Reflections on the derby defeat

MANCHESTER ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 12: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United scores a goal from an overhead kick during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on February 12 2011 in Manchester England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Not quite the cruel blows of last season but tough to take nonetheless.

Having got back on level terms and looking to get a winner City were stung by a breathtaking goal from Wayne Rooney that snatched away hopes of a rare Old Trafford win.

It as a performance that in some ways was deserving of victory; that's not to say City deserved to win but the performance exceeded expectations ahead of the game and saw City look the more comfortable side for the majority of the game. 

I certainly don't recall City going to Old Trafford and being as capable of winning as today. The control of possession and use of the ball was excellent, as was the movement on and off the ball for the most part. In the main United were less so and their passing at times were as awry as I've seen - usually it is so precise and clinical.

The difference between the two sides was that if anything, United moved forward and attacked at a greater pace, were more direct and had more intent - but that is their game, whereas City's preaches patience and building through control and tempo rather than swift cutting bursts, exemplified by the influence of Nani. Both United's goals came from quick attacks that caught City to a degree and created space for the goalscorers, although there is the argument that both Nani and Rooney should have been marked more tightly to prevent from conceding.

With Nigel de Jong ruled out there was logic to the selection (although I thought Mancini would opt for greater caution) and it is the only time I can recall not missing his presence from the side when he has been absent. Kolarov, however, did not have the effect he did against West Brom and his contribution in the final third was stymied.

The game saw a bright start, none of the caginess that was anticipated and City ere anything but on the back foot. Clear cut chances were rare - Silva's early  miss the only 'real' chance - but even with Ferguson deploying an extra midfielder to counter City's extra man, City were shading that battle until they got caught with the opener. It was a quick ball forward and Pablo Zabaleta failed to get tight enough with Nani and he profited from the flick-on to stab home.

As they are capable of doing the goal invigorated United and they pressed forward, sensing a second before the break that could have killed the game. City held on, not entirely convincingly and Ryan Giggs in particular was a threat from a creative standpoint.

A goal down Mancini switched things within fifteen minutes of the break. Shaun Wright-Phillips and Edin Dzeko came on for Kolarov and James Milner, the right choices and they helped exploit some of the space at United's back line with United eyeing a second after ending the first half on top. The pair combined for the goal, fortuitious as it may be (Silva surely claiming it) but having been on the wrong end of wretched luck in derbies past there won't be any quibbling. Wright-Phillips showed glimpses of previous Old Trafford displays and grew in confidence as the game went on, linking well at times with his old wing man Micah Richards, who was once again strong both defensively and going forward.

Having got the goal City began to exert themselves more. Yaya Toure grew in stature (will he start getting some credit soon?) and the way he can manhandle players is unparalleled whilst David Silva was a growing influence and proving once again that his technique is as good as anyone in the Premier League (both in deep lying and advanced positions). Carlos Tevez struggled to get going though and appears to be trying to force things too much against United, losing some of the natural flow to his game. Credit Chris Smalling too as he played well against him and looks a competent player at first viewing.

It was a fantastic strike from Rooney though and deserving of the superlatives coming his way. The strike left Hart completely flat footed and was executed perfectly. If you want a ball in for an overhead kick that was the perfect one: a slight deflection to take off the pace and loop the ball but the technique was superb. Ironic that up until that point Rooney had struggled, cutting a frustrated figure and was well marshalled by the again exceptional Vincent Kompany.

Frustration is the mood of course and the slim hopes of the title are all but extinguished now but the side are clearly  on course for the top four and I haven't seen anything over the first two-thirds of the season to suggest it won't be achieved over the final ten or so games.

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