, in which case, with a 10-goal swing in goal difference, it's effectively four points lost.
As Arsene Wenger will understand, you don't suddenly become a bad side. No doubt the anti-United brigade and the doomsday merchants will come out with all the statements about how badly we played last year. So Chelsea, City, Arsenal and Liverpool all played worse, guys.
The truth of the matter is that there has been an evening up process in the Premier League over the last few years, with one exception: Manchester City.
I will confess that when I saw Sergio Aguero's first match for City, I became deeply concerned, because for the first time in as long a I can remember, City are our most dangerous rivals. And so today proved.
All the talk on the radio was that United's midfield was overrun and all the clamour for buying every midfielder under the sun has re-emerged.
Yes the City midfield finished stronger on the day, but that wasn't the only or even the main reason why United lost.
Here are six others:
Sir Alex got his tactics wrong, as he did in both the Barcelona ECL Finals. Only this time he was too offensive, rather than setting up not to lose, against Barca.
When United lose, you can usually bet that the midfield will get the blame, unless there is a defensive error or a sending off or even a referee to blame.
God bless Michael Carrick. Through Providence and Sir Alex's decision making, he didn't even make the bench today. Which is lucky, because he usually gets blamed, even if he plays out of his skin and doesn't misplace a pass.
When asked for my opinion before the match on how Sir Alex would play it, I suggested that he would go for a 4-2-3-1 formation to take advantage of his strengths and give the best balance between winning and not losing.
I expected Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra at the back, Jones and Fletcher in front of them;, an attacking three of Young, Rooney and Nani and Hernandez on his own up front.
This formation would have had a number of virtues. Jones has shown he can attack as well as defend; Fletcher is usually Mr Reliable. Rooney is, I believe, the successor to Paul Scholes, in the way he used to play 10 years ago, and it would keep the game narrow.
Furthermore, having seen all City's games this season, I expected Mancini to set up with this formation, and so it proved.
Instead, Sir Alex went with a 4-4-2, and the rest, as they say, is history. But that wasn't the only reason United lost.
As the previous slide has implied, and mainly because the tactics were wrong, the wrong team played.
And as an aside, what has Dimitar Berbatov got to do to get picked? Or is he going to be sold? Because he did little wrong last year, and just when United were crying out for a player to hold the ball up, as they were in the ECL Finals, they brought on Hernandez.
But the starting line-up looked like a "catch-weight" contest in midfield. Even without the combative Nigel de Jong, City have some weight and power in midfield. They also break quickly ad with skill, so having the extra defender on the pitch in Phil Jones when needed, could have made a difference.
Yes it would have been a tighter game—and a concession that City were a threat—but we shall come back to that later.
Anderson has real skill, is now much stronger and harder to knock off the ball, but after the first 25 minutes and as soon as City scored, he was the wrong option. Unlike Jose Mourinho,Sir Alex doesn't make changes before the hour mark, because it suggests he's got things wrong.
Up front, Welbeck always looked a handful, can head the ball well, dribble and tackle, but United only created one clear-cut chance in the match (which fell to Jonny Evans of all people). Chicharito, however, can make and score from half chances, as he did in setting up Fletcher's goal.
But the biggest selection talking point was around Nemanja Vidic.
Watching the Manager's Press Conference in full on friday, it was clear Sir Alex had something on his mind; he was distracted. Was it the situation of his captain? Had he already told Vidic he would not feature today?
It is well known that the Boss has faith in Jonny Evans and rates him as a "fantastic" defender, but he wasn't today and Vidic wasn't even on the bench.
Sorry Jonny, but you're not consistently good enough. And today, you lost it and the match for your team.
Not for the first time, Evans made a serious error that cost Manchester United. And then he made another, which handed City the match on a plate.
For the first 25 minutes, United dominated the possession and controlled the match. But towards the end of that period, City were given a gift against the run of the play.
