It is with some bewilderment that the Pedmachine writes his report this morning. At 6am and with rain lashing in on the North Car Park, the Blue Mooners set off on another pilgrimage to the National Stadium in a positive frame of mind. The pre-season was going well, we had already beaten you-know-who on the hallowed turf, so it was looking like new ‘business as usual.’ What was about to unfold left us puzzled, mesmerised and tearing our hair out. If indeed we have any left! And today this true blue will hand out bouquets to the club he dislikes and brickbats to his own boys.
Meaningless friendly? No. Unimportant trophy? No. United got into their stride quickly to show that they meant business.
Mancini set City up to play essentially 4-4-2 but with the fluidity to change to 4-5-1, 4-3-3 or even the Keegan-killing 3-5-2, more or less at will.
The problem was either the will wasn’t there or it was a far too intricate set of instructions to send out for a match of this magnitude.
Milner was selected ahead of Barry. This was designed to allow him either to tuck in alongside de Jong and allow Richards to overlap, or to play wide right. He never really got to grips with either role.
On the other side, Balotelli or Dzeko were to provide the extra man in midfield when we were without the ball, but also allowed Kolarov to be the wide left option.
This all proved far too confusing as United with their crisp, accurate, pass and move game plan, time and again carved City open, their only major shortcoming being a lack of threat in the forwards.
Young, with smart passing from Rooney often got into the space behind Richards, stretching the City backline, and Nani was doing likewise on the other side.
It is not always the forward penetration that ulitmately wins matches. We have seen at City how lateral work can be just as important when applied by the tireless Tevez. Today Rooney replicated that for United. Still sore at having been suspended from the now historic semi final, he elected to take this game by the scruff of the neck in a way that no City player was capable of yesterday.
So with the possession stats looking at 70:30 United it was somewhat surprising that on 38 minutes a pinpoint freekick from the Wizard of the Etihad found Lescott unmarked between the United defensive stalwarts of Vidic and Ferdinand, and he headed home as de Gea waited just behind him to collect.
It puzzled us even further that, just ahead of the break, Vidic backed off from Dzeko, leaving him in acres of space and with time to drill a powerful shot not really into the bottom corner but still far enough away from the lumbering de Gea, who in fairness should have done better.
So half time, City not in any kind of stride , being played off the park and winning 2-0. Extraordinary.
Mancini clearly thought the game was in the bag and despite having the availability to field up to 6 replacements he sent the same team out for the second half. After all they only had to go through the motions…didn’t they?
For his part, Ferguson made brave and determined substitutions. Vidic and Ferdinand were hauled off for youngsters Jones and Evans and the ineffective Carrick was replaced by Cleverley. Their instructions couldn’t have been clearer – ‘You are the boys who have won nothing. Go out and make a name for yourself’. And didn’t they just do that?
Straight down to business. Pass and move, pass and move. Find a red shirt.
City were clearly handicapped by the procession of early yellow cards meted out by Phil Dowd. United were in determined mood to keep the ball and to see what they could prize out of the match. There was no panic. They pressed from higher up the field and with Milner annonymous, Balotelli ineffective, Richards and Kolarov pinned back, Silva unable to find space, the midfield effort was left to de Jong, solo.
A free kick from Young in almost an identical location to that served up by Silva earlier brought the same result. As the ball looked destined to reach Joe Hart, and with Kompany and Lescott static, Smalling nipped in to divert the cross into the net.
And if City can score twice in eight minutes, don’t you think that United can do the same. Yes afraid so. And when it came it was a dream goal.
It was a simply brilliant move. De Jong for once missed a tackle some forty yards from goal and from then United set in motion a move which involved no less than four United players and eight quick-fire first time passes which left City’s defence looking like a set of wheelie bins. A surgeon with a scalpel couldn’t carve open a cadaver as fast. Cleverley’s clever back heel finally wrong footed the wheelies leaving Nani wide open eight yards out and Joe Hart was once again collecting the ball out of the back of the net.
Mancini finally decided it was time to replace Balotelli. But for some reason this was with Barry and not the man the fans wanted to see…Sergio Aguero. Barry was clearly told to provide more resistance in midfield, to stop de Jong being swamped by United’s effervescence. Even the lumbering and overweight Anderson was starting to look like a world beater! Mancini had settled for penalties.
After an hour it looked like City had brought some order back to their lives and Milner at last made way for Johnson. He immediately livened things up to the extent that Evra, never happy when challenged was replaced by one of those twins. I’m not sure Fergie knew which one. He was designed to renew the energy down United’s left but found himself the victim of some good work by Johnson before he got to the pace of the game. One such moment saw Johnson leave him for dead and unleash a screamer that was goalbound until de Gea finally actually saved something and a decisive save it was.
Dzeko was granted a chance from a pass by Yaya but got it tangled in his feet and couldn’t get a ‘big’ strike away and that was all City had in the locker….until that dreaded moment came along, once again in Fergie time.
Mancini had elected not to treat the fans to a glimpse of Aguero and the only additional change he made was to bring on Clichy for Kolarov. And this was to prove to be the match winner. Sadly though not for City. As Fergie wisely brought on Berbatov for the penalty shoot out, Clichy had other ideas. After all, he is ex-Arsenal isn’t he, so why not bring some Ashburton Comedy to the Community Shield?
With City making a last throw of the dice United punted the ball clear. There was no danger, Kompany and Clichy we in attendance weren’t they? Well yes they were and what was about to unfold was delivered straight out of Arsene Wenger’s new tactical aid to not winning a trophy. Clichy went for the ball, Kompany backed off, then Clichy left it
and it bounced past Kompany and into the clear. As you would expect from United, somebody was gambling and this time it was Nani who immediately set off for goal, drew Hart, dummied, stepped clear and sent the southern Stretfords into raptures long before he even fired the ball into the attendant empty net. Truly game over.
Much was learned from this debacle and much was shown not to have been learned from previous encounters.
For Mancini, he clearly has to understand that United are dead and buried after 96 minutes when the final whistle blows and the scoreboard shows that they have conceded more goals than they have scored. It is not over at half time just because you are winning 2-0. Also you have to use your substitutes in order to try to change match outcomes. Fergie was brave, Mancini nonsensical. Why pay £38m for one of the world’s best players and leave him on the bench? I’m sure that’s what Khaldoon had in mind when he questioned Mancini at the end of the match.
He has identified that we need an effective midfielder to supplement de Jong and complement Silva. OK. Cut to the chase. Get Tevez by the ear and get on the Ryanair to Malpensa. You are not going to get £50m for Tevez so trade him for Sneijder. Straight swap, no nonsense, no cost. Then get Nasri for £18m and top it off with Mata for something similar.
I have said before that if you buy Villa players the best you get is players that finished sixth. If you want to move forward, you need players of better quality. I have listed them for you, you already know who they are. Barry has now had his time, and Milner has had enough time to show the blue and white world that he is not good enough.
For Fergie..it was business as usual, and for a while he has silenced his Noisy Neighbours.
all times GMT+1
Mo 15 Aug 20:00 Swansea, Etihad Stadium, PL
Su 21 Aug 16:00 Bolton, Reebok Stadium, PL
Su 28 Aug 13:30 Spurs, White Hart Lane, PL
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