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City 1 - 0 United: Five Thoughts

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Fists clenched. Arms raised. Celebration in itself but cautioned with the knowledge that there is much work to be done. Pre-game Roberto Mancini had preached that should City win the game it was a case of forgetting the game and moving on to face Newcastle; no back-slapping or wallowing in the glory, merely a sense of achievement and accomplishment as once again they defeated their City rivals. The 6-1 it wasn't but no less satisfying. From the brink of collapse following the defeat at Arsenal, now sit atop the Premier League with their fate in their own hands. Two games, two wins and the Premier League title heads to the Blue half of Manchester.

Timing is so often crucial, particularly in games where such small margins are often the deciding factor. In a game where chances (just three shots on target all game) were limited a set piece goal was perhaps the likeliest outcome of settling matters. City, once so impotent from set plays, had scored seventeen this season and with a moments hesitation in the United defence the decision blow was struck. If half-time had arrived with the score 0-0 how differently may the second half have been? I wrote pre-game how important the first goal and half time lead had been for both sides and so it came to pass. United in the main during the opening forty-five minutes restricted space, able - with the inclusion of Park Ji-Sung ahead of Danny Welbeck - to get bodies (sometimes all bar Wayne Rooney) behind the ball whenever City broke forward. The goal boosted City and put the onus on United to get back into the game: and it was something that City never allowed.

City lined up as expected Mancini opting for - bar the (ultimately correct) decision to start Pablo Zabaleta ahead of Micah Richards) his 'first choice' side of late. Heading into the game there were comparisons to the Tottenham at the tail end of the 2009/10 season when Mancini was cautious, perhaps overly so, and it told. But needing to win and with the sense United would line up in a 4-5-1 the Italian opted for Samir Nasri and it was the midfield area that was so key. United's trio of Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes all ineffectual and lending credence to Patrick Vieira's comments that the latters return was a sign of the weakness United had in this area. Whilst Scholes' passing numbers impressive enough at first glance but as so often is the case hide the true story. Park Ji-Sung was a gamble, ostensibly to thwart Yaya Toure but with the Ivorian playing in a more withdrawn role this still allowed space for City's attacking player. In truth it was a mismatch but the switch that saw Welbeck introduced brought little joy or change. Carlos Tevez - full of industry - was replaced on the hour and with Yaya Toure in support of Sergio Aguero the Ivorians influence grew further and City looked the likelier of the sides to get the games' second goal.

The final third was undoubtedly the key area. City's efficiency was evident with Samir Nasri and Gareth Barry in particular scoring highly in terms of completed passes once again. Barry was excellent in all facets of the game but particularly so bringing the ball forward against United's pedestrian midfield. SergioAguero and Carlos Tevez were willing runners but lacked the final touch of quality or decisiveness when it mattered. Their play though helped create space for City and after the cagey first thirty minutes had passed City won the territorial battle. Their fifteen shots (despite only three being on target) testament to this. United though were wasteful; Rooney isolated in the first-half in and with an over reliance on width too often ceded possession in good areas. The final telling stat? United had zero shots on target through the entire game.

So now City's destiny truly is in their own hands. They had led for so much of the season until a downturn in form and results so a relentless United side move past them. Now United are the ones who have stuttered and with perfect timing City recaptured the ability to put a run of wins together. They now face two difficult games: a trip to a Newcastle side in the running for Champions League football before finishing the season with relegation-threatened QPR, managed by none other than Mark Hughes; how football throws up these delicious ironies. City have much work still to do of course but there is no sense that the side is getting ahead of themselves. After playing themselves back into a position where their destiny is in their own hands it is unlikely they pass up the second bite of the cherry.