A few people have short memories. The mood amongst City fans on Wednesday evening was one of disappointment – understandably so after perhaps one of the worst Manchester Derbies served up in the fixture’s history. But it wasn’t, as has been suggested, the worst ever City performance. Neither was it a terrible result. It was just a disappointing spectacle.
I don’t understand how anybody can have lost faith in Roberto Mancini because he earned a point against (still) one of the best teams in the country by focussing on defence than attack. The performance against Wolves was worse than that of Wednesday night, so why was it that one that tipped the balance?
As much as we, as City fans, want to believe that United don’t have good players, it just isn’t the case. All too easily did I find that the phrases “Berbatov is rubbish” or “Nani can’t play football” or “Van Der Sar is too old and can’t move” rolled off the tongues of the fans sitting around me. Don’t get me wrong here, United are by no means the team that they used to be – in fact, I’d go as far as saying that the team that showed up at Eastlands on Wednesday was the worst United teams I’d seen contest a Manchester Derby – but that suddenly doesn’t make them cannon fodder.
It was only back in April this year that United scored their third injury time winner against City. On all three occasions, poor defending was the cause of the United goal more than anything they had done – Micah Richards left Michael Owen free in the first Derby, Rooney had a free header from four yards out in the second and the ball was gifted away by Bellamy, before Scholes was left unmarked in the third. The fact that Joe Hart’s only saves of the game were catches from half chances shows progress.
In fact, what tested Hart the most was saving a corner from a shot that deflected off Boateng. That shows you how strong the defence was.
I’m sure plenty of City fans would have taken a draw at the start of the day. I certainly would have – especially given that they hadn’t taken a point off United since the Derby doubles of 2007/08 under Sven. A leaky defence had mainly been the reason for that and it was clear that Roberto Mancini wasn’t going to let that happen again. It may have been over protective against a weaker United side, but a weaker United side is still capable of turning over most Premiership teams.
Yet, while weak, United weren’t “there for the taking”, as I heard so many fans commenting on a radio phone in and read on several internet forums. They’re not second in the league and unbeaten by accident, and, should City have decided to go gung-ho to win the game and ended up losing, the backlash against the manager would be worse.
Perhaps it’s because there were three disappointing results before the victory at West Brom, but there is no real reason for Mancini to be under pressure. One of the defeats (Arsenal) had mitigating circumstances through having ten men against the best passing side in the country. Another (Lech Poznan) had more mitigating circumstances through fielding a weakened and inexperienced team. The third (Wolves) was simply poor.
If that’s enough for Roberto Mancini to be under pressure, I assume Harry Redknapp is under the same pressure after Tottenham’s recent run of results? Oh.
Wednesday evening was a stout defensive performance where the home side were comfortable. Overall, granted, it wasn’t a fantastic performance and it definitely wasn’t a game to remember, but it’s a point gained on United from last season. United, while they dominated possession for large spells of the second half, could hardly claim a decent effort on target and nor could they claim that it was they that “deserved a win” (as Rio Ferdinand tried to do on his Twitter page). Neither side “deserved a win”.
Ok, so the blues didn’t tear up many (read: any) trees going forward, but it’s the tenth clean sheet of the season in all competitions, the sixth in the Premier League. I’d prefer the odd dour performance that earns a point every now and again than leaking goals in an attempt to win games: In fact, I would suggest that that was one of Mark Hughes’s failings at City and the very reason why there were 3-3 draws with Bolton and Burnley. And it was those types games that cost City a place in the Champions League, not a single defeat to United or Tottenham (though, of course, they would have helped).
Not many sides will keep clean sheets against Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool (especially now they look to be in resurgence) this season. City have taken twice as many points from those games than they did in the corresponding fixtures last season. And scored twice as many goals in them, too.
Many forget that Manchester United are well drilled. They have a solid defence and experience in midfield with players that have been at the club for years on end. City’s squad is still relatively new – only five of Wednesday’s starting line-up were in the starting line-up of the corresponding fixture in April.
I don’t buy the argument that players need months to gel, but I do buy that the longer a team plays together they get to know how to get the best out of each other. And United’s team, if nothing else, is settled. City, on the other hand, had four Manchester Derby debutants. It may well have been five if Mario Balotelli wasn’t a clot.
In fact, there wasn’t too much difference between Wednesday night and the City performance against Chelsea. Except that City scored, obviously. But if Tevez’s free kick had beaten Van Der Sar or if Tevez had decided to have a go from range as he carried the ball in both halves (similar to his goal against Chelsea), then we might well be talking about how good City looked both at the back and on the break.
But he didn’t so we’re not.
It’s hardly the end of the world not firing on all cylinders offensively for a match, especially if the defence (after a blip in performances against Wolves and Blackpool) will bail the team out. And it’s not so bad sitting in fourth place, four points clear and three points off second in the league.
And if City take three points against Birmingham on Saturday, then all will be forgotten.
Written By David Mooney