Manchester United 4 Manchester City 2 (HT 2-1)
City’s problems were fully exposed in this chastening derby defeat. Whilst there is plenty of natural skill, the lack of energy, desire, spirit and the tactical limitations of the manager combined to make City a poor second best on a thoroughly miserable day. It hurts that we have fallen so far, and that we were so badly beaten by our neighbours. Make no mistake, whilst 2-4 flatters City a bit, it’s difficult to even feel “relief” that it wasn’t a worse score line, when the prevailing emotion is a lasting, burning anger.
Pellegrini at least went with 4-5-1, but strangely with Milner in the advanced role rather than Yaya.
Both sides had tried to press in those opening 20 minutes but United sustained their high tempo football and City didn’t.
City made a good start when Milner found Silva with a superb pass and Sergio Aguero swept in the Spaniard’s cross. There were just 8 minutes on the clock. City could have been ahead before this when Navas was played clean through but he never looked confident and his finishing let him down but De Gea still made a good save.
United, however, upped the tempo and we didn’t try hard enough to live with them. City didn’t match their energy and desire in too many areas, and Pellegrini yet again didn’t have any answers. United were continually overloading City’s right by Fellaini running out in support of Blind and Young, leaving Zabaleta often dealing with them on his own, as he got precious little help from Navas and Yaya Toure.
Unsurprisingly it was the left where United did the damage all afternoon. Unsurprisingly three of their four goals came from open play down that side.
City’s lead lasted barely 7 minutes. Navas chased long pass out but De Gea arrived first and launched a long ball. An outnumbered Zabaleta felled under challenge from Fellaini (it wasn’t clear that there was quintessential United skulduggery involved) and couldn’t recover before a cross found its way to Ashley Young who scored after the ball ricocheted back off Clichy. United were buoyant.
City tried to restore the lead and a Clichy cross was scrambled away with Aguero closing in, but United were getting the upper hand with their energy and they took the lead in the 28th minute.
Young and Blind tormented the isolated Zabaleta with a one-two and the former crossed to the back post where Fellaini ran behind Clichy to head past Joe Hart. Replays showed Fellaini’s arm was offside, but visiting teams don’t get those sorts of decisions at Old Trafford.
Not that there is any excuse for the surrender that was going on. Fellaini was given the freedom of Old Trafford to run into pockets of space to flick the ball on or pick the ball up. Pellegrini said after the game that Yaya had marked him well in the first half. The kindest thing that can be said about that statement is that he must have been watching a different game, for whoever was marking Fellaini just let him get on with it, all the time that he was on the pitch. This was epitomised when Yaya didn’t bother to jump for one high ball in midfield, allowing the mop-headed Belgian a free header.
There were exceptions to the torpor of City’s wilting team, but the passion proved to be misguided: Vincent Kompany pulling what a muscle as he went for a ball and going in with a reckless late challenge that flattened Blind. There was no nasty intent, and Blind did get up eventually after getting caught, but it was a horrible moment, and Vinny must have been as relieved as the rest of us, not to mention lucky, that Clattenburg, who took his time to consult his linesman, raised a yellow card rather than red. It was still a very significant incident as Kompany asked to be subbed at half time as his hamstring injury means he will possibly be out for four weeks, or worse still, for the rest of the season.
Things only got worse in the second half. United still continued to exploit our weakness on the right hand side of the defence, and yet nothing was done to alleviate the problem.
Joe Hart was forced to push out a Rooney free kick between angle of post and bar and the ball was eventually scrambled away at the third attempt. City were pushed back and showed an alarming lack of fight. United took the “fight” word too literally at times. Fellaini was lucky to stay on the pitch for an elbow on Demichelis, and Milner picked up a knock by Jones. It was baffling though that Pellegrini had already decided to replace the Yorkshireman with Nasri beforehand. Nasri didn’t strengthen City and joined the general shameful waving of the white flag. With City not showing the character that we have come to expect over the last few years, it was inevitable that United added to their tally, and they duly did in the 67th minte after Demichelis gave the ball away for Rooney to release Mata down the left. With Demichelis dragged too far wide and up the pitch, Mata was free to advance unchallenged and slot the ball cleverly past Hart. Mata was clearly offside, but visiting teams rarely get those sorts of decisions either at Old Trafford.
That said, Pellegrini’s system has been rumbled. The best defence in the country has been turned into one that easily concedes goals, and City have gone from being hard to beat to one that has lost 6 of the last 8 games, and has only won 4 of the last 15. Players diving in on the half way line with full backs often too far pushed on is too high risk unless you have got Messi, Iniesta & Xavi to score more goals. This is compounded when our defence push out, leaving large spaces behind. Surely it is preferable to have defenders who defend and stay goal side are unless they are really sure they can get in front of their man.
The Old Trafford crowd roared their team on for more goals, and it was 4-1 after Young floated a diagonal free kick into the box and Smalling headed unchallenged into the net. Oh the ignominy. The useless Smalling not only getting an easy ride defensively but scoring against us. He and at least one other United player would have been offside had it not been for Mangala running back to play them on, which begs the question how much we practice set pieces in training. It almost goes without say that it was an excruciating watch for a City fan, not knowing just how much damage United could do to our vulnerable and wilting team. There were still 16 minutes to go plus stoppage time. Heaven forbid them making it 5-1…6…let’s not go there. Thankfully 6-1 remains a happy score line for us, but it seemed like a long time ago on this horrible afternoon.