Yes, it was Jonny Evans. Balotelli was loitering around the edge of the box. Evans was marking him but clearly fast asleep, because he drifted away from the Italian, and when the latter got the ball, he fell over, leaving the striker to sidefoot the ball into the corner under no pressure.
United kept the match tight until halftime and would have hoped for something out of the match in the second half, despite the midfield challenge.
Needing to take the game by the scruff of the neck at the start of the second half, United saw instead Jonny Evans, half asleep again, grabbing Balotelli by the arm, giving him the opportunity to throw himself to the ground in search of a penalty.
There was no question Evans had to go. He could feel dismayed, but Clattenburg got it absolutely right, and Evans again got it wrong.
It is difficult to see how Jonny can come back from this, and yet again, I suggest that Ferguson should sign Gary Cahill, because even Rio Ferdinand looked off the pace by the end of the match as United were run ragged.
And frankly I'd sweeten the deal by offering Evans back to Bolton in part-exchange.
In the absence of Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra is the captain.
The responsibility has clearly gone to his head. Against FC Basel, he became a kamikaze pilot, marauding down the left wing when Manchester United needed to defend a 2-0 lead.
Against City, he went completely AWOL. As against Basel, Sir Alex was bemused as to how open his team were when they should have been keeping it tight. In many ways, Paddy epitomises the United attacking spirit. In the second half, after Evans had been sent and his team needed calm, responsible leadership, he gifted City possession and winning goals down his flank.
For all of the last five goals, Evra was completely missing. This was the flank down which David Silva was attacking. As Gary Neville said post-match, United will have worked all week on how to stop the supply from the best current player in the Premiership. Instead of leading that initiative, Evra was at the other end of the pitch trying to emulate the little Spaniard, leaving nobody at home.
United paid the price, but will Evra also? Who would have thought Sir Alex might have to look for a left back in January? Ironically, if he doesn't, the best deputy would otherwise be...Jonny Evans. Oh dear.
United Were Too Open
Mario Balotelli behaved and scored two goals; David Silva was given the freedom of Old Trafford and was the master conductor of an entirely deserved win.
I've lost count of the number of times this season Sir Alex has referred to his team being too open. OK, we won the Arsenal match by a street and the Chelsea match because they couldn't hit a barn door. But against Basel, we lost a comfortable lead, and against City, we gave them a ten goal goal difference.
But how can that happen? Is the manager implying that the team isn't playing to his orders? What did he say to them at halftime? If he thought they were too open in the second half, why wasn't he screaming on the halfway line to close the game down?
Yes, we love to watch attacking football. Yes we half believed something was possible when Fletcher scored, but the match became a lemming rush as we jumped over a cliff.
And yet again, what was the captain doing if United were too open? Oh yes, he was leading the charge. But surely that old campaigner Rio Ferdinand could have done something about it? No, he watched in disbelief with his colleagues as City gave United the hiding they deserved with their cavalier play.
Let's Be Honest, City Were the Better Side
None of the previous slides should be seen as excuses.
Like Arsenal when they lost 8-2, this will have come as a shock to United. In many ways, it is a good thing, because it is a reality check.
Injuries aren't the only reason United haven't played with a settled side—especially in defence. And you could see the consequences today in the lack of cohesion in the second half.
Some of the senior players will have had a wake-up call this afternoon, and so will the manager.
There won't be any panic buying like Arsene Wenger, but surely Sir Alex will have to bring forward some of his plans. The midfield has needed some more class for at least five years. Sir Alex has fiddled while Rome has been slowly smouldering, shored up by Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs playing on until they were geriatrics.
The team has been reinforced, especially with youth, and re-energised. But it needs added strength in midfield and Tom Cleverley is not the answer yet.
Depending on what is going on with Vidic, there may need to be some rethinking of the captaincy as well.
For all that United fans are accused of being arrogant, there have been a fair few flooding the airwaves and the internet this evening saying what is fair and true.
So let me say it as well. City were the better side on the day. For that, credit should go to Roberto Mancini, who was always a quality manager and has had a bumpy journey.
Total respect to you, sir.