Sunday, 20th September 2009 – KO: 13:30
The Manchester Derby is always a big occasion here in Manchester but I can’t remember one being as eagerly anticipated as this one and for the first time in years, we could well be playing against a title rival rather than the match being something of a sideshow.
I still think it’s very early days to be going too overboard with Manchester City though. At the end of the day, they have won four games, nothing more, nothing less.
Portsmouth, Blackburn, Wolves and Arsenal have been their opponents so far this season with the latter being by far the most impressive scalp. The other three, you have to say that they would have expected to beat.
However, they can only beat the teams put in front of them and in that respect, they have done better than us as our disaster against Burnley stands out like a sore thumb in our own results so far this season.
This has been a tricky couple of weeks for Fergie with Arsenal, Tottenham and an away tie at Besiktas to negotiate but he has played it immaculately and we now enter this game having won all those and almost everyone available to play (the nagging injury doubt of Rio Ferdinand and the suspension of Paul Scholes being the only problems).
The same cannot be said for City who have a significant injury list going into this game, particularly upfront with Adebayor suspended, Robinho injured and Tevez seemingly 50/50.
It looks likely that Bellamy will be starting up front on his own in a 4-5-1 type formation for City which makes me wonder what Fergie will do to counter that.
So far, we have had great success with the good old 4-4-2 and if he continues with that then whoever is picked in midfield is going to have to put in a shift and a half.
I don’t think there’s any danger of Fletcher not doing it but can Carrick and/or Anderson do it? Will Giggs be brought in for his experience and ability to handle the big occasion?
I think the main problem is the left of midfield. Anderson was tried there against Burnley and it just didn’t happen. Nani, despite looking a bit more solid this season, is probably still not the kind of player for this game so I can Park over on the left to give a midfield of Park, Fletcher, Anderson and Valencia.
Up front, Rooney is guaranteed. He is on fire at the moment and his little tantrum in our match against Besiktas has been blown out of all proportion by the press but I actually just think he was more annoyed with himself for not scoring a goal. He would have known he was going to be subbed at around the sixty minute mark and so he can’t have been annoyed at being subbed – it can only be because he was gutted that his incredible scoring start of the season came to a halt against opposition he would normally eat for breakfast.
But who plays alongside him? Berbatov, I would think with Owen coming on if things don’t go exactly to plan.
So, what will happen in the game? Well, often these super-hyped games fail to live up to expectation as both teams cancel each other out or just play so negatively that for the first thirty minutes, nothing much happens.
I find it hard to believe that a Manchester Derby is not going to produce fireworks but we have had a few damp squibs in this fixture in recent seasons.
However, I think this one will be a feisty encounter and with Fletcher at his destructive best, he’ll be winding a few City players up right from the off. The odds on there being a red-card are 3.5 with Paddy Power and that is actually quite tempting because of all the scenarios I can see here in this game, that is most definitely one of them.
The price for a Manchester United win here is just 1.61 which I just find a little bit skinny and unappealing but I cannot see a City win. A draw would not be out of the question though because for all the handbags that have gone on in the build up to this game, I think they would settle for a point apiece and not be a complete disaster for either side at this stage of the season and with the teams not playing out a draw since 2005, it could be that we’re due one.
I am stuck in that horrible place between two options here and there isn’t a third option in between them.
A 1-1 scoreline wouldn’t surprise me but that is Under 2.5 goals and a draw. A 2-1 win for United wouldn’t surprise me either but that is Over 2.5 goals and a United win. The Asian Handicap points to a United win by one goal.
Fine margins and in this situation it’s usually best simply to not bet at all but I am committed to providing a betting prediction for every match and if I am going to get it wrong, I would at least like to get it wrong with a decent upside for getting it right so I am going to go for a United win by at least two goals.