Without wishing injury on anybody, luck shined on City in a perverse way. Having made his three substitutions, Van Gaal’s team was reduced to ten men when Carrick had to walk off with a muscle injury.
There was at last a little attacking threat from City with substitute Lampard on for the woeful Navas, exhorting his team mates to press United’s defence. The ex-Chelsea man created a chance in the 82nd minute, when he took a Silva pass and lofted the ball to the advancing Aguero who volleyed just wide.
Lampard then helped set up City’s flattering consolation goal in the 89th minute when he threaded a ball to the advancing Zabaleta who crossed from the bye line for Aguero to sweep in for his 100th goal for Manchester City. City’s lack of urgency to get on with the game and go for more goals was strange and betrayed City’s lack of fight in this game. Who knows what pressure they could have put on United had they gone for a 3rd goal?
Overall this was a pathetic surrender. It may not have been as bad a score line as the 0-5 Brian Horton’s men suffered back in the 90s, but this was a more abject surrender against a weaker team than back then when Giggs and Kanchelskis ran us ragged. Indeed it was the most spineless derby defeat that this writer has witnessed in more than 34 years of following City. There have been teams with far less talent than the current crop who have shown more desire and performed better, even in defeat. This current team have shown more desire and quality too.
Pellegrini was found wanting again tactically and never found an answer to Fellaini’s free role, Milner was played too far forward when we needed him in the engine room competing with United. It should have been Yaya playing further forward at the front of the midfield. However, it was less about the manager’s failings than about players who inexcusably didn’t try hard enough. The players have no excuses. They cannot hide behind Pellegrini. He cannot run, tackle or show the fight for them. The most high profile of these, Yaya sauntered round all afternoon allowing a player of far less ability like Fellaini to do damage, but he was certainly not alone. When the going gets tough, you have to stand up and show your character. City abjectly failed do that.
There have to be changes at the end of this season but any review has to be rational and thorough. Those who decide need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water, but it is likely that they will find that the rebuilding job is bigger than previously thought. Clearly City need an injection of energy, desire and quality. The players who are not hungry and up for the fight need to be moved on, no matter who they are. It doesn’t have to be done nastily or hastily. They should show the fight and desire to keep City in the top four (Liverpool are just 4 points behind and we still have to go to Tottenham and finish off our campaign with Southampton at home) and hopefully regain 2nd spot, and leave with their heads held higher than on this sorry occasion.
Hart: Blameless for any of the goals 6
Zabaleta: Had a difficult afternoon being constantly outnumbered and struggled to get close enough to either Young or Blind for the first two goals. He stuck to his task, though, made firm challenges and set up Aguero’s consolation: 5
Kompany: The captain was lucky not to be sent off and got injured in the build up to that tackle. If Navas or Yaya had done their jobs properly then he wouldn’t have been dragged out of position to have to make tackles out wide: 5
Demichelis: Also got dragged out of position, most notably when he lost possession just before Mata’s goal. Struggled against Fellaini but didn’t they all? 5
Clichy: Initiated the attack for the first goal, but was found wanting defensively thereafter, being slow to react for United’s first two goals – Fellaini should not have been allowed to run behind him for the 2nd: 5
Navas: Should have scored early on, some threat going forward in the first 20 minutes, but uncharacteristically failed to support Zaba. Went missing in action for too long and his absence was the chief reason why United got so much space to cross from our right. A Manchester Derby is no place for shrinking violets: 4
Yaya: The most high profile “missing in action” player, he sauntered round like it was s stroll in the park. Allowed United’s midfield, Fellaini in particular to run past him unchecked. The only way he should be playing is behind the striker in an advanced role now. The only way Yaya should play now is as an attacking midfielder, but at 31 he isn’t getting any younger. He doesn’t work hard enough to play in the engine room (yet Pellegrini still plays him there). He’s never been the quickest over five yards, and maybe time is slowing his legs but one can still reasonably expect that he should read the game better and work harder. He may be playing out his time before one last move but we’re still paying him so he should be giving his all and signing off like a great player should do. He was anonymous save for a couple of brilliant forward passes. This performance was so far removed from previous Derby showings, especially that memorable FA Cup Semi Final when he scored the winner in 2011. He was not alone in letting the side down though. So disappointing but not a surprise, sadly: 4
Fernandinho: Worked very hard – he had to – and did the work of two men again, but he shouldn’t have to. Passed up one chance to shoot: 7
Silva: Superb top draw cross for our opener 6
Milner: Worked hard, but surely it would have been better for the team’s performance if he was further back in the engine room. Hopefully his knock won’t rule him out of Sunday’s game: 6
Aguero: Deserved a happier occasion to score his 99th and 100th goals for City: 6
Mangala (for Kompany HT): Played Smalling and others onside for United’s fourth. Chased round like a headless chicken, advancing far up the pitch, well out of position. Given a decent coach who can teach him defensive discipline, we could one day have a player here. If we’re going to get the best return for our £32m, he must have this. At least he played like he cared, which sadly didn’t apply to that many in Blue: 5
Nasri (for Milner 63): Made no impact: 5
Lampard (for Navas 74): Made a small positive contribution when he came on. A veteran he maybe, but it would have been better had he played the first hour than the last 16 minutes: 6
Best Oppo: Herrera: Classy addition to United’s midfield: 8
Refwatch: Clattenburg: Could have sent off one player from each side. Two offside goals were given that were more the responsibility of the linesmen: the 1st was marginal and difficult to spot in real time but the 2nd was obvious. Clattenburg cannot be blamed for this defeat: 6