Not only was this a Manchester derby, but it was also a battle between the 3rd (Manchester United) and 4th place (Manchester City) teams. United had 62 points with City only one behind at 61. As if this game needed more intrigue the whole Champions League qualification was wrapped up in the contest between two sides that were champions of the EPL 24 times between them.
Coming in United had to be considered the favourites as they were playing in the friendly confines of Old Trafford and were coming in on good form, while Manchester City had been going through a rough patch since the Christmas 2014 period. City had only won 4 out of their last 11 games in the EPL. As such, United would be the favourites despite the fact that City had won the last four derbies between the two sides.
It had been raining all day and the slick field increased the speed of the game. The atmosphere at Old Trafford was incredible and very loud. This was a game about pride and we were going to see which side had more of that and character.
This would be a very important game for City coach Manuel Pellegrini as due to his team’s poor form lately there have been rumblings about him being sacked if the ship is not righted. And quickly.
Despite the fact that they had lost 3 in row on the road, City was the ones that came flying out of the gate. The team in light blue was the ones applying all the early pressure. In the 6th minute Jesus Navas got away along the right side and came in alone on David de Gea. It took a solid save with his feet by de Gea to keep the game level. It did not take long for that to change.
City struck for the game’s first goal in the 8th minute. After two corner kicks in a row, midfielder James Milner got the ball in deep in the United half and played a perfect ball inside the box to David Silva. Showing his vision and calm, Silva squared the ball to striker Sergio Aguero for a tap in. 1-0 City. Despite a recent goal scoring drought, this was Aguero’s 18th goal of the season in the EPL and the 99th over his career with City. The Argentinean striker really shows up for these derbies as he has scored at total of 5 goals in 4 straight derbies.
United was clearly rattled. Earlier in the season an early strike by the visiting side would have really upset their game plan. Now they are a much more solid and confident side, so they were able to quickly adapt their marking scheme and reassert themselves in the match. Daley Blind, the left fullback, dropped a bit deeper in respect of Navas’ speed. The United response came quickly. Backbone of the team, de Gea, started it all from way in the back. He played a long ball to Ander Herrera on the left side. Herrera then crossed the ball into the box. Luck was on United’s side as it bounced off a sprawling Gaël Clichy and landed right at the feet of Ashley Young. He just had to put it into an empty net from right in front. 1-1.
What a start! From this point on United dominated the game. In the 27th minute they took a lead they would never relinquish. This time it was the head of Belgian Marouane Fellaini that struck the blow. Once again Young insinuated himself in a goal by United. Daley Blind from almost the end line played a ball back to Young. He then played a perfect cross over to the far post which allowed Fellaini to easily out jump Clichy before nodding it past Hart. City defender Clichy was “involved” in both of the United goals so far and was having a tough day. 2-1 United.
It was a wonderful 1st half of soccer with plenty of action. Besides being a goal down, City was dealt another blow in that their captain and central defender, Vincent Kompany, who has had an injury plagued season, had to be substituted off at half time due to a leg injury. Eliaquim Mangala played the 2nd half in his place. Odds were stacked against a City comeback in that they have not come back to win an away game after trailing at half time since 1995. They also had not led an EPL game at half time since December 26, 2014.
The 2nd half started off as it ended with United dominating. In the 52nd minute they were awarded a free kick from about 25 yards out in a central position. It was taken by Wayne Rooney. His shot got beyond the City wall, but was saved by Hart diving to his right. A scramble ensued, shots were blocked and Hart made another good reaction save on a Michael Carrick shot.
Another United goal happened in the 67th minute. Again it was a result of clever ball movement. Fellaini played it to Blind, who moved it on to Rooney. Aware of what was going on around him, Rooney quickly laid it off to his left to an onrushing Juan Mata. He broke in alone on Hart. Patiently he slipped the ball between the legs of the City keeper. Plenty of composure and precision demonstrated by Mata. 3-1 United.
Another dead ball situation led to United’s 4th goal and the game being put completely out of reach for City. This time it was a free kick from the left hand side about 28 yards out. Rooney took it once again, but this time instead of a shot he lobbed it into the box and Chris Smalling headed it past Hart. 4-1 United.
Pellegrini tried some substitutions to shake up his team, but it didn’t really work. Frank Lampard came on for his 40th appearance against United and his last before he heads to the MLS. When Carrick went off the field with an apparent injury with a few minutes remaining in regular time and United was forced to play the rest of the game with 10 men as they had used all 3 of their allotted substitutions, City was able to get a goal. With 1 minute left in regular time, Aguero scored his 100th goal (fastest player to do so) with City and his second of the game. Zabaleta’s cutback went right to him and he side footed it into the net off de Gea’s hands then the post. 4-2 United.
United fans were delirious. This was the loudest Old Trafford has been in a long time. The 4-2 score flattered City in that United dominated the game. It has taken a while for United to come together, but they are now playing like a team that could contend for the league title. Marouane Fellaini has become “undroppable” by coach Louis van Gaal, a man who has proven he knows what he is doing. He is a force in the midfield and a focal point in the air. Wayne Rooney, due to the injury to Robin Van Persie, seems to have found his form since being moved back up front. Probably most importantly, the United defense has solidified. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have evolved into a good central defense partnership. Blind has been slotted into the left fullback position and done well. Carrick is playing the holding midfield position and solidified that. He also helps with the offensive transition in that he offers himself well to the back four. Here’s to hoping whatever injury he picked up at the end of the game (87th minute) is not serious. The transformation they have made over the last month show the side’s quality and character.
City has several holes and aspects of its game that have to be tightened up. For instance, Yaya Touré has to get the ball more. It is essential if his team is to take over the midfield. All the blame cannot be heaped on his teammates. In this game he was disappointing in that he did not turn up. There have been rumours of a Touré transfer this summer to Inter Milan. City has only earned 15 points out of last possible 36. Their title defense has come crashing down.
-Referee: Mark Clattenberg
-Goals: 1st Half:
8th minute: Manchester City – Sergio Aguero
14th minute: Manchester United – Ashley Young
27th minute: Manchester United – Marouane Fellaini
67th minute: Manchester United – Juan Mata
74th minute: Manchester United – Chris Smalling
89th minute: Manchester City – Sergio Aguero
-Shots on Goal: Manchester United – 7
Manchester City – 3
-Corners: Manchester United – 1
Manchester City – 5
-Man of the Match: Ashley Young – Manchester United
-Final Score: Manchester United – 4
Manchester City – 2