As the dust settles on the Theatre of Dreams (or Nightmares) after an extraordinary Manchester derby and fans of both sides stop pinching themselves, the post-mortem begins to look at what conclusions can be found about both clubs.
1. United need a defensive midfielder
A vital component of any successful team in recent years has been a defensive midfielder to plug the gap between attack and defence that was so inexplicably exploited at Old Trafford yesterday. Claude Makelele was surrounded by superstars at Real Madrid and Chelsea but was perhaps the most important player at both clubs and while Man City have Nigel De Jong to do that job, United are lacking a player to take the reins.
The lack of a defensive midfielder was one of the reasons that United were so wasteful in possession. It is a long time since Fergie’s side have been so wasteful with the ball and the need for somebody to link the play was glaring.
Michael Carrick is not a player that gains a glowing reference at the Theatre of Dreams but he could have been a big player in the Manchester derby with his crab-like style of football. He is happy to sit back while others push forward and thats what was needed against the majestic movement of Manchester City.
However, I don’t think Carrick is the answer because his tackling ability does not live up to his passing. If United are going to compete for any trophies they need to fill the gap. Although not a popular choice, one player that is likely to be available is former Liverpool player Javier Mascherano, who is falling down the Barcelona pecking order.
2. Rio Ferdinand is past it
In the biggest games, any weak links get exposed and yesterday Rio Ferdinand was one of many weak links wearing red. Now in his tenth season at the club he is no longer a must-pick in the United backline.
He has looked yards off the pace mentally and physically, quite clearly seen in the build up to the fourth goal where his mindless mix-up between Ferdinand and De Gea which sparked the embarrassing injury-time scenes and again with the sixth goal when he was outpaced by Dzeko in a pace battle that would have been no problem in previous years.
Without Nemanja Vidic alongside him there is no escaping the 32-year-old’s decline and with Phil Jones playing magnificently so far, it may be time for the former England captain to head for the exit door.
3. City are more than just noisy neighbours
In their first major test of the Premier League season there is no doubting that Manchester City passed with flying colours.
Called the ‘Noisy neighbours’ by Sir Alex Ferguson, they have now proved they are serious title contenders and should not be taken lightly. Everything piece of the jigsaw fiited together perfectly for Roberto Mancini to create an intimidating product capable of destroying any team in Europe.
Against United both centre-backs were able to extinguish any threat from a team that had scored goals in their first eight games of the campaign. Similarly, Gael Clichy made Nani anonymous throughout the game and Man of the Match Micah Richards forced Ashley Young in field time and again, preventing him from getting any dangerous crosses.
Meanwhile in attack, Milner and Silva had so much space they seemed to be playing on a park of their own and the telepathy between them and strikers Aguero and Balotelli was sublime.
That performance shows they are definite title contenders and with their vast array of talent, could have a full trophy cabinet come May.
4. David Silva is the best player in the Premiership
The little Spaniard continued his scintillating season yesterday and proved why he is the best player in the league.
He was able to carve the United defence up like a Christmas turkey and was instrumental in every United attack. His vision to play in Milner to cross for the first two goals was on another level and the pinpoint volley into the path of Edin Dzeko was the best pass of the season so far.
At times the ball seemed glued to his foot and whenever he chose to allow someone else to have a touch, he found another acre of space to get it back. This man was the difference despite only scoring one himself and may single handedly take the trophy from Old Trafford to the blue half of Manchester.
5. This is Ferguson’s worst ever United team
Last season a number of pundits labelled it, “the worst squad Fergie’s ever had”. But with another Premiership crown and an appearance in the Champions League final was more than enough to rubbish those claims. But this year, they may have a point.
Like any other team, United have always had weaknesses but the sheer quality of the squad was enough to mask those problems. In the 1990’s the defence wasn’t the most stubborn but with Schmeichel between the sticks and Cantona, Cole and Yorke all banging in the goals nobody batted an eyelid.
But now the problems outway the class at Fergie’s disposal. Rooney is undoubtedly a World class player and Nani is a top talent too but the midfield is ignorant of its defensive duties and parts as if it is being controlled by Moses. The defence is also unreliable and with a keeper that is still young and adapting to the fast pace of English football it is never a combination to win trophies.
