Perspective on Manchester United's Embarrassing Derby Defeat

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Perspective on Manchester United's Embarrassing Derby Defeat
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Sunday was an embarrassment.

Having now spent several days blocking out the match, I have successfully reached a point where I can pretend it never happened. This has helped to cope with the upset caused, although it is difficult to not remain in a constant state of denial.

However, if you want some reassurance that Sunday was just a bad dream, and things will get better, then look no further: everything is going to be alright.

As the fourth, fifth and sixth goals hit the net in quick succession, it was painful to watch (yes, I did watch all the way to the end, although I must also confess my alcohol consumption rate increased rapidly as the game approached its conclusion. This might go some way to explaining why I have managed to block the game out of memory so successfully).

The resulting media reaction was predictable, and so was the result of fans, particularly those with a passionate dislike for United (otherwise known as jealousy).

While United’s future is made to look bleak by the English press, fueled by an insatiable appetite for failure (see the press coverage of Arsenal’s early season form, the English rugby team’s World Cup campaign and any football competition England are in for further details), things aren’t as bad as they seem.

The press’ desire for failure is like Kerry Katona’s hunger for publicity, or Channel 4’s need for reality TV; it’s unhealthy and unwanted, but ultimately, there’s nothing you can do about it.

It’s their job to create drama and sell papers, and they do it well. However, perspective has never been their strong suit, and that is what is needed in the aftermath of the Manchester Derby.

So, while the media frenzy feasting on United’s embarrassment continues, they are forgetting some fairly important facts; not least United’s unparalleled appetite for success.

Two decades of dominance have been doubted before in the press.

Sir Alex Ferguson has seen his team “replaced” as the dominant team in England, first by Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal in the late 1990s, and then by Mourinho’s Chelsea and Roman Abramovich’s healthy bank balance.

Ferguson was past his best, and United were a team on the decline.

Now, the same rhetoric has appeared again, and while there is little doubt that City and their oil-rich Sheikh pose the greatest threat to Untied thanks to their vast wealth of resources that allow them to buy whoever they want, there is also a sense that United have been here before.

Manchester United still remain united; they have always been this way under Ferguson.

United were beaten by the better team on Sunday. They were, however, playing well until Jonny Evans’ lapse of judgment gifted City the numerical advantage.

The sending off was the correct decision. What followed was a well disciplined City display, with a calm and patient approach which exposed United perfectly, particularly in the final minutes.

With well executed counter attacks against an undisciplined United team, first desperate to find a way back into the match, and then looking for a consolation goal, City played a smart match.

Would the game have finished 6-1 if 11 men remained on the field? No, of course not, but what happened, happened.

However, the point is that United are not as far behind Manchester City as the score suggests, if they are even behind City at all.

Nine games into the new season, City lead United by five points. They beat their rivals. They are favourites for the title.

But to consider their win over the 10-men of United reason to suggest they have replaced them as the best team in England is premature, and even Roberto Mancini conceded this in his post-match interview.

Another important factor to consider is United’s current form, and their injury problems.

The Red Devils haven’t been impressive over recent weeks, almost losing to Basel at Old Trafford, and escaping with wins over Norwich, Otelul Galati and Chelsea when the final outcome could have been very different.

The dip in form does also coincide with the injury to Tom Cleverley, sustained against Bolton in early September.

Cleveley is now returning to fitness, but his creativity has been sorely missed at Old Trafford, and that was obvious in the first half on Sunday as United had a lot of possession, but rarely created chances.

Anderson, Carrick and Fletcher work hard, but lack the creative instincts of Cleverley, and it would be plausible that Ferguson dips into the transfer market in January to find another creative force for the midfield; if not, then the return of Cleverley is a big boost to United, who will hope he can quickly replicate his early-season form.

In addition, the defence has been suffering its own injury crisis. Rafael has now returned to training, and Vidic is back in the starting lineup. Rio Ferdinand also missed time, and Chris Smalling was dealing with minor problems too.

The injuries meant Ferguson had to constantly change his back-line, and it undermined their stability. There was little he could do about it, but with weekly changes, it was obvious that the defence was looking more susceptible to the opposition than at the beginning of the season.

With players returning to fitness, United are heading back to full-strength, and it will help create more chemistry in the lineup that they have arguably been missing over the last few weeks.

The recent injuries have been a source of trouble for United, and, following an incredible opening to the season, they have hurt their form.

Finally, it was clear after the match that Ferguson got his team selection wrong on the day. Phil Jones might have been a better selection than Jonny Evans, and Javier Hernandez, or an extra midfielder, might have made more of an impact that Danny Welbeck.

However, all managers make mistakes. Ferguson might wish he did things differently, but instead he has to look forward and energise his team into bouncing back immediately.

Sunday’s game might look like the changing of the guard, but it could be anything but. It may have served as a wake-up call to United, and could play a big part in motivating the squad for the rest of the season.

While City beat United comfortably on the day, they are in a rich vein of form which won’t last forever. United’s brief rut, which included injuries and defensive troubles, won’t last forever either.

When the two change roles, the unity that Sir Alex Ferguson has fostered at Old Trafford might pay dividends; City, meanwhile, could be under more pressure to win, and with their players more likely to engage in public displays of disrespect towards their manager, they might find it difficult to bounce back.

United, on the other hand, will be angry and motivated; they will want to strike back immediately, and opponents will be very wary of this wounded animal.

City might have won the battle, but they haven’t won the war.

We all know United come good after Christmas anyway…

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