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It has taken time, but Roberto Mancini has learned his best XI. City will be hard to stop now.
Manchester City now control their own destiny in the race for the Premier League title. They never allowed cross-town rivals Manchester United to get started in their massive Manchester Derby and found one goal in first half stoppage time to take control. It was their only goal and their only great chance, but it didn't matter, as they comfortably held on for a 1-0 victory over the Red Devils.
Alex Ferguson made the surprising decision to keep Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and all three of his first team true center forwards out of the starting XI. He instead opted for Park Ji-Sung and Ryan Giggs as United attempted to keep their shape and deny midfield space and scoring opportunities to their opponents.
For most of the first half, it looked like they were going to be able to pull it off. They were actually the more aggressive side in the opening 15 minutes, but started to back off a bit and worry more about keeping their positioning than winning the ball for the last 30 minutes of the second half. City controlled the game and had plenty of possession around the United box in the first half, but struggled to create scoring chances.
They couldn't break through the Red Devils' midfield and defense from open play, but they created a goal in first half stoppage time from a corner kick. Samir Nasri provided the delivery, with Vincent Kompany providing the finish. He rose up above Chris Smalling to win a very well-hit ball by Nasri and powered the ball into the back of the net with a header from six yards, putting his team ahead 1-0 at the break.
Even though his team struggled to create chances in the opening 45 minutes and they were in serious need of a goal, Ferguson did not opt to make any halftime changes. His team continued to struggle going forward after the break, prompting him to make his first change in the 58th minute by bringing on Danny Welbeck for Park. Valencia and Young would come on later in the half for Nani and Paul Scholes, but failed to make much of a difference for their side going forward.
City didn't look in much danger in the closing minutes when United should have been pushing as hard as possible for an equalizer, and created chances late in the game. In the 88th minute, De Gea made a great low save on a shot by Gael Clichy. Nasri had an excellent chance to seal the win for his team and erase any doubt in the 89th minute, but took too long to shoot from the edge of the six-yard box and eventually gave the ball away when it was easier to shoot.
In the end, City's failure to capitalize on their late chances didn't harm them. United continued to fail to test Joe Hart, allowing City to walk away from the derby as 1-0 winners. The Red Devils managed just four shot attempts in the match and did not hit the target once. United and City are now level on top of the Premier League with 83 points, but they have a seven-goal advantage on the Red Devils on goal differential. If the Citizens don't drop points in their last two matches, they will lift the Premier League title.
Yaya Toure tries to secure the points for the home side, cutting through the United defence with aplomb before setting himself for a shot which fizzes juuuuust wide of David de Gea's goal. I don't remember a single save made in this match, incidentally - there just haven't been too many chances, and those that have appeared have been spurned (mostly by Sergio Aguero).
Samir Nasri attempts to run down the clock near the corner flag. With six minutes plus injury time left, Rio Ferdinand is rather bemused by this and eventually hacks clear after making a series of increasingly funny expressions as he chases the ball around.
Anyway, Ashley Young is on for United, with Nani off. What are the odds that he'll dive to win a very late penalty? It's got to happen, right?
And there's a Nigel de Jong special. Manchester United are breaking down the pitch and Danny Welbeck is going to escape down the left flank, so the midfielder puts in a reducer and wipes out the younger striker. He's booked and Welbeck stays down for a while. City rather sarcastically ready a stretcher, and then the managers get into it on the touchline. Fun! Anyway, the free kick comes to nothing, and City go down the other end and see Sergio Aguero hit the side netting.
Paul Scholes comes off for United, with Antonio Valencia appearing in his place. The idea will be to stretch Gael Clichy a little bit more and move Ryan Giggs to the centre, but they'll actually need to get the ball to do that. They've got about ten minutes to find a goal, or they're going to end the day in second place.
Roberto Mancini's going to react to the increased pressure from Manchester United by deploying midfield destroyed Nigel de Jong. Off comes Carlos Tevez - City are sacrificing attack for defence here. No surprise, since they're a goal to the good and just need to hold out for twenty minutes to regain their place at the top of the table.
Phil Jones, presumably inspired by de Jong's presence, then finds himself in the book for a rather nasty challenge on Gareth Barry. The right back comes in very late and plants his studs hard onto the top of the midfielder's left foot. That looked painful.
