|photo by cdrummbks||via PhotoRee|
It's finally here: time for the Manchester Derby. No more talking or shouting, just the two teams on the field at the Theater of Dreams. Sir Alex opts for a European 4-5-1 at home, preferring Rooney to Berbatov up top, while Roberto Mancini opens with his preferred 9-1-1 lineup on the road, with David Silva and Carlos Tevez to provide the offensive spark.
David Silva flashes wide right at the start on a beautiful give and go for the first real opportunity of the game. He's clear through on goal, played onside by Ryan Giggs, and it's a massive let off for United when the Spaniard misses to start the game.
Nani has United's first real chance at the tem minute mark, cutting in from the right wing to smash a left footed laser over Hart's head. For all those doubting City's ability to attack today -- including this viewer --Ya Ya Toure's header just over the far end of the bar offers a reminder of City's abilities and seeming intent early on as the scoreline remains knotted at zero. Two minutes later United is picked apart again at the back, as Silva passes in Toure, whose shot is deflected off Smalling's chest. United may have packed the midfield this afternoon, but it doesn't seem to be deterring City from controlling the possession and the game a quarter of the way through the action.
United finally gain some sustained possession near the half hour mark, but the opportunity passes by without a real threat being offered by the home side. Fletcher's header/shoulder off Giggs' cross is straight at Hart, but it's United's first real test of the City 'keeper. United show a little bit of shape as the match nears half time, but they still appear reluctant to push too many bodies forward.
But when Nani is sprung free by a long Van der Sar punt and a Giggs through ball on 40 minutes, it represents two things: Giggs's first accurate pass of the day and the game's first goal, with Nani making it look easy as he displays a world class first touch and rolls the ball slowly and accurately past Hart for the lead. When the half comes a few minutes later it's slightly disappointing, as United are playing their best football of the day, finally grabbing City by the throat and shaking -- hard.
The same twenty two men who left the pitch come back out to begin the second half as neither coach changes personnel or formation, although Mancini will likely have to go to his bench sooner rather than later. Ya Ya Toure attempts to equalize by diving at shadows in the box, but referee Marriner is having none of it in the early going.
Shaun Wright-Phillips' introduction on 53 minutes means Kolarov is the first to check out of the derby, as City try to introduce more attack into their lineup. Scholes misplays a backpass, leading to several panicky moments before Van der Sar bails his side out with a comfortable save off Silva's dart. Seven minutes later and the big Bosnian, Edin Dzeko heads into the fray, and he's surely learned that there are plenty of United supporters in Manchester this afternoon.
The plot thickens as Silva equalizes on a cruel deflection, Van der Sar stranded as a Dzeko shot rebounds off the Spaniard's back, and the final 25 minutes are going to be hairy. It's a lucky goal for sure, but they all count the same in the box score at day's end. The goal prompts Sir Alex to bring on Berbatov for Anderson, and the game is fully on.
Neither side seem willing to settle for a point, and the action turns end to end as the game hits Mach One speed. It's all on the line for the two teams and the title race. In the 79th minute, there's a moment of magic, as the game goes from top speed to a complete standstill -- with the exception of a certain number 10. Moving in slow motion, Rooney is straight out of The Matrix, time standing still, body bending over backward, boots scissoring in the air. When the ball hurtles by Joe Hart he's as stunned as anyone else, the City fans hushed and the United fans ebullient. Producing one of the great derby goals in recent history, Rooney's blast warps the space/time continuum and gives the Reds the 2-1 lead, and the United bench is jumping up and down -- professionals brought to their feet by the sheer audacity of the Magic Man.
The next ten minutes pass in a blur. I think the game is still being played but I find myslef unable to focus on it with the massive amounts of adrenaline from Rooney's goal still buzzing through my veins. When the referee blows his whistle four minutes into stoppage time, I'm virtually as exhausted as the players on the pitch. But happy, too. Oh so happy.
United derail City's title ambitions yet again. They may be inching closer, but they're not there yet for a breathless farlieonfootie on February 13.