1. Mancini’s introduction of Wright-Phillips. This wrought positives and negatives as the latter was introduced just after the break on the right to provide some much needed width for the largely ineffectual Kolarov (with Silva asked to switch wings). This made an immediate impact on the right, not only offering city vital width but also by encouraging Richards to become more ambitious and join the attack. The equalising goal came when Richards injected some urgency when the ball was lost in midfield, and he released the wily Wright-Phillips in a timely manner, who pulled it back excellently for the deflected equaliser.
With Kolarov withdrawn however, Zabaleta was left exposed given that City played for the majority of the half in a 4-4-2 and were pressing Manchester United in search of a win. Nani pounced on some lax defending down City’s left and crossed a lovely ball to Rooney, who had peeled of Kompany superbly to finish spectacularly – an outrageous effort from the Liverpudlian who, having suffered a tirade of abuse from the away supporters seemed to take great glee in celebrating quite strategically.
2. Fullback contribution. Zabaleta had an excellent game up until the Rooney goal, and was practically man-marking Nani whenever the Man United winger searched for the ball in the final third, denying him space. Instructed to stay wide, Nani did however worked well in tandem with O’Shea who was excellent in terms of his decision making, knowing when to hold and when to attack. In fact he had arguably his best game of the season, both from a positional point of view and his overall contribution: 53/65 passes, 5/6 clearances and 3 interceptions (one a crucial header in his own box as Silva looked to play a nice one-two with Tevez at 1-1)
Richards provided more of an attacking threat than Zabaleta, and helped marshal Rooney with Kompany and Lescott – there are certainly signs of improvement in the young defender, but there still remains a question mark over his temperament, and thus his consistency. Evra had a solid game and was first to the ball in most of his one-one challenges (he attempted 7 tackles, 4 clearances and made 4 interceptions). He was also quick to counter-attack, looking to exploit the space in behind Giggs, and exchanged some nice interplay too with the exemplary winger.
3. United’s Central Defence. Smalling (7/9 tackles, 3 interceptions) and Vidic (5/5 tackles, 7 interceptions) were immense at the heart of the defence and coped superbly with Tevez’s movement, and his link up play with Silva. Ferguson’s selections once again paid off as he selected Smalling ahead of Brown, and pointedly, O’Shea to play alongside him instead of Rafael to provide that extra experience. This paid huge dividends, as O’Shea doubled up on Tevez, often looking like a 3rd auxiliary centre half. Vidic and Smalling were fantastic in the air, and Smalling in particular precise in his distribution. His tackle in the dying minutes on Zabaleta was superbly timed, and probably nicked him the man of the match award.
4. The midfield battle was closely fought. The proposed 4-2-3-1 match-up inevitably became a duel between two 4-5-1 formations as both sides seemed unwilling to take too many risks from the centre of the pitch. In a compact middle territory, Barry seemed to be keeping an eye on Fletcher, Toure largely on Anderson, with both Milner and Scholes sitting the deeper of the respective triumvirates. Fletcher showed flashes of his best form but was once again slack in possession at times. Anderson struggled to get in the game completing only two thirds of his passes, and couldn’t provide Rooney with the close support that the formation intended; Toure’s strength on the ball was also notable as both he and Fletcher struggled to shrug him off the ball. Similarly to United however, Toure completed the majority of his 79 passes in ‘non-threatening’ positions. So, more evenly matched than at Eastlands then where United were clearly superior in this area of the field, but crucially United worked the ball into wide positions with greater aplomb (see chalkboards).
United total passes (click to enlarge)
Credit: Guardian Chalkboard
City total passes (click to enlarge)
Credit: Guardian Chalkboard
5. Silva, Giggs and Nani threat from centre. Silva started in the inverted winger position on the right hand side (and later moved left), but it was noticeable how often he attempted to come inside and link with Tevez (Match Preview: Manchester United vs. Manchester City) in somewhat of a ‘trequartista’ midfield role. The two combined well, particularly in the last 30 minutes, but with not much support from Toure or Barry, attacks were often stifled early. Silva showed glimpses of great skill and should really have opened the scoring in the opening stages of the game, finding space astutely inside the United penalty area. Perhaps Mancini will revert back to one of his original ideas with thoughts on how best to utilise the Spaniard; Silva was trialled at the head of the midfield triumvirate earlier in the season, but now might be the time to try again as the player has quickly acclimatised to the change in style here in the Premiership.
Giggs, whilst not having the best of games, was productive on the ball – none more so when releasing Nani fantastically for the opening goal. His pass completion rate wasn’t great, but he sought to drag defenders out of position by running with the ball firstly on the outside, and then varying his approach the next time around. United had lots of space on the counter-attack as City searched for the equaliser, but often his final ball let him down when the likes of Rooney and Nani had made an attempt to ‘hit the 6-yard box’.
This season Nani’s rise has seen him become one of the leagues best, and vitally, most productive players, hitting double figures for both goals and assists. Despite being marshalled well for long periods, once again Nani contributed to the outcome of the game, scoring and assisting again today beautifully; Nani seems to be adding a greater finesse to his play from a central position – his shooting accuracy seems to have improved immeasurably and a number of times today he released Rooney and Fletcher with perfectly weighted passes. More of the same please.
Ratings: VDS 7, O’Shea 8, Smalling 9*, Vidic 8, Evra 7, Nani 8, Anderson 6, Fletcher 6, Scholes 7, Giggs 7, Rooney 7
A word on the Referee: Andre Marriner suffered abuse from the very beginning of the game as his name was read out during the introduction announcement. But bizarrely, this continued throughout the game despite him having an excellent game in my opinion. In the heat of a local derby, passions will inevitably run high but I felt he got a particularly hard time from the United fans today without any real justification (I counted 2 ‘errors’, one being the yellow card awarded to Giggs after Tevez appeared to run directly at the Welshman on purpose). In a week where research has concluded that Premiership referees are getting 98% of the decisions correct, Marriner coped admiringly in his second tough assignment in the space of a week, and his calm approach worked well in terms of player management. More ‘respect’ please.
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