One of the most noticeable facets of the game was that Sir Alex Ferguson set his side out with a negative outlook. He knew a draw would suffice in the title race and tried to suffocate the force of Yaya Toure by crowding the midfield.
Wayne Rooney has been in red-hot form in recent months; his 13 goals means he has scored the most Premier League goals in 2012 – but he was left isolated by the United line-up at the Etihad.
Bizarrely, Ferguson left out Antonio Valencia, whose distribution is superb off the flanks and is direct. His replacement Nani was dismal on the right, failing to provide any service or meaningful efforts on target.
Ferguson also went for his big game favourite Park Ji-Sung in the middle – but he had not started in the league since January. Was he ready for such a pivotal tie? He failed to make an impact and never looked to hook up with a despairing Rooney.
The biggest drama came on the touchline, when Ferguson clashed with his counterpart Roberto Mancini. After the game Ferguson claimed: “He was badgering the referee the whole game, the fourth official and the linesman, and the minute I go out there…”
The fact that Ferguson was so easily riled suggests that he clearly sees Mancini’s men as a threat for the foreseeable future beyond this campaign – and he doesn’t like it.
City, on the other hand, were surprisingly comfortable, with Pablo Zabaleta nullifying any United threat, match-winner Vincent Kompany leading with an exemplary performance with Gareth Barry putting in an inspired display. City players grinded, showed more guile and penned in United.
Crucially, City next face Champions League-chasing Newcastle, who will be looking to bounce back from their horrific 4-0 loss to Wigan at the weekend.
The final day of the season throws up relegation battling QPR, who could prove a major stumbling block in the quest for City’s first league title since 1968.
Neither game will be easy for Mancini’s men, particularly with United’s “easier” fixtures of Swansea at home followed by Sunderland away. Surely United will go for broke in the last two games and play with more flair and desire than on Monday.
The fact that Manchester United, with such a weak team, have led the way in this turbulent title race is testament to an incredible manager. On Monday he just got it horribly wrong up against a superb City.
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