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Thoughts on the derby draw

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united review
united review

Perhaps it is a reflection of the growing importance of the derby in terms of the overall bigger Premier League picture that last nights game may be a sign of derbies to come rather than the exception.

With both sides in the upper reaches of the table, it seems that neither side was willing to risk defeat with the ramifications being greater than they have been previously. After four entertaining, spiky and goal laden games last season, the first derby of this campaign fizzled out as a spectacle not long after the flare that had been lit in the away end, the game barely flickering as trepidation overcame ambition.

Roberto Mancini has had to field plenty of criticism this morning for the negative approach - the same approach by the way that received the plaudits after defeating Chelsea earlier this season - and whilst it is fair to suggest City offered up the draw, it is equally fair to say United were more than happy to take it. It would be a misnomer to argue otherwise: this was no battle between the free flowing artisans and the steely wall of catenaccio.

In previous seasons, there was a time when the result of the derby matter solely in isolation. With a side finishing between 10th and 16th each season, pride and bragging rights was generally all that was at stake. A defeat would not have much impact too much on the overall outcome. That has now changed of course; from last seasons near miss in terms of the Champions League, there is proof that small margins are what counts.

The onus may well have been on City as the home side to go for the win. They certainly stood to gain more from victory, but equally, stood to lose much more in defeat. If these are the headlines from taking a point in the derby, what would they have been for a defeat?

Alex Ferguson may be many things, but a fool he is not. He knew full well the platform that City would look to build on, and at the risk of repeating this verbatim it is the solid midfield trio controlling and maintaining possession and suffocating space and opportunity for the opposition. To counter this, Ferguson fielded his own trio of Scholes, Carrick and Fletcher (augmented with Park and Nani). The result? Two midfields effectively cancelling each other as Jonathan Wilson illustrates in his analysis on si.com.

In addition to this, the central defensive partnership partnership of Ferdinand and the excellent Vidic shackled Silva and Tevez, the latter whilst willing, did not appear fully fit. This resulted in few opportunities being created, and when they were, too often the final ball was disappointing.

United too created little though. Two shots straight at Hart was all that was mustered with Berbatov, whilst bright in the lone striker role, was well handled by Toure and Kompany, who was the equal of Vidic on the night.

Was Mancini too negative? In Balotelli's absence he opted for the industry of Milner over the impetus of Johnson (later used as a substitute) and whilst the introduction of Adebayor was baffling so late on, bringing him into the fray earlier would have meant a change of formation. It was telling that a point was a satisfactory return for United as when Hernandez was introduced, it was not a midfielder but Berbatov who was sacrificed; no quarter being given in the midfield trenches.

Prior to last weekend, it was being suggested that the games against West Brom and United could be the final straw for Mancini. A win at home against out of sorts Birmingham on Saturday would make it seven points from three games in a week.

Would anyone not have taken that return at the outset, regardless of performance?