Manchester City demolished neighbors United 4–1 leaving the English Premier League defending champion languishing in eighth place, heading a group of five teams all with seven points from their first five games.
Meanwhile, City head a group of three teams in third place behind the two North London clubs Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.
“It’s one game, there’s plenty more to come,” United manager David Moyes said in his postgame press conference. “We found it difficult to contain them.”
“It was a very important result, normally you don’t expect to win 4–1 against Manchester United, but the most important thing was the way we played,” City manager Manuel Pellegrini said on the club’s official website.
Van Persie Out
The big news in the lead up to the Manchester derby was that ace marksman Robin van Persie had suffered a leg injury in training and would not play.
Moyes assured everyone, when interviewed by Fox Sports before the game, that it was “nothing serious” and that the Dutchman could be back as early as midweek when United face Liverpool in the Capital One Cup. After the game, Moyes called van Persie’s absence a “big miss for us.”
Danny Welbeck, fit again after missing the 4–2 Champions League win over Bayer Leverkusen, was preferred to Javier Hernandez and took over van Persie’s role as spearhead.
Ashley Young returned, consigning Shinji Kagawa to the bench once more. Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand started their third match in a week. The veteran central defenders have not operated in tandem three times in such quick succession since 2010.
The City dressing room received a boost with skipper Vincent Kompany making a trouble free comeback from injury in the midweek European win.
There is a huge difference in City’s organization at the back as well as their drive going forward and overall team spirit when their leader Kompany is on the field.
“It is becoming one of the most sought-after fixtures in the world and it is always great to be involved in such games,” said Kompany before the match. “I never take them for granted.”
He proved as good as his word and go on to contribute a sterling performance in City’s cause.
City on Song, United Lethargic
While City had the weaker opponents in midweek they still had to travel to Eastern Europe whereas United played at home. Yet the Sky Blues started the match full of running and invention. For a quarter of an hour United could barely get hold of the ball except to clear their lines.
The goal inevitably arrived after 16 minutes, and what a goal it was. Samir Nasri broke down the left flank, held the ball up nicely while he waited for the overlap of Aleksandar Kolarov.
The Serb defender’s cross was not exactly pinpoint, being a yard behind Sergio Aguero, but the Argentine showed wonderful technique to turn and volley across his body past David De Gea in the United goal.
The goal did stir United out of their apparent lethargy to some extent and for 10 minutes around the half hour mark they finally enjoyed some sustained possession, though without producing anything at all to trouble Joe Hart. The City keeper barely had a touch the entire first period.
On the stroke of half time, City deservedly extended their lead when Alvaro Negredo nodded a corner down to the unmarked Yaya Toure who made no mistake with his knee from close range.
The hard working Spanish number nine really had no business winning the ball in the air against the likes of Vidic, Ferdinand, Chris Smalling, and Marouane Fellaini.
One thing can be said for certain—if Sir Alex Ferguson had been in the dressing room at half time, several heads would have been rolling. However, Sir Alex was on a trip to the U.S. and not even in the stadium. In fact, it was the first time since 1986 that a Manchester derby was being played without his presence.
City Secures the Points
Moyes would certainly not have been happy with what he had witnessed, but whatever he may have said to rally his charges was nullified within a minute of the restart. Negredo again got the better of Vidic, showing great strength and control, and simply put it on a plate for Aguerro who had only De Gea to beat.
The much-improved young keeper did get a hand to the ball but couldn’t keep it out.
Just four minutes later the game was effectively over as a contest when Patrice Evra was caught out of position allowing acres of space for Jesus Navas who was set free by a surge forward from Kompany.
When the cross came in, Nasri was there to slot the ball home at the back post. It was more slack defending from United and their rivals were up 4–0 after just 50 minutes.
Moyes is going to have to understand that Vidic and Ferdinand can no longer play at their peak week in week out. Neither is getting any younger, and both have battled injury in recent seasons. If they are overused at this early stage of the season, then a breakdown by either or both of them is certainly on the cards.
Ferguson’s teams all had one thing in common and that was the never-say-die attitude, which gained them the nickname of the “comeback kings.” Whether Moyes can continue that tradition remains to be seen, and although it didn’t happen in this game, it almost could have.
Rooney netted a superb free kick—his second in as many league games, to give United a consolation goal in the 87th minute, but he had earlier skied a great chance over the top and on 80 minutes, Evra had been unlucky to see a header come back off the post with Hart beaten.
So it could have been 4–3 with three minutes plus stoppage time still to play. But the fact is that those chances went begging, and with them went any faint hopes of a United miracle.
So the bragging rights in Manchester remain with City for the time being. Pellegrini was grinning like a Cheshire cat as he declared, “I will enjoy this for three months” until the teams meet again at Old Trafford.
Moyes lamented that he was “disappointed that we didn’t perform.”
“We played well in midweek and there was no reason for us not to perform today,” Moyes said.
It goes without saying that United lacked flair and creativity in this match, but what they were also lacking was fire in the belly and that is just as worrying.
Twice in three seasons now there has been abject capitulation in a Manchester derby. Even with a star striker missing from the lineup you couldn’t imagine a team containing the likes of Gary Neville, Roy Keane, and Paul Scholes throwing in the towel at any stage.
They would have been scrapping to the final whistle and probably in the tunnel back to the dressing room as well.
Fellaini has been acquired to add that Roy Keane steel and drive, but there was precious little of that in evidence on this occasion. His performances so far have been tidy without being outstanding, and all at Old Trafford will be hoping for much more in the weeks to come.