Yaya Toure nearly makes things more painful for United when he looks to finish off a neat counterattack with a twenty-yard thunderbolt, but his aim is on the fritz and his drive ends up well wide of David de Gea's left post.
Manchester City remain on the attack, and Patrice Evra attempts to thwart it with an elbow to the side of Pablo Zabaleta's head. Unsurprisingly, Andre Marriner looks down on such activities and awards a free kick, from which Yaya Toure eventually fizzed in a very dangerous cross which the United defence scrambled clear in rather unconvincing fashion.
The visitors are finally able to clear their lines and hold possession, sparking whistles around the Etihad, and although Danny Welbeck gives the ball away for no reason in the centre, Michael Carrick is able to regain possession and the visitors eventually earn a corner. Nothing comes of it, despite more flapping from Joe Hart. He's looked pretty vulnerable today, but United simply haven't been testing him.
A few minutes later, Phil Jones finds himself in acres of space, and then misses his cross by several miles. Whoops. Better from United though.
Chris Smalling wipes out Carlos Tevez on the halfway line, much to the displeasure of the Etihad crowd (but to the deep amusement of more or less everyone else on the planet). The striker goes rolling around. but Andre Marriner's not giving anything more than a free kick for it. Said free kick is completely wasted. Manchester City also contrive to waste their next attack when Sergio Aguero skips past Paul Scholes only to completely misplace his pass to Pablo Zabeleta. The hosts do earn a corner, from which Samir Nasri curls well wide.
Down 1-0, Sir Alex Ferguson makes a change, pulling off Park Ji-Sung for Danny Welbeck. That's not a big surprise - they need a goal as things stand and don't have much in the way of a cutting edge so far. United are probably dropping back into their standard 4-4-1-1 now.
A Manchester United attack is cut out and City can go on the offensive. They earn a corner, and it's nearly a carbon copy of the delivery from which Vincent Kompany socred the opener. Joleon Lescott gets free of Rio Ferdinand but the ball carries on him and he can't get good contact, with the delivery skimming off the back of his head and out of play. That was pretty dangerous as far as United are concerned, though - another goal and they're more or less dead.
City remain on the attack until Yaya Toure blocks off Ryan Giggs, conceding a foul after David Silva give sthe ball away. The Ivorian isn't happy with the call and makes a rather loud complain, earning himself a booking from Andre Marriner. That was a little bit silly, especially considering that it was about as blatant a foul as you could hope for. We've had about ten minutes of the second half, and it's still 1-0 City.
We're back off and running at the Etihad Stadium, where Manchester City hold a 1-0 lead over archrivals United thanks to a very late first-half goal by Vincent Kompany. If that scoreline holds, City would go to the top of the table on goal differential, which means that Sir Alex Ferguson's halftime team talk will have been amusing, but a one goal deficit isn't the end of the world - if they can come out of this one with a point it'll have been more or less job done.
United start the second half in fairly positive fashion, quickly winning a corner kick. Joe Hart comes out for the ball... and completely misses it, nearly allowing Wayne Rooney to get a free header onto an empty net. Fortunately for City, the ball flies straight out of play - they really got away with one there.
Apologies to those who haven't enjoyed the previous low-scoring Manchester Derbies, but this was one of those for the first 45 minutes. There weren't any goals until stoppage time and the game hass been light on chances, but that didn't keep the game from being entertaining. Both teams have defended very well and it's been a very interesting match tactically, even without any scoring, but a Vincent Kompany goal has added a bit more spice. Manchester United appeared to be defending well enough to take a 0-0 draw into halftime, but Kompany's header in stoppage time has the Citizens up 1-0 at the break.
Man United got off to a great start, pressing in the midfield to win the ball back and start quick counter attacks in the opening 15 minutes of the match. Around that mark in the game, things shifted a bit, with City starting to pass the ball better and give it away less. Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick stopped getting aggressive in the tackle around that mark, preferring to hold their positions. This let City have much more of the ball, but didn't give them much of anywhere to go.
City had a couple of solid chances in the 36th minute, but weren't able to convert. Sergio Aguero had a chance at a volley from 12 yards out, but skied his effort over the crossbar. Under a minute later, Pablo Zabaleta had a great chance from close range, but his shot was partially blocked by a United defender, allowing De Gea to collect the ball easily.