United will always have determination but it was back up by insatiable skill in previous seasons and now the skill is lacking, making it an uphill battle for Fergie to keep his team near the top.
6. Attack the best form of defence against United
Perhaps the most obvious conclusion to come from yesterday’s encounter is that the old saying ‘attack is the best form of defence’ may just be right.
Before the game, Gary Neville said that he expected Mancini to play defensive minded football and settle for a draw, but this new City philosophy of sexy, attacking football came up trumps.
Whether it was a surprise or not will never be known but the Champions were constantly pushed back by City’s fearless play, unsure how to deal with the numbers being pushed forward.
City came to the fortress and made a mockery of that perception, ending an 18 month unbeaten run at home by not letting United settle and stifling the home crowd by being the ones to make the play.
Norwich and Basel before them showed that it could be done but in the biggest game of the season Manchester City were able to emphatically prove that United are beatable if you attack.
7. Mancini was right to keep Balotelli
Never has one man been summed up so simply. “Why always me?.” Walking around prisons in Naples, throwing darts at youth team players and setting fireworks off in your bathroom the night before a big game, it’s easy to see why it’s always him.
But after his performance it’s all about him for the right reasons.
After his ridiculously arrogant backheel in a friendly against LA Galaxy in July, it was claimed that may be the last we see of Balotelli in a City shirt. But Roberto Mancini was vindicated in his decision to keep faith with his enigmatic striker. Not only did he score two goals but his link up play with Aguero and his desire to play for his team was something we have all been waiting to see more of. When Evra tripped him in the first half he can be seen trying to stay up and keep the ball when last year he would have leapt to the floor and it was refreshing to see. Nobody wants to get rid of the crazy side of Super Mario but when it’s channelled like it was at Old Trafford he is a world beater.
8. Anderson not up to scratch
It is a well known fact that Brazilian footballers are attack minded and forget how to defend. But in front of 75,000 people, Anderson only showed one half of Brazilian football. The midfielder not only forgot how to defend but forgot how to shoot, pass and what the colour red looked like. Perhaps he was dreaming of a move across the City because his passes went to Barry and Toure on every occasion and he looked out of his depth in the big game.
His ability has been questioned before since he came to United as an exciting youngster. Renowned in Portugal for his goalscoring, his record since joining the Reds has been on a par with Gary Neville and at a club with the stature of United, that just isn’t good enough.
While Fergie will be looking to shake things up in light of that performance, Anderson’s days at the club may well be numbered.
9. Evra is going backwards
In January 2006, new signing Patrice Evra had a mare at the City of Manchester Stadium in his debut for United. He was run ragged in his first Premier League game and was taken off at half-time with his head spinning.
Five and a half years later and on home soil, he was again made to look foolish by Manchester City. His forward-thinking philosophy works against a lot of teams but against a team that can counter attack with the pace and precision of Manchester City he is a weak link and has been becoming more of a liability with each game.
His decision making is poor and there were numerous occasions he was picking the ball up in the centre of the pitch in a holding midfield role. Structure is needed against big teams, particularly in defence and Evra’s wandering feet and mind made it easy pickings. Is it any surprise they exploited that side for three of the goals?
Admittedly he wasn’t helped by Ashley Young but there are no excuses for a defender not being in the right position to defend. Letting players run beyond him is schoolboy.
The Frenchman is yet another concern for Fergie and will continue to cost him points until it’s sorted.
10. Fergie needs to splash cash for now, not future
During the summer United brought in three new faces with an average age 21 to go straight into the first team and while all three have made impressive starts to their careers at the Theatre of Dreams, this youth policy is hardly going to bring success.
Only four players in the starting line up yesterday were over 25 and the team including two 20-year-olds who were playing in their first Manchester derby.
The squad is clearly lacking in established talent and it is something that needs rectifying. Fellow United fans will look towards the class of ’92 emerging at Old Trafford and say that it’s possible but they were in a once in a lifetime group of players so it is unlikely it will ever be repeated.
Missing out on Wesley Sneijder in the summer was a big blow but one player will not fix the problem. A more experienced goalkeeper is needed if they are to win big games and a Roy Keane- style midfielder is a must.
Sir Alex needs to be able to bring youth through but he cannot rely on it for a whole season because when it really matters they don’t know how to cross the line. And United fans don’t want to be the next Arsenal.