Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Heart-less: Manchester City 2 - Manchester United 1

No Heart
Photo by haven't the slightest on Flickr
Manchester United continued their late spring swoon, falling at home for only the second time this season in a 2-1 derby day loss to cross-town rivals Manchester City.  Although the Citizens' win moved them three points closer to the top-of-the-table Reds, more concerning for Sir Alex will be the heartless display turned in by his side, who have been seemingly unable to recover from the defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinal over a month ago.  Although United showed a brief bit of fighting spirit to pull back level early in the game's second half, the home side  were largely complacent for much of the contest, and few of those watching will deny that City produced much of the game's attacking thrust and -- on the balance of play -- deserved the three points. City's most spectacular effort came from one of the game's smallest combatants, as Sergio Aguero's late wonder strike sealed the derby victory.
United began the game with a makeshift defensive lineup, and were almost made to pay for it in the game's early going, but both David Silva's and Carlos Tevez's early efforts were blocked before they were able to inflict permanent damage. It was a wild and wooly opening five minutes, with both teams bursting forward in a veritable track meet of a football match.

Robin Van Persie pulled just wide after being fed the ball by Wayne Rooney inside the box, as the home signaled their own attacking intent. Fifteen minutes in and the scoreboard showed each side with 50% possession -- an accurate indication of the evenhanded nature of the proceedings to that point in time, but one that quickly began to change.

It was City looking the more fluid of the Manchester clubs after the game's first quarter hour, and they were unlucky not to grab the lead near the 20 minute mark, when only Phil Jones' last ditch sliding clearance saved the home side's blushes. The Citizens had their ears -- not to mention the United defense -- pinned back as they pinged the ball around and through the home side's 18 YTD box on multiple occasions, gaining loads of joy on the left hand side of the pitch and looking for a goal to complement their growing advantage in possession -- but while Samir Nasri's shot sailed wide, James Milner's effort contained little venom and was handled easily by United 'keeper David De Gea.

While City maintained possession, it was Silva who caused the most problems with his jitterbugging style of attack. For their part, the home side relied on relatively infrequent opportunities to spring the counterattack during a first half in which they were unable to create any real opportunities -- bar a late Rafael toe poke which clanged off the goal's upper corner. What the game lacked in scoring as the teams went to the locker rooms, though, it made up for in intensity, as referee Mike Dean was forced to go frequently to his pocket -- showing a yellow card to Silva, Rooney, Giggs and Kompany -- during a feisty 45 minutes of action.

The home side came out showing renewed intent, but it was the visitors who were first to find the net, only five minutes after the restart, Milner's shot deflecting off Phil Jones and past De Gea. The goal snapped a six game shutout streak and set the contest alight -- the home side now with all to do to maintain their led atop the table.

Jones pulled the home side level off Van Persie's brilliant free kick just before the hour mark, the ball finding the back of the net off City central defender Vincent Kompany's head -- an odd turnaround for the Belgian after his game-winning header in last season's late derby.

The goal did more than just level the score -- it also returned the game to its prior trajectory: City attacking and United happy to sit back more often than not. Sergio Aguero replaced Nasri with just under 20 minutes to play, but not before the Frenchman flicked over the goal with his outstretched boot to cause the home sides' hearts to skip a beat.  The swap was to pay dividends for the visitors soon thereafter.

Sir Alex's starting eleven remained unchanged deep into the game, the manager convinced by the relatively solid defensive effort turned in by his side through almost 80 minutes. Tired legs may have played a part in what happened next, though, as Aguero outran the entire United defense to reclaim the lead for the visitors, driving right through the middle of the box and firing the ball past a helpless De Gea for an emphatic finish from an extremely tight angle.  Although not of the class of Rooney's bicycle kick -- or of the drama of Michael Owens' late late winner -- the goal kept alive the derby tradition of late spectacular strikes making all the difference between the two elite sides in English football.

When the Scotsman did make a change, it was Antonio Valencia whose number was punched, the winger replacing Danny Welbeck. Five minutes later and Rooney was sacrificed in the name of Javier Hernandez, as United sought to pull one back against their cross town rivals.  Neither  was afforded much time to change the outcome -- although Shinji Kagawa's stoppage time introduction was perhaps the strangest move of all, coming as late as it did.
This is farlieonfootie for April 9.

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