Title Back in City’s Hands after Pivotal Manchester Derby
Manchester City now look set to clinch their first league title since 1968 courtesy of a 1-0 over their arch rivals Manchester United at Eastlands. The two Manchester sides have dominated in the league throughout the season and the prospect of a title deciding derby with three games remaining had been eagerly anticipated by all who take an interest in the English game.
United’s capitulation in their 4-4 draw versus Everton meant that City were in touching distance of their great rivals, with their superior goal difference enabling them with a chance of returning to the summit of the table if they were to win. Conversely, a draw would have been enough for United to preserve their three point lead over Roberto Mancini’s side and this was apparent in Sir Alex Ferguson’s team selection. Park Ji Sung was preferred in the starting line-up over the more adventurous options of Danny Welbeck, Antonio Valencia or Ashley Young with the intention of stifling Yaya Toure, whilst Phil Jones replaced Rafael Da Silva at right back with Ferguson’s weariness of City’s skilful triumvirate of David Silva, Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero made apparent.
The first half echoed each side’s team selection with United looking to contain City’s attacking threat, which they achieved to good effect for the majority of the 45 minutes. The best chances of the game fell to Aguero, who could only fire high and wide when presented with two chances deep inside the United box. The hosts’ lack of physical presence in the final third was beginning to show as Rio Ferdinand and Chris Smalling marshalled the back four well in response to prolonged spells of City possession and if there was to be a break through then a set piece looked to offer Mancini’s team with a more realistic opportunity. This was the case when City captain Vincent Kompany lost Chris Smalling from a corner kick to head home for the opener in stoppage time, gifting the hosts with a crucial psychological boost on the brink of the half time interval.
History would tell you to expect a decisive reaction from Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in the 2nd half but instead City continued to control the game, comfortably dealing with United’s lacklustre and predictable attempts to apply pressure on Joe Hart’s goal. Phil Jones was unable provide the attacking wing back play that Rafael has offered United in recent weeks, whilst Welbeck and Young’s introduction to the game proved equally as fruitless and ineffective. If the visitors displayed the same feistiness that Sir Alex exemplified on the touchline, exchanging fierce words with his counterpart Roberto Mancini following Nigel De Jong’s challenge on Welbeck, then perhaps United might have been able to scrap their way back into a game and title challenge that was beginning to get away from them.
It was City who looked the more likely to score and their calmness and assurance throughout the game was impressive in contrast to United, whose sloppy possession in the opposition half ensured that Wayne Rooney or Nani were never able to establish a telling influence on the game’s play. Yaya Toure was unlucky when his 20-yard drive glimpsed narrowly past David De Gea’s goal before the Spaniard saved well from Gael Clichy. Nasri could have capped a fine performance with a goal late on but squandered his chance after holding on for the ball too long in the United box.
The final whistle initiated scenes of sheer jubilation amongst the City supporters, with their famous anthem ‘Blue Moon’ echoing around the surrounding streets of Manchester. The result sees both teams level on points with two fixtures remaining but crucially City have an eight goal advantage over United on goal difference. In a season in which shock results have featured prominently the title is in no way guaranteed for Mancini’s side but the incentive is now simple: win the two remaining games and City will be champions of England again for the first time since 1968.