Being a Manchester City fan, there is, of course, only one thing I could possibly choose to write about this week. There has been one thing and one thing only that has been on every City fan’s mind over the last week: Will Robinho hit form for City again this season or will he be sold, whether now in January or in the summer?
No. Of course that’s not what I’m going to write about; I was just throwing you a curveball. I have to talk about the Carling Cup tie with United… You know, the one where Ferguson said he would play his kids. The kids that needed the experience and so had started all the earlier rounds of this competition; the kids like Van der Sar, Evra, Brown, Anderson, Giggs, Carrick, Fletcher, Valencia and Rooney.
If we’re being honest here, though, when Ferguson said he’d play those kids that he didn’t play, can anybody honestly say that they expected him to play the kids that he actually said he’d play, when he actually said he’d play them earlier this month? So when he didn’t play those kids that he said he’d play, it didn’t come as quite the shock he perhaps meant it to.
Confused? You’d better be: it’s taken the best part of 20 minutes to write that.
Anyway, I’m probably going to upset some United fans, but, let’s face it, there’s a fair chance I’ve done it already with that linking business up there, pointing out that Ferguson didn’t play his kids like he said he would. Now, I use Twitter quite often and was amused at the number of United fans who seemed to think that they lost to the referee.
Just in case there was any doubt, because I don’t believe there should be: United didn’t lose to the referee. So City’s penalty wasn’t a penalty, but it’s not like United (a) haven’t had fortuitous decisions in the past that have changed derby games – Frontzeck on Cantona springs to mind; (b) didn’t have a whole half and a lot of pressure on the City goal to get back in front/equalise when behind; (c) don’t have another leg to play at home and (d) don’t have an away goal.
It’s swings and roundabouts – you get one lucky decision for you one week and one against the next. If the incident had happened to give City the winning goal, in the final minute of the second leg, then I would be more sympathetic to that opinion, but given that there’s still 90 minutes of football to play (and your added time, of course) where you have home advantage and an away goal just in case all else fails, I’m sure you can appreciate why I am less inclined to accept the excuse that you lost because the referee was (as one person put it) “wearing a City shirt underneath his black top”.
This tie is far from over. And that goes for City fans too: Just because we won on Tuesday it doesn’t automatically mean we’re going to get to the final. Perhaps we could wind our necks in a bit and not post daft Facebook statuses about the Blue Moon rising because it hasn’t actually happened yet.
United lost because they couldn’t score one of their other chances that fell to one of those inexperienced kids – Rooney or Giggs or Valencia or someone like that. So there was a bum decision, tough. City have had to put up with them for long enough and, while that doesn’t necessarily make it right, it does, at least, make it feel a bit fairer.
The other thing I’ve been told by several United fans was that Given saved City with a superb performance. Whether he did or he didn’t is all immaterial really; after all, he’s one of City’s players and, therefore, perfectly entitled to do so. I fail to see the logic behind this argument.
Now, onto the game itself.
I’ll be perfectly honest, when I saw that Ferguson wasn’t playing the kids he said he’d play and I saw that Mancini had started with the Belgian youngster Dedryck Boyata at centre back, I was slightly nervous. He’d previously made one senior start and playing away at Middlesbrough is very different to having to face United youth teamers like Rooney or Giggs.
But, despite one or two shaky moments, (which, in a second senior start and a Manchester derby, are as expected as a really expected thing) he played well. He looked comfortable knocking the ball about with Richards and Kompany and strong enough to cope with Rooney on most occasions. It probably helps that he’s playing alongside a fellow countryman, but if it will aid his development and turn him into a Premier League centre back there won’t be a City fan complaining.
The fact that, until he was taken off, I had forgotten he was actually in the team tells you something: he’s done well to blend into the team that quickly that it felt normal for him to be there. And that he felt disappointed to be taken off is actually a good sign, too. He was growing in confidence and playing well enough to feel that he merited to stay on for the whole game, but, in the end, it was probably a wise decision to swap him for a centre back who has more experience than he has in an important game such as this.
Like Ferguson did in not playing the kids he said he’d play.
And then there were the other good performances of the night for the home side – Given, de Jong, Kompany, Tevez… The fact that the latter won man of the match must have felt like a disservice to the others, but the truth of the matter is, they were all outstanding. In many ways it must have been like trying a new sexual position in order to conceive a child and getting nowhere slowly: the event is satisfying in itself, but the overall end product isn’t as good as you’d hoped for.
The result of the game, however, was good for City. I daren’t say it was excellent because I would rather have won the game with a clean sheet thus avoiding the possibility of going out on the away goals rule after extra time, but it’s a lead to take to a ground that is notoriously difficult to win at.
A draw will get City into their first cup final of my lifetime. I’m quite excited, terribly nervous and, after a game like tonight’s, definitely going to die at a young age because of this football team that I support. A lot will rest on whether Ferguson decides to play his kids again, like he said he would.
It’s advantage City. But only by the narrowest of narrow margins.