The Argentine striker was declared by his manager to be “less than a 100 percent fit and not able to play 90 minutes” in an interview with Fox Sports prior to the match. Aguero replaced Samir Nasri with only 23 minutes left to play and on 79 minutes his run across the United penalty area beating four defenders before lashing the ball into the roof of the net proved to be the difference between the sides.
If Aguero’s heroics in last year’s final title-winning match weren’t enough, he has now firmly cemented his place in City folklore for all time.
Pride was therefore restored for the blue half of Manchester, notwithstanding the reality that the title itself is still surely beyond their grasp. Mancini has already conceded a fortnight ago that his team is now playing for second place.
Mancini has proved his point with this away win at Old Trafford, and it has to be said that his team absolutely did not look 15 points worse than their bitter rivals. They passed the ball better and looked more dangerous in the final third.
Unusually, United created little or nothing from open play and their best chance of scoring always looked likely to come from a set piece. This was precisely what happened on 58 minutes when Robin van Persie whipped in a vicious free kick from the right hand side that Phil Jones headed off Vincent Kompany’s back past Joe Hart.
Five minutes earlier, James Milner had given City the lead with a drive from just outside the area that took a slight deflection with De Gea unsighted by Carlos Tevez standing in an offside position. Referee Mike Dean decided that Tevez was not actively interfering with play and the goal stood. It would have been hard on City had it been disallowed.
Will United Stumble on the Home Straight?
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side has undoubtedly enjoyed an impressive campaign thus far. The team has taken 50 out of a possible 57 points in their last 19 Premier League games and is the first top flight team in history to have emerged victorious in 25 of their first 30 league matches of the season. They require 19 points from their remaining seven games to beat Chelsea’s record of 95 points in a season.
Yet they have now lost successive matches, having gone out of the FA Cup at Chelsea on Easter Monday, and looked decidedly lackluster in both outings—particularly in the opposition’s final third. Van Persie has 23 goals for the season and those goals were crucial in putting his club in this commanding position at the top of the table, but the Dutchman has now gone 12 hours of playing time without a goal—his worst drought since entering English football.
With Wayne Rooney, who was substituted before the end of tonight’s fixture, also looking out of sorts, one wonders if there is just the slightest possibility United faltering on the home straight.
The mainstay of the team throughout the season has been Michael Carrick. He is the lynchpin between attack and defense and has been outstanding to the point that the perceived deficiencies in midfield, which led to the club’s unsuccessful pursuit of Dutch playmaker Wesley Schneijder in the off-season, have largely been glossed over.
Remarkable as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes may be, they cannot be relied upon for much longer. Indeed, it was an uncharacteristic Ryan Giggs giveaway that led to City’s first goal. Yaya Toure had 18 completed passes for City—almost double Michael Carrick’s tally of 9. It seems that if Carrick doesn’t do the business then United fail to get into gear.
Tom Cleverley did not receive the call today, but he has played well enough this season to put himself into the England squad. However, like the talented Brazilian Anderson, he lacks authority in the middle of the park.
The long-term answer for United in this area may well be Nick Powell whose impressive debut against Wigan had some hailing him as the new Bobby Charlton. Since then, his senior opportunities have been limited despite some fine displays for the under 21s. It is arguable that he should soon be given a run in the side and the chance to prove that he is the long-term future of the club.
City Must Keep Winning
As for Manchester City, all they can do is keep on winning from here and hope for a United collapse. If they can get past Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinal one would expect them to make short work of either Millwall or Wigan Athletic in the final, so they are still in with a real chance of some silverware.
Roberto Mancini’s side has conceded only 27 league goals, fewer than anyone else in the Premier League. Moreover, Joe Hart has also kept 14 clean sheets—the best in the league. They are by no means in bad shape. Sometimes Mancini seems to indulge in squad rotation just for the sake of it and it might pay dividends to try and keep a more settled side, given that injuries do not intervene.
If they managed to retain their Premiership title from here it would be the greatest comeback in history. If United was to implode to the point that City had a realistic chance of overtaking them, it would also be the most dramatic collapse in history. Both scenarios appear highly unlikely, but you just never know—football is a funny old game.