The bet is 3 points on Manchester United -1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.52 with Bet365.
|Result & Review
4 – 3
Wayne Rooney, 2
Darren Fletcher, 49
Darren Fletcher, 80
Michael Owen, 90
Gareth Barry, 16
Craig Bellamy, 52
Craig Bellamy 90
I have been thinking all afternoon how to start reviewing this crazy game and I think I will start with Fergie’s own assessment which summed it up perfectly:-
“I am unhappy, because (the defensive errors) spoiled a really emphatic victory. We could have won 6-0 or 7-0 today, and the fact we made those mistakes made it probably the best derby game of all time. You’re left pondering what you’d rather have; win 6-0 or win the greatest derby game of all time. I’d rather win 6-0!”
You Win Some... You Lose Some...
I went for a United win by at least two clear goals and, all things equal, I thought it was a good bet at a good price. Although the bet lost, I only really began to think it was lost when Bellamy scored his 90th minute equaliser, the difference in class between the two sides today was there for all to see as we battered City from start to finish.
The possession stats show 59.5/40.5% in United favour with a 64.1/35.9% Territorial Advantage in favour of United.
What I could not have envisaged and therefore legislate for when making my prediction was three defensive errors which, had they been made in my lad’s Under 12 League would have brought groans from the crowd. To see them made by some of the best, most experienced and tightest defenders in the world was beyond belief.
Rooney got us off to a dream start which seemed to shake Mark Hughes to his shoes when he used all his strength and no small amount of skill to twinkle-toe his way through the City defence to slot home after just two minutes of play.
We have been guilty of sitting back on a lead in the past – even one gained so early in a match but there was none of it today as we pressed on for more.
Tevez had been passed fit just a couple of hours before kick-off and it was probably written in the stars that he would have something to do with at least one of City’s goals here today and it was his tireless running and refusal to call any cause “lost” when he saw a ball which was played back towards the United goal, miles away from anybody and Fost had it covered – or did he?
Despite the ball running at an angle which was never going directly into his area and despite the fact that the ball was running slower and slower, he persisted on waiting for it to arrive in his box so that he could pick it up.
Only Tevez realised what was happening and decided to give chase (he had actually already done this in the very first minute, and Foster got away with it, you would have thought he’d have learned his lesson then).
At this point, Ben Foster simply ran out and kicked the ball downfield or at least out for a throw-in. Erm… no actually, that was what just about everyone watching the game were willing him to do. What Ben Foster actually did was to continue to wait for the ball to trickle into his area and then just as he realised Tevez was onto it, instead of booting it out, he actually tried to take Tevez on, made a hash of it and Tevez knocked the ball back for Gareth Barry to pass into a pretty much open net.
It was great endeavour from Tevez and a lovely finish from Barry but it never should have even been allowed to happen. It was, plain and simple, a stupid mistake from Ben Foster made all the more infuriating because City had done virtually nothing to suggest that they even deserved a goal prior to that.
Half-time came and, having seen what I had seen in the first half, I was confident that we could step it up a gear in the second half and score one or two more for a convincing win.
When we went ahead through a Darren Fletcher header after just four minutes of the second half, it was no less than we deserved as we had started the second half like a train.
Having restored the lead so early in the second half, it looked for all the world that we would go onto win by a comfortably margin as, again, we didn’t sit back but continued to attack.
But then came a header backwards from Evra which had me stunned into silence. Evra is normally ultra-reliable and makes few mistakes but this was just a very strange choice of “pass”. It went straight to Barry who then played it to Tevez who played it to Bellamy.
Even at this point, after what Arshavin did a couple of weeks ago, you would have thought someone would have closed him down but no one did and Bellamy unleashed a screamer into the far corner.
You can’t take anything away from Bellamy but again, it came from a mistake from United who seemed hell-bent on undoing all their hard work in the sloppiest way imaginable.
However, they kept on going at City and in the 80th minute, Fletcher made the breakthrough yet again with another headed goal.
Surely this was it now? No more nonsense, keep it tight for the last 10 minutes and maybe even nick another on the counter?
Well nearly. With the game just entering added time, Ferdinand was the player with the ball at his feet and all the time in the world. He stood there looking up about, weighing up his options. Simple pass to Vidic? Long ball up towards the City goal? Take it forward a bit and pass it to a midfielder perhaps? No. In his wisdom, the very best thing Ferdinand could come up with at such a crucial stage in the match was to attempt a fancy scoopy/flicky thing over Petrov’s head.
It was a bit cocky, a bit showboaty and a lot stupid as the ball never went anywhere close to clearing Petrov who accepted the pass gratefully, slipped in Bellamy who charged off down the wing to score. Again, you can’t take anything away from Bellamy, he still had a lot to do and did it brilliantly but he never should have been given the chance.
So, somehow, having led three times and by far the better team, it looked for all the world that we were going to have to settle for a point when we should have been looking at three points and a 4-5 goal increase in our goal difference column.
However, the game was still not over and the referee somehow found six minutes of added time (there should have only been four) which gave Giggs enough time to slot a fantastic pass into Owen who finished superbly to make it 4-3 to United.
Fortunately, there was no more time for us to shoot ourselves in the foot again – we had won the game.
We deserved the win and it should have been comfortable but there was an almighty sigh of relief from everyone concerned with United in the end.
Despite the gaffes, there was an awful lot of positives to take from this game.
Firstly, Rooney maintained his excellent scoring start to the season and looks almost certain to achieve his highest goal tally for a season since his arrival here five years ago. He did seem to go back into old habits of trying to be everywhere though and sometimes found himself out on the wing or left way back in the defence when we were on a counter.
Darren Fletcher appeared to be given more of a man-marking job on Stephen Ireland for this one and so wasn’t charging around disrupting everything but if that is the job he was given, he did it magnificently because I hardly knew Ireland was on the pitch. However, it didn’t stop him popping up with two crucial goals. Another top job from Fletcher.
I just can’t get my head around Dimitar Berbatov. I have never disguised the fact that I am a fan of his and when we signed him from Tottenham, I was a happy man (and I didn’t hear too many complaints from United fans at the time either) but for one reason or another, it simply isn’t happening for him. Perhaps it is a case of ‘you have to make it happen’? I don’t know but for all his good work, I think I have to agree that at this point, his contribution, especially in terms of goals, is not enough. He had a couple of great chances with headers today and Given saved them both. Is he unlucky? Fergie thinks so. Privately, he might be wondering if the weight of expectation has all been too much for Berby.
Next up is Michael Owen who came on for Berby after around 78 minutes and scored the winner. It was a very well taken goal and exactly the kind of thing he was brought in to do. Some people have questioned Fergie’s wisdom at bringing him in. Had he cost us £25 Million or something silly then I could have understood the argument but as a free transfer, it was a win-win deal for all concerned. In terms of minutes on the pitch and goals scored, I think he is our most prolific striker this season. He may have lost a yard of pace but he still has those strikers instincts, ice in his veins and a fantastic touch.
The main man today though has to be Ryan Giggs. I thought we might need his experience in midfield but where would he fit in? Fergie put him on the left of midfield, the position he made his own all those years ago but the position that few United supporters thought we would ever see Giggs play again in such a big game.
Certainly Fergie has been saying for the last few years that he can’t expect Giggs to be chasing up and down that left wing for 90 minutes. Giggs obviously doesn’t agree with that!
He was involved in almost every decent thing we did, particularly in the second half and his calm, composed ball to Owen for the winner probably would not have been chosen by a player ten years younger who had not already seen it all and done it all.
I just hope Nani was watching Giggs very carefully because if he was, he would have seen a master-class of how to play down the wing and how to deliver dangerous balls into the area.
Just to round up, I will make a comment on the minutes added at the end of the game. As I said above, there should have been four minutes but the ref ended up playing almost six minutes (30 seconds added for a substitution in added time and 55 seconds added because Bellamy celebrated his added time equaliser for that length of time).
If City had scored the winner then I am sure Fergie would have been fuming too.
However, I think you can really only complain when the time added is displayed as four minutes but the ref only actually plays three.
If he plays over the “official” added time then you just keep playing to the final whistle. The six minutes played was there for both teams. United took advantage of it to grab a winner, City didn’t.