In trademark United style, they started to look for a goal on the counter a little bit more in the final five minutes. They had a couple of half chances, but City's defenders stayed alert and didn't allow the Red Devils to test Joe Hart. It appeared that City would have to go into halftime without a goal, despite their dominance in possession, but they finally struck with a set piece goal in stoppage time.
On a corner by Samir Nasri, Kompany rose up and beat Chris Smalling to the ball, then powered a fantastic header past De Gea and into the back of the net from six yards out. That goal should be a massive game-changer that causes both managers to adjust their tactics, and of course, City will be on top of the Premier League if the result holds.
Alex Ferguson has plenty of attacking options on his bench, and he'll likely use one or two of them shortly, perhaps even at halftime. Strikers Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck are both available, as are wingers Nani and Ashley Young.
Well that's a thing. Manchester City take the lead at the Etihad Stadium! It's been coming, too. Since a fast start Manchester United haven't done much of anything, and City have been looking increasingly confident going forward. David Silva creates a wonderful opportunity when his reverse pass plays in Samir Nasri on the right, and although the former Arsenal man sees his cross blocked by Patrice Evra, the hosts manage to score from the resulting corner.
It's Vincent Kompany who gets the goal, with Chris Smalling completely failing to track his clever run. Once the big centre back managed to get his head to the ball, it was never going anywhere but into the back of the net - David de Gea had no chance whatsoever. It's a great time to score as far as City are concerned, and that'll really deflect United as we go to halftime.
David de Gea hasn't had a whole lot to do in the Manchester United goal yet tonight, although that's probably more to do with Sergio Aguero's incredible profligacy rather than a great show on the United defence's part. Anyway, he's called into action to catch a vicious cross from the left wing, which he does. Speaking of Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Yaya Toure combine brilliantly to play in the Argentine on the counterattack, but Aguero completely fails to take advantage of the chance and doesn't even manage to get a shot away. Huge waste there.
Manchester United get their first chance in some time a little later when a deep cross finds Wayne Rooney, requiring drastic intervention from the City defence. United win a corner out of it, and Park Ji-Sung gets free, only to blast his effort well over Joe Hart's crossbar. The first half is coming to a close and it's still 0-0 here. That'll suit United better than City.
Manchester City look to keep hold of the ball but it's not really working very well - a combination of overly ambitious and overly terrible passes is gifting possession back to the visitors whenever City push forward. When David Silva tried to get the ball back he was penalised for a foul on Michael Carrick. Things are getting a little bit chippy now, and Carlos Tevez doesn't help out in that regard, chopping down Phil Jones with a painful, albeit legal challenge. Jones repays him with a body check that would probably require an active understanding of plate tectonics to understand.
A little while later, Gareth Barry and Samir Nasri do well to combine down the City right and the latter picks out Sergio Aguero in the City box, but again the striker misfires and can't convert. Pablo Zabaleta follows that up by taking the ball off Aguero's toes as he sets up to shoot, but he doesn't do any better with a weak, miscued effort straight at David de Gea.
Gael Clichy decides that this match is entirely too boring for his tastes, and so the Manchester City left back goes on a ridiculous run forwards, rampaging his was past no fewer than six Manchester United defenders in order to open up a genuine chance for Sergio Aguero, who sees the ball crowded out for a corner before he can pull the trigger. City keep the ball for a little while only for Aguero to blast well wide of David de Gea's goal when he really might have scored. Better from the hosts, who're really turning the pressure on in the last few minutes
It nearly comes to something after some excellent work from Yaya Toure, who dispossesses Phil Jones and launches a lovely counterattack which ultimately results in some chaos in David de Gea's box. Still no clear sights on goal despite attempts from City at Barcelona-style tiki-taka, but that was pretty nice.
Manchester City are playing with a bit more confidence after that chance, which can only be a good thing. The hosts are now stroking the ball around very happily and committing bodies forward, which means that both sides are more dangerous - Manchester United can counterattack whenever they regain possession, and they're always dangerous when they're able to break.
In one of those counterattacks, Vincent Kompany goes in very late on Wayne Rooney and wipes out the England strike in the centre circle. Rooney goes down hard and after the play eventually fizzles out Kompany ends up getting booked. Rooney spent about two minutes on the ground there. The tackle didn't look too bad, but the timing was well worth a yellow, despite Kompany's complaints.
Anyway, the game's more even now, and it wouldn't be a big surprise if things didn't stay at 0-0 for much longer.
We get a bit of a kickabout in the heart of the Manchester United defence before David de Gea punts forward. Nani wins the header before Pablo Zabaleta wipes out Wayne Rooney on the Manchester City right. The visitors contrive to completely waste their attack via a massively overhit through ball which goes out for a free kick.
At the other end of the pitch, Sergio Aguero, whom we haven't seem too much of, tried to start a fast break down the left only to dribble the ball straight out of play. Suffice to say that this match has been missing the quality you'd expect from teams of this calibre. If City can settle down and just put together a few passes, they'll be in much better shape.
Oooh, and speaking of, Carlos Tevez latches onto a great reverse pass from Gareth Barry to get in behind the United defence. The striker fizzes in a low cross that eludes de Gea but is booted clear by Phil Jones before Aguero can pounce. That's much better from City.
That's a little bit better from Manchester City, who win a corner and have a David Silva shot blocked, but it's still not particularly special and the visitors look the more dangerous side. Wayne Rooney's the latest United player to burst forward, sparking an attack that eventually results in a corner, from which nothing happens (although Chris Smalling wants a handball call on Vincent Kompany, somewhat optimistically).
The bulk of the action's taking place in the City half, although some of it is now taking part in outer space thanks to a hilarious attempt at a shot from Nani. That was all kinds of special from the winger, who lets fly with an amusingly ambitious effort on Joe Hart's goal that went over by at least thirty yards. When City do finally get the ball across the halfway line, they end up winning a foul after Paul Scholes chops down Gareth Barry. The more things change... well, the more things stay 0-0.
Manchester United are really doing a fine job of putting pressure on City in the early going, harassing their hosts whenever they're in possession and preventing them getting the ball anywhere near the danger zone. City are also turning the ball over to the visitors' forwards too often in the earlier stages, and with Paul Scholes lurking United are able to spring some pretty scary-looking counterattacks. He and Nani combine to release Phil Jones down the right flank, but the young defender's cross is overhit and Joe Hart can collect.
When City do finally manage to get forward, their play is pretty easily defended and United can break, only for Nani's touch to take the ball too far away from him with only Joleon Lescott to beat. That was a real chance there, and the Portuguese will be disappointed with himself over that one. Still 0-0 here.
We're underway at the Etihad, where Manchester City have a huge task on their hands - a must-win game against defending champions Manchester United to haul themselves back to level terms in the title race. The lineups reflect the teams' priorties, with Sir Alex Ferguson setting up the visitors to shut down the game and Roberto Mancini fielding a highly attacking side with United old boy Carlos Tevez anchoring the forward lines.
It's the the hosts who get us going, holding the ball for all of ten seconds for a long punt by Joe Hart gifts possession back to United. Paul Scholes starts an attack for the visitors, which ends with an off-balance Patrice Evra attempting a cross that gets deflected out for a corner. City make a right mess of defending it, but eventually just about manage to clear. Strong start for United.
Sir Alex Ferguson has changed up his team shape for the biggest match of the season. Manchester United normally play in a 4-4-1-1 with Wayne Rooney in the hole behind a dedicated striker, but it looks like they're shoring up the midfield here, with Park Ji-Sung appearing in midfield as the visitors arrive in what appears to be a 4-3-3. Manchester City, meanwhile, throw out their usual shape, with the controversial figure of Carlos Tevez anchoring the forward line.
Manchester City should be as close to fully stocked as they've been in recent weeks heading into today's match against Manchester City as Mario Balotelli has finished off his three-game ban and defender Micah Richards will be available after missing their last game with a knee problem.
While Balotelli is returning just in time for one of the most-anticipated matches in the history of the Manchester Derby, he is not expected to start with Sergio Augero and Carlos Tevez in top form. Aguero is the team leader with 22 goals and Tevez has scored four goals and had two assists during the three games he started with Balotelli out. When he's been playing, though, Balotelli has looked strong. In 22 Premier League appearances, he has scored 13 goals.
When it comes to big matches, it sometimes feels like Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United teams are unbeatable. They have racked up trophy after trophy because of their ability to win the big matches, whether in form or not. Sometimes the Red Devils don't even need to play well. They will figure out a way to win anyways. That's just what United does.
If the Red Devils are going to beat Manchester City on Monday, though, they'll