No Vidic (best defender), no Anderson (in form midfielder), incorrect offside decision, not being awarded a penalty – a lot of things didn’t go in Manchester United’s favour, but here’s a look at what did help them in their derby victory over Manchester City.
Ferguson’s team selection was spot on
When Scholes and Fletcher didn’t feature amongst the starting XI in the midweek game against Cluj, many fans feared that they’d start today, thus mirroring the cautious approach adopted for this fixture last season. Ferguson instead went for a more attacking line up, with Tom Cleverly starting in the middle alongside Michael Carrick, and two recognised wingers. Cleverly’s mobility meant that United looked more purposeful in possession and he was always available in advanced positions to provide an option for passes to and from both the wingers. His energy also saw him shuttling back to provide extra defensive cover. This enabled Carrick to marshal the back four effectively and to occasionally move further up field.
Despite taking him off in the first half against Reading, Ferguson also stuck with Rafael, who has perhaps been one of the most impressive and consistent performers of the season. Besides providing the assist for the second goal, he had another stellar game defensively.
However, Mancini’s team selection wasn’t
Though Roberto Mancini put out a very strong team, Mario Balotelli’s start at Carlos Tevez’s expense raised a few eyebrows. Despite all the problems, Mancini continue to show faith in Balotelli. Perhaps, he thought that Balotelli could once again prove doubters wrong when the scrutiny was high (as against the derby at Old Trafford last season, and the Euro 2012 quarter finals against Germany). Or maybe, given Tevez’s run-ins with Manchester United since his transfer, Mancini didn’t want to start with a player who would probably combust on the pitch. We can only speculate as to what the reason behind this selection was, but it didn’t work. Balotelli did not have a stinker by any means but Tevez offered much more of a threat with his constant running at the defenders.
Mancini also pulled out another surprise by bringing on Kolo Toure for the injured Kompany rather than Lescott. The former did seem nervy and his uncertainty did infect the rest of the defence, especially in the first half.
Roaming Rooney was key
Contrary to expectations, Rooney did not line up in midfield but played higher up in an attacking 4-4-2 formation. When City had possession, he stuck close to Gareth Barry or Yaya Toure and prevented the duo from having ample time on the ball. His forward positioning was also key in both goals as he was an outlet for the counter attacking football which United deployed. Jamie Redknapp summed it up perfectly by stating, “Rooney floated around like a butterfly but stung like a bee”. Ferguson was right in starting Rooney in the midweek dead rubber against Cluj as he does seem to play better on the back of a streak of games.
Good wing play
All three goals for United stemmed from the wings. Samir Nasri and David Silva, who were the wide players in City’s midfield, often drifted inwards when City had possession. This gave United a lot of time and space on the wings. Ashley Young, on the back of a good performance against Reading, had another good game. His flick and pacy run down the left to provide the assist for the first goal was reminiscent of the speedy counter attacking play that United used in the days of Ronaldo, Tevez and Rooney.
Valencia hasn’t had a good season so far and he was again guilty of spending too much time on the ball after having beaten the left back, instead of providing an effective cross. However, he has a good understanding with Rafael which, yesterday, culminated in the latter offering a cutback for Rooney to score the second goal.