Manchester City Respond
City began the second half in a more positive fashion but the real catalyst for change was the withdrawal of the ineffective Balotelli with Carlos Tevez being the replacement. Perhaps the withdrawal was harsh on Balotelli considering that Nasri was offering no product either offensively or defensively and could also have been substitued.
Tevez provided greater mobility and effort for the Man City attack and was involved in the equaliser with a driving run towards the Man Utd penalty area. Yaya Toure eventually scored following a great double save from De Gea.
So often problematic for Man Utd this season, the Old Trafford side again conceded from a corner but this time not via a header. A Man City corner was cleared to the edge of the penalty area where Zabaleta was free and in space to move onto the ball and drill it low into the net. No Man Utd player was anywhere near him as they had all congregated around the six yard box. A simple goal yet executed with great technique by the Argentinean.
At this juncture, Man City was clearly in the ascendency and probably looked more likely to press for the winning goal. Yet the failings which had enabled Man Utd to take a two goal lead resurfaced.
The Winning Goal
Although the problems with the Man City system have been highlighted, there is little that can be done regarding individual errors. The winning goal from Robin Van Persie was the culmination of individual errors. Even allowing for the problems of the system, the goal should have been prevented.
Firstly, Clichy has possession of the ball. Although being pressed, he has options to either pass the ball back to Hart in goal or clear the ball upfield. He chose instead to try and retain possession and beat his opponent thus conceding possession to Wellbeck. When Rafael receives the ball, he is free with no marker. As he cuts diagonally inside, Tevez crosses his path and trips him. With no width to their play, Tevez is forced to move from inside towards the wing as he tracks Rafael. Yet as highlighted, Tevez is slow to recover his position in the defensive phase and allows Rafael to get ahead of him.
Finally, when the free kick is struck, the positioning and attempted block by Nasri is woeful and led to Mancini stating that the defensive wall contained “two and a half” players. It would be easy to suggest that Mancini is being kind with the reference to a half given Nasri tucked in behind Dzeko.
The end of a bad week for Mancini’s side with a European exit compounded by falling six points behind their title rivals. Prizes are not awarded in December however and the manner in which the title was won last season should be lesson enough that there is still a considerable way to go.
Problems will remain for City until Mancini can resolve the struggle between flooding the centre of the pitch in attacking movements whilst regaining shape and structure during transitions to defence especially the lack of support to the full backs. Man City may control possession but they cannot control space. Until tis is reconciled, problems will persist.
For Ferguson and Man Utd, it’s an excellent three points and provides a degree of comfort as the midway point of the season approaches. Ferguson acknowledged that the lack of European football in the latter part of the season could be a blessing for Man City with fewer games clogging up their schedule. This could become a pivotal moment in the season.