Vincent Kompany’s last Manchester derby ended in bitter disappointment as his first-half sending off contributed to the Eastland outfit’s 3-2 defeat by the Red Devils in the FA Cup third round. The Belgian defender was tasked with keeping a 26-goal Wayne Rooney quiet on Monday and an early booking appeared ominous for the Manchester City captain. But Kompany’s greatest contribution of a tense game was to power an emphatic header past David De Gea after the centre-half had escaped his marker Chris Smalling. It was City’s 14th goal from a corner this season – more than any other Premier League side – highlighting their ability to ditch an expansive style of play for a direct, and perhaps a more effective route. Kompany’s goal ended a six-hour drought against United at the Etihad Stadium in the league and it was fitting the skipper lifted his side to the top of the table.
Park Ji-Sung returned to the Red Devils first-team after briefly dropping out of favour at Old Trafford. The South Korea international had not featured in United’s last seven outings but Sir Alex Ferguson recalled the industrious midfielder to combat and frustrate City’s agile midfield in what could only be deemed a negative move by the United manager. And it was a move that backfired. For all the 31-year-old’s qualities in a defensive sense, the former PSV Eindhoven star offers very little going forward – aside from the odd goal. He is unable to unlock watertight defences, lacks pace, and unsurprisingly spent the majority of the first half chasing shadows. It was a rare tactical blunder by Ferguson, and the Red Devils boss withdrew Park for Danny Welbeck in the 57th minute.
Ferguson has shown no hesitation to place his faith in youth in years gone by. Most famously his ‘class of 92’, chastised by former Liverpool defender Alan Hansen, went on to claim a famous league title, before the 70-year-old willingly made a youthful Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney the focal point of a dominant United side towards the end of the last decade. The latest batch of hotshots to be blooded into the Red Devils side has been impressive this season but Monday night’s Manchester derby proved one hurdle too many. Smalling was at fault for Kompany’s winner on the stroke of half-time as the young England defender allowed the City skipper to rise unchallenged and land a thunderous header past De Gea. The Spanish goalkeeper was powerless to deny the centre-half but, in a campaign which has seen De Gea subjected to intense scrutiny, his unimposing presence was once again ruthlessly highlighted. At right-back, Phil Jones struggled to keep pace with the game and was fortunate not to be booked in the first half for a cynical block before he finally received a caution for a late tackle on Gareth Barry.
The last time the first and second ranked teams in the English top flight finished level on points was before the Premier League’s inception, when Arsenal’s Michael Thomas scored a dramatic goal to secure the league crown for the Gunners and deny Liverpool at Anfield in 1989. City’s 1-0 victory leaves them at the summit with two games remaining and makes them only the third team to score seven goals against United in a single season – a feat only matched by Chelsea and Southampton. Those strikes could prove crucial as City now hold an eight-goal advantage over United. It is City’s to lose. On paper, the derby looked the toughest of City’s remaining three games but a tricky trip to high flying Newcastle United is a potential banana skin for Roberto Mancini’s side, and arguably a tougher assignment then facing their city rivals buoyed by home support. Until this point the Eastlands outfit have shown extraordinary mettle to haul their way back into contention and a nerve-racking climax is a certainty.
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