5 Things We Learned: Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United
1. Robin Van Persie is worth his weight in gold
10 minutes before the end, I told a friend in the pub that Fergie needed to take off van Persie, who in all honesty, had a poor game. The only thing of note he’d really done in the game up until then was the chest pass to Ashley Young in the build up to the first goal and neat turn and exquisite shot on his weaker foot that hit the post and should have counted as an assist for Young’s goal that was wrongly ruled out for offside. When Rafael was fouled for the free kick in stoppage time, I knew the set piece would instantly favour a left footed player and I said to the same friend ‘he’s had a stinker, he’s going to score the winner now’. You know the rest. I’ve spoken before about the fact that Van the Man, who has already scored 14 goals in United colours this season, is well on the way to repaying the £24million we shelled out for an ‘injury prone 29-year-old’ in the summer. But when the Dutchman can have such an ineffective game yet pop up with the winner in a heated Manchester derby to end City’s two year unbeaten run at home and put us head and shoulders above anyone else at the top of the Premier League, it’s almost worth £24m itself.
2. Manchester is red
There was a lot made of the way United’s players celebrated van Persie’s winner, with some bitter people on the social media sites suggesting the derby means more to United and their fans than City judging by the reaction. For me, winning a match against one of your club’s fiercest rivals with a goal in stoppage time kind of warrants that sort of reaction. United celebrated like that when Ryan Giggs won the game against Norwich at Carrow Road towards the end of last season. Some critics are obsessed with the notion that United are slowly being budged from their perch as the Premier League’s top dogs from a revitalised City and that we don’t like it. First of all, a first title triumph in over 40 years doesn’t give Roberto Mancini’s men an equal footing with their red neighbours. They’re threat is very real, they’re probably better than United player for player and they are now the major threat for any team intent on winning the Premier League crown. City fans crow about how United are far more obsessed with them than they are with us, they sang during the 6-1 humiliation at Old Trafford last season ‘6-1 in your cup final’, but as far as I’m concerned I’ll readily admit that City have emerged as a genuine threat and yes, they do worry me, but it is the massive cash injection that has woken them up from years of slumber that has reignited the Manchester derby as a one again heated rivalry rather than a United decline. Yes they’re the new threat but City have a long way to go and a lot more trophies to win before they can start claiming United are second best in Manchester.
3. Has Sir Alex dropped the ball over the goalkeeper situation
I don’t really know what David de Gea has done for the boss not to put his trust in him. Anders Lindegaard is a fine goalkeeper but from what I have seen of him he’s always going to be a decent backup keeper. He’s 28 and has seven years on the Spaniard but that doesn’t mean he’s more experienced. Before arriving at United he’d played less than 100 senior games and de Gea had already played more than him. I’m not really sure why de Gea had been shunted for the last few games as he’s done very little wrong this season. He’s still raw and has a lot of developing to do but I think most United fans would agree his ability trumps Lindegaard’s. He made two terrific saves in the lead-up to City’s first goal and of the little else he had to do, he dealt with well. Despite the criticism of him, he’s got very few faults. One is his ability to deal with crosses but I thought he did very well with the bombs launched into the box by City, coming out confidently and punching or catching impressively.
4. Is it already a two horse race?
There’s an awful lot of football left to be played this season but it already looks like the title will be staying in Manchester. Much is made of 10 point gaps like the one we enjoy over Chelsea and that we’re now six points clear of City but as was proved in the home straight of last season, big gaps don’t really mean that much. When City lost to Arsenal a few hours after we beat QPR 2-0 back in April, I thought it was all over and we all know how the story ended. There’s still a lot more to come from the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Everton and a few others after Christmas, but United and City are already well clear in the table and neither team has got out of second gear yet. The season isn’t even halfway through yet but traditionally we always get better in the second half of the campaign so if we can be six points clear with the way we’ve played so far this year and with how leaky we’ve been in defence, that’s ominous for the rest of the league.
5. Wayne Rooney is the key
Rooney was the best player on the pitch on Sunday by some distance, his injury, weight issue and poor form at the start of the season are all but forgotten. He’s back among the goals of late and he is the heartbeat of this Manchester United side. Van Persie’s goals will be vital to our chances of silverware this season but whereas we might worry about if he were to go down with a bad injury, the man we really can’t afford to miss is Rooney. Much is made of our inferior midfield but Anderson is stepping up; Carrick, who was excellent again today, is defying the critics and Cleverley, who was expected to miss the game through injury, was also one of our best players, but Rooney’s ability and linking of the midfield and attack is the real key. With him hitting the goal trail also he is and will be the pivot. Just like his club, Rooney also comes alive after Christmas.
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