Thursday 14 May 2009

The Manchester derby is always interesting and somewhat unpredictable and this one was to be no different. City went into the game on the back of a four match unbeaten run with United having just demolished Arsenal in the Champions League semis. With Mark Hughes at the helm in the blue camp, facing former manager Alex Ferguson in a derby was always going to pose an interesting face-off. Hughes had spoken in the run-up to the game about ‘spoiling the party’- actions speak louder than words and it was down to his troops to go to battle. With a place in Europe up for grabs and the chance to make the title race interesting again, the stage was set for a classic derby encounter at Old Trafford.

If only it had have been. The match turned out to be a disappointment and, in all fairness, was over before half time. It didn’t really feel like a derby day; the match lacked the passion, controversy and carnival frivolities that are generally associated with same-city clashes. Stephen Ireland seemed to be the only City player fired up, but his exuberance resulted in misplaced passes and questionable tackles. Robinho really didn’t get the chance to make any impact on the game- that was until his chance early in the second half. With a through ball from Nigel De Jong, the Brazilian showed excellent control but blasted inexplicably wide from eight yards out with the goal at his mercy.

The game itself started quite evenly, with both teams enjoying spells of possession. However, City’s passing was often sloppy and intercepted, with Elano proving to be a main culprit. But City were just beginning to enjoy a consistent spell of passes when a free kick was awarded for Ireland’s tackle on Dimitar Berbatov. It was in perfect Ronaldo territory, 25 yards from goal, and he duly scored, albeit it took a deflection on its way into the net.

That swung the momentum back into the home side’s favour. Carlos Tevez, who was inspirational and clearly wanted to make an impression in time for the summer transfer market, hit the post before Berbatov set him up for an effort that flew into the net off the post minutes before half-time.

After the break City came out determined, but as soon as Robinho somehow missed a sitter, it became obvious that the two-goal deficit was a bridge too far for City. But the blues can take positives from the game: Wayne Bridge and Richard Dunne looked improved and De Jong put in a solid performance. But the likes of Elano, Ireland and Robinho struggled against a resolute United defence; Hughes needs to question playing Felipe Caicedo in a lone striker role as the Ecuadorian would surely benefit greatly from having a partner upfront.

The result leaves United in pole position to claim yet another Premier League title and City having to rely on other results if Hughes’ blues are to be back in Europe next season.

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