It was a chance for the blue half of Manchester to shorten a 15-point gap Manchester United had compiled through the first 30 games of the season. A chance Manchester City took with both hands.
One of City’s better performances of the season came at a time it was needed, even if a majority think the title has already been lost. But this victory gives them a glimmer of hope. It places some pressure on the Red Devils, firmly reminding them of the last second fall from grace and last day loss of the Barclays Premier League.
The game began at break necks speeds with some very physical challenges in the opening minutes. United showed intent early, they wanted to get away to a good start and hopefully keep City out of the game. However, every United attack was followed by a swift Manchester City counter. Both teams had early chances, with the game resembling the back end of a drawn cup-tie.
As the game settled both teams struggled to get into their rhythm. City persisted with crosses from the right hand side towards the back post, hoping to get an advantage in the air over the shorter Rafael. Rafael held his own as City themselves do not possess much height in Nasri, Tevez and Silva.
Ferguson chose to start with an unfamiliar midfield quartet of Welbeck, Giggs, Carrick and Young who between them had only scored 3 goals in the Premier League this season. After reading the team sheet, it was obvious Ferguson expected his goals to come from the misfiring Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney up front. Making a fairly simple equation, shut down the space these two operate and City will go a long way to winning.
Shut down the space they did, Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure sitting in the lines between midfield and defence stifling the two United stars. Both were unable to link in their usual manor, and seemed to get frustrated as the first half wore on with only a few attempts on goal. Gael Clichy was also doing a good job on nullifying Danny Welbeck on United’s right hand side.
Unusual to see from the home side when playing at Old Trafford, they were guilty of sitting a deep at times in the first half, inviting city to attack.
Roberto Mancini’s side created some great chances late in the first half, with Phil Jones twice making important interventions.
Not to be outdone, Rafael scraped the cross bar towards the end of the first half after a nice Van Persie flick-on.
It didn’t take City long to get on the scoreboard in the second half, with an uncharacteristic error from Ryan Giggs. Giggs attempted a fancy back-heel which saw possession lost to Gareth Barry who surged forward finding Nasri in the box.
Rafael managed to get to Nasri, but not before he set-up Milner who struck a shot between the legs of Jones taking a small deflection into the bottom corner.
Sir Alex’s side, as they do so often, didn’t take long to strike back. Eight minutes to be precise.
Rafael had started to stretch City down the right, with Young on the opposite wing being let down by his passing and crossing accuracy.
Up to this point the set pieces for United had been poor. Van Persie stepped up to take a free kick wide on the right, whipping the ball in to a great spot with pace and power. Kompany, who had let his man Jones slip in behind him, was the unfortunate provider of the goal. Jones had mistimed his header, hitting the back of Kompany, which saw the ball deflect in.
Old Trafford erupted.
On the back of the crowd volume, this was a great chance for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men to lift, as they had been outplayed for most of the game.
However, with the home side unable to build pressure through their unorthodox midfield, City took the lead again.
Aguero had come on as a sub, with an immediate impact scoring a goal frighteningly similar to the one he scored at Etihad Stadium against QPR deep in injury time to win last seasons league.
Taking the ball outside the box on one side of the goal, Aguero made a diagonal dribble across the goal face into the box, beating 4 players in the process. With a swing of his gifted right boot he buried the ball in the top corner of De Gea’s goal.
It was all United in the final minutes, but again final passes let them down, with Young being guilty of this on more than one occasion.
For the second season in a row, City deservedly leave Old Trafford with all three points. This will not sit well with Ferguson.