There’s always something, isn’t there? Always. Bloody. Something. In fact, that something has been getting more and more extraordinary (with the exception of 2008/09) as the seasons go by. It’s almost like somebody is watching from above and going “I wonder what stupidly unlikely event or decidedly infuriating happening can upset Manchester City at Old Trafford this season…”
The earliest I remember was City having to rescue a game after the suspiciously offside van Nistelrooy scored despite a fantastic David James save from a free kick that shouldn’t have been. A year later, it was two offside goals. The season after, City actually won at Old Trafford, before they then went on in the next year to an abject performance not helped by an Ireland challenge that was penalised for winning the ball earning a free kick from which United scored. Then there was the two last minute goals.
And now, this season, not only do City go and make United look like the away side for large spells of the game… Not only do they go and dominate the play (despite Sky’s statistics saying otherwise, after Opta had confirmed the ball possession)… Not only do they put in the best performance a lot of City fans have ever seen from a City team at Old Trafford… But a deflection sends a cross to what you would expect to be a safe area and Wayne Rooney, a player who had spent the game getting nothing from the best defender in the league and had recently looked like a man aiming for annoying members of the crowd rather than the goal, pulling off a piece of skill that he probably won’t do again in his career.
I eagerly await next year’s defeat to a ricocheted own goal from the halfway line going in off Joe Hart’s back via both posts. I’m being facetious, obviously. It’ll probably be off the bar.
The sad thing is, it took that Rooney moment of magic to beat City on Saturday. And, if I’m being honest, as a City fan, had that game meandered to a 1-1 finish as had seemed likely with fifteen minutes to play, I’d probably have been disappointed not to have won. While the number of shots were similar for both sides, most of United’s were courtesy of Nani and his long range efforts at getting the ball out of the stadium. City, on the other hand, preferred to miss the target from much closer through Silva, Kolarov, Richards and Dzeko.
And while that disappointment at not winning a game that the team was dominant in exists, there are many more positives we can take from the game, especially since Chelsea drew last night. For one, Chelsea now can’t climb above City on games-in-hand alone (though Tottenham still can).
The biggest upside is that it took a wonder goal from absolutely nothing to beat City and there aren’t many teams that will do that in the remaining eleven games. Added to that, should City be able to replicate Saturday’s performance, few, if any, teams will beat them. Vincent Kompany showed there was still room in his pocket, after Torres, Drogba and Anelka have been slotted in there – if Smalling was the best defender on the pitch, then Ian Holloway is a Scotsman called McTavish. Though, I would get David Silva practising one-on-ones inside the six-yard box, just for maximum impact.
The truth is, while City have caught up to United in so many areas recently, the biggest thing they don’t have is what the manager spotted in his pre-match press conference. Roberto Mancini said the different between City and United was the “winning mentality” – United didn’t have the better of the game, they just took their chances. Albeit one of the chances they did take I doubt they would be able to take again, but that hardly matters now three days after the ball hit the net.
The former City legend Mike Summerbee was the butt of all United jokes on Saturday for his “outburst” on Sky, the usual rebuts being displayed all over Twitter – 35 years, Bitter Blue, City still the lesser of the teams because they lost, etc etc. But it’s all too easy to come back with that because, actually, Summerbee had a point. And it’s easy to make someone look a fool by putting the wrong statistics on screen.
City are closer to United than they have been in decades. It took a moment of brilliance to win the game and that moment of brilliance won’t happen every week or in every derby. United’s experience is the only thing that won the game; in terms of a player-for-player match up and the performance, City are at virtually the same level and, on the day, looked the more likely winners.
I’ve never seen a City side go to Old Trafford and play possession football. And actually keep possession, too, along with carving out some decent chances. Not bad for a side that is too negative. The best players on the pitch were wearing Blue: Silva and Kompany. Nani and Smalling were United’s best, so Lord knows how Rooney won man of the match – a successful overhead kick can’t be all that it takes, surely? Kerry Dixon suggested that a man of the match had to come from the winning side and that’s why Rooney was picked. Baffling.
Though, at least it’s not Tony Gale being constantly mystified as to how Kompany keeps getting selected because (and I quote) “Lescott is a far better defender”.
City’s title ambitions are over. Though, in truth, they were never really there, were they? While we may have sat top of the league for a while, the games played column was always higher than everybody else’s and that was where the illusion of being ahead came from. It’s not impossible for City to win the title this season, but it’s very implausible and, to be honest, shouldn’t really have been the aim. Steady progress is the order of the day and a first ever top four Premier League finish (third or above, preferably) would do nicely.
Sometimes we just have to hold our hands up and say there’s nothing that could be done about a winning goal and last Saturday is one of them. The positives, though, far outweigh the negatives and the City team that lost that game is much better than the City team that lost twice at Old Trafford last season.
There are 33 points to play for, not to mention the two cup competitions we’re still in. Aris tonight will be difficult – they’re unbeaten at home in Europe in over 40 years, including beating reigning champions Atletico Madrid earlier this season – and Notts County and Aston Villa won’t be walks in the park, either. But there’s still a lot left in this season.
The fat lady hasn’t even arrived yet.
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