by Teo Teng Kiat
Scorers: Fletcher, 81′; Balotelli, 22′, 60′, Aguero 69′, Dzeko 89′, 90′, Silva 90′
It was, as the boss put it, “our worst-ever day”. The noisy neighbours from across town came to Old Trafford and proceeded to utterly embarrass United in front of a packed stadium, running out 6-1 victors and ensuring that this would be a result etched in the memory of their supporters for life.
The lineup United put out looked solid enough, while City showed that they were a different proposition from last season as they came out to attack at the home of their fiercest rivals. What looked set to follow was an intriguing clash between two sides jostling for early supremacy; what resulted, however, was a lop-sided contest.
For the first fifteen to twenty minutes, United looked in complete control, as they had the majority of possession. Tellingly though, there was hardly a single shot. The lack of creativity in midfield meant that whenever the ball was moved into the final third, the attacks invariably broke down against City’s solid defence. United were ruthlessly punished when Silva found space in midfield, slid a lovely ball into the box for Milner, whose cutback was calmly sidefooted into the bottom corner by Balotelli, a shot so precise that De Gea had no chance whatsoever of saving it.
The same could be said for the rest of City’s goals. United had looked to dust themselves and come out fighting in the second half, after going into the interval a goal down. Whatever plans they had were put paid to within two minutes of the restart, as Jonny Evans hauled down Balotelli when the Italian striker was clean through. The red card was a turning point, as was Fergie’s decision to stick with three defenders instead of tightening up.
The momentum was firmly back in City’s favor, and what followed was awful to watch, apart from a brief flurry of attacks from United. Silva turned on a dime in the cross to send Milner clear, and the cross was tapped in at the far post by Balotelli again. Aguero joined in the party by converting yet another low cross, this time from Richards, before Fletcher gave the fans some hope by curling home a sublime effort from just outside the area with ten minutes left.
That goal, however, only served to encourage the ten men of United to push further forward. City duly took advantage, as Dzeko turned in a fourth from Lescott’s pass back following a corner. Silva added a fifth with a well-deserved goal, a just reward for an outstanding performance. He then volleyed an exquisite first-time pass from inside his own half to send Dzeko away for the sixth and final nail in United’s coffin.
By then, I was already shell-shocked in disbelief at the happenings transpiring in front of me on the screen. Make no mistake, City deserved the win, because we never turned up. Mancini’s men came with a plan, and they executed it superbly. Nani and Young were fully neutralized by Richards and Clichy, which meant that the wing-play we were counting on never materialised. Anderson had an abject game in the centre of the park, huffing and puffing to no effect, while Fletcher was quite anonymous apart from the goal.
More than ever, the lack of a balanced midfield partnership was telling. Where yesterday’s pairing lacked creativity, the earlier ones seemed to expose the defence too often. In contrast, City’s trio of Toure, Milner and Silva looked like the perfect foil for each other. The defence was in shambles, as the three men could not deal with the waves of City attacks coming at then. No one was picking up both crosser and scorer, and poor De Gea could only look on in despair as his team crumbled in front of him.
What rankled more than the scoreline, however, was the lack of fight. The players just seemed to totally give up towards the end, when they conceded three in ten minutes. Dzeko and Lescott could have passed the ball ten times between them and still would have had time to score the fourth. The only ones who emerged with any sort of credit were Rooney, who screamed at Ferdinand after the fifth and constantly dropped deep to get the ball, and Welbeck, who put in a real shift upfront, albeit ineffectively, as well as Smalling and De Gea. The belief and never-say-die attitude, for so long the hallmarks of this great club, were bereft, and I’d say that was what was most disappointing about the performance.
Truth be told, a defeat had been coming. The team had been lucky to scrape through the past few games with sub-par displays, and yesterday, a genuine title contender took us apart with a ruthless display. Our sparkling, effervescent early-season form is gone now. This mauling has to serve as a wake-up call to the players, and perhaps even to Sir Alex himself. Meanwhile, City are without doubt a force to be reckoned with now.
I do not doubt for a second that we will respond and come back from this. The manager will put things right, but it has to be sooner rather than later. The hurt has to serve as motivation to bounce back, and ultimately in the grand scheme of things, it was three (very painful) points dropped. There are still 29 more games to be played; league titles are only handed out in May. Come on, you Red Devils.
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