Analysis: City vs United

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Match Report: BBC. City 2 United 3

Robin van Persie’s injury-time winner sent Manchester United six points clear at the top of the Premier League after a stormy derby win against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

…Van Persie, who City manager Roberto Mancini admitted he wanted to sign before his £24m summer move from Arsenal to Old Trafford, then demonstrated his worth with his 14th goal of the season as his free-kick deflected off Samir Nasri and beyond a stretching Joe Hart.

Ugly scenes followed, United’s Rio Ferdinand suffering a cut eye as he appeared to be struck by an object thrown during the celebrations and City keeper Joe Hart having to restrain a pitch invader as he advanced towards the defender.

…United were overjoyed at a result that gives them a stranglehold on the title race, with Rooney taking his tally to a record 10 derby goals. But it capped a miserable week for City after the conclusion of their abject Champions League campaign.

…Mancini had taken a giant leap of faith in selecting Balotelli ahead of Tevez and it was a decision that was not rewarded.

The Italian striker skied a good chance in some early phases of home domination but City were undone by that brilliant counter-attacking opener from Rooney.

…City were further frustrated as captain Vincent Kompany limped off and was replaced by Kolo Toure, who was surprisingly preferred to England defender Joleon Lescott, also on the bench.

The visitors’ width was troubling City and was pivotal as they extended their lead just before the half-hour. Rafael made inroads down the right and crossed for Rooney to sweep another precise finish past Hart for his 150th Premier League goal.

…United then thought they had scored a third when Young converted from close range after Van Persie had struck the upright but the linesman’s flag was raised for a very marginal offside decision.

Wayne Rooney’s brace puts the United striker joint top of the all-time scoring list in Premier League Manchester derbies. He has netted seven goals to move alongside Eric Cantona.

Seconds later City were back in business as Yaya Toure scored after Tevez and David Silva had seen efforts blocked.

As the champions sensed an equaliser, United had a remarkable escape in the 79th minute when Silva turned inside only for his angled effort to skim off De Gea’s shoulder on to the bar.

The leveller came in the 85th minute when United could only half-clear Tevez’s corner and Zabaleta drilled home powerfully from 12 yards.

Mancini’s men pushed forward in search of a stunning victory but the points went to United when Tevez brought down Rafael and Van Persie scored with a free-kick from an angle, aided by a crucial deflection.

Read the BBC report by Phil McNulty

Balance of power swings in United’s favour

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The Etihad Stadium is adorned by a banner celebrating an extraordinary passage of added time. Reading “93.20”, it commemorates the minute and second in May when Sergio Aguero denied Manchester United their 20th league title. Should Sir Alex Ferguson’s team regain their league at their neighbours’ expense, Old Trafford may have its equivalent: “91.43”.

…And, when referee Martin Atkinson’s whistle went for the final time, the balance of power in Manchester had shifted from blue to red.

Perhaps it did that August day when Van Persie picked Old Trafford as his preferred destination. One waft of his left foot was a microcosm of his impact. The talent and talisman has supplied 11 Premier League goals. They have been worth 16 points. The eloquent Dutchman is the master of having the final word.

…An eight-point deficit was retrieved last season. “I am sure we can win the double this year,” said a bullish Mancini. But out of Europe, they are outsiders in England now. The recriminations began quickly. City only had three players in the injury-time wall. “Two and a half,” said Mancini, in a veiled criticism of Nasri. For reasons that eluded the Italian, Tevez, who should have been the fourth, had already detached himself.

…But United’s strikers were the more reliable. Both could have lined up in City colours. Wayne Rooney was linked when, in October 2010, he submitted a transfer request at Old Trafford. Van Persie was a summer target.

MANCHESTER UNITED VERDICT: On the back foot for 15 minutes, they then scored twice and prospered on the counter-attack. They had to weather a City onslaught in the second half, when De Gea impressed and substitute Chris Smalling made a superb last-ditch challenge but were ultimately worthy winners. It helped that the ever-excellent Antonio Valencia was fit again. There is no more devastating right-sided partnership in the Premier League than United’s two jet-heeled South Americans and having been removed after half an hour at Reading eight days earlier, Rafael marked the same stage of the game by supplying Rooney for United’s second goal.

MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: Second-half specialists rallied after the break, galvanised by the arrival of Tevez and an improvement from Silva. Yet Nasri was a disappointment again and Mancini is likely to be criticised for selecting Balotelli, even if he had some grounds to choose a past tormentor of United. A worry is that captain Vincent Kompany limped off with a groin injury.

Read Balance of power swings in United’s favour on ESPN Soccernet.

Tactical Analysis – Zonal Marking: possession versus counter-attack

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In one sense United were fortunate to win the match because of the manner of their late winner, in another they were unfortunate not to be 3-0 up earlier in the second half. In a match of contrasting approaches, United carried out theirs more effectively.

However, City were unquestionably the better side in the opening 15 minutes. The game was more open than expected – although United were counter-attacking rather than seeking to dominate possession, their positioning was positive. Wayne Rooney dropped back onto Gareth Barry or Yaya Toure, rather than playing as a permanent midfielder (as rumoured) while United’s defence started high up the pitch, rather than close to their own penalty box.

…while United’s defence started high up the pitch, rather than close to their own penalty box.

This caused them problems, however, as the Aguero-Balotelli combination threatened to sprint in behind. Both players actually started in deep positions, in the space between United’s midfielders and defence. With Samir Nasri and David Silva both drifting into the middle and overloading Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley, United’s centre-backs were tempted higher up the pitch but found themselves forced to turn and sprint quickly.

…But while this was causing United problems, they weren’t trying to win the possession battle – they were concentrating on playing on the break. Their opener was a classic counter-attacking goal, featuring all the elements you need when playing on the break; van Persie drew a centre-back out of position, Young stormed forward past his man, and United hit City before their midfield was in a position to protect their defence.

Their second goal was extremely similar to the way United attacked in the aforementioned win over Chelsea. Rafael broke unmarked past David Silva – just as he’d done past Eden Hazard – to combine with with Antonio Valencia, whoselow cutback found Rooney for the second.

…Tevez floated around in the hole while Aguero moved higher up, but while Aguero and Balotelli had combined literally in the first half, Aguero and Tevez’s relationship is more indirect and based around space – Tevez thrives in the spacecreated by Aguero’s acceleration forcing the opposition defence deeper. The type of passes Aguero received changed after the substitution:

After half-time City moved the ball quickly, and penetrated United’s defence when Ferdinand and (substitute) Chris Smalling were still high up the pitch. Their first goal may have been a scramble, but even the initial move came from a very direct attack – the initial chance, for Tevez, came after three consecutive vertical balls, taking City from defence to attack within seconds, slicing through United’s lines quickly. The pattern continued – first Tevez was getting space between the lines and released Aguero running up against Chris Smalling, then the move was reversed when Tevez came under pressure from Evra after an Aguero pass.

…The broad pattern was a clash of hugely contrasting approaches, but the result eventually came down to the basics of defending set-plays in the final ten minutes. And not even tactical debates like ‘man marking versus zonal marking’, or ‘men on the post versus no men on the post’, but simple, elementary factors like passing on set-piece responsibilities at substitutions, and standing up properly in the wall.

That said, the first goal was crucial in this match. In being scored by United, it confirmed the pattern of the game – they’d play on the counter, City would dominate possession. The only caveat was United’s surprising level of ambition in the second half. Playing deeper would have made it more difficult for City to penetrate, and might have allowed more space for Ferguson’s side to break into. In big games, the first half approach appears to be United’s best bet.

PFA chief calls for netting around pitch

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Professional Footballers’ Association boss Gordon Taylor believes it is time to consider the introduction of crowd control netting into football stadiums after Rio Ferdinand was left bleeding from a head wound while celebrating his side’s late winner in Sunday’s fiery Manchester derby.

Ferdinand was struck by a coin thrown from the crowd at the Etihad Stadium while Wayne Rooney was also pelted with missiles thrown from the stands while waiting to take corners.

Manchester City issued an immediate apology to Ferdinand after the match erupted in shameful scenes and both the police and the FA have launched investigations into the incident that followed Robin van Persie’s added-time winner.

…While not advocating the reintroduction of the perimeter fencing which was removed from English football grounds in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster, Taylor is in favour of considering the installation of high nets behind goals which are common feature of football stadiums on the continent.Taylor told BBC Radio 5 Live: ‘I think you’ve got to give consideration to possibly, as has been suggested, some netting in vulnerable areas, be it behind the goals and round the corner flags.’…A separate police investigation is under way into allegations that racist messages have been sent to the Manchester United defender’s Twitter account, while one man was also arrested inside the stadium for racist chants aimed at another supporter.

…Police have announced that two fans arrested for pitch encroachment have been released on bail.A statement from City said: ‘Manchester City wishes to offer its sincere apologies to Rio Ferdinand. The club unreservedly condemns the actions which led to his being injured.’

…Ferdinand showed his sense of humour after the game, tweeting: ‘what a result,3points! Sweet! Whoever threw that coin,what a shot! Can’t believe it was a copper 2p….could have at least been a £1 coin!’Respect to Joe Hart for protecting that idiot who ran on!! Love the banter between fans but there is a point when it goes too far…calm it!’

Why always him? Trusting Mario Balotelli proving costly for Man City

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If Roberto Mancini had got his wish in the summer it would have reduced the need for his increasingly high-risk strategy of placing trust in the mercurial talents of Mario Balotelli.

…The potential for a shift in power based on Van Persie’s chosen destination was graphically illustrated in a pulsating, stormy Manchester derby that saw the Netherlands striker further cement his place in the affections of United’s followers.

– but reality dictates he needs to win the Premier League once again if his position is not to come under serious scrutiny, not least because of City’s failure in Europe.

It made Mancini’s decision to plump for Balotelli, a peripheral and low-key figure this season, ahead of Carlos Tevez against United even more of a gamble.

It was a gamble that failed.

…Balotelli, predictably, glared at Mancini before marching down the tunnel. He could have no complaints because all he had done was underscore the error of his manager’s ways by picking him.

…Mancini often declares his love for Balotelli the player and the person and this manifests itself in the usual ways. He gets impatient with him quicker than others – he was gesticulating in his direction only minutes into the game – but forgives him even more swiftly and hopes things will be better next time.

The time is coming when Balotelli, in terms of performance, either has to put up or shut up.

Read the BBC report on Mario Balotelli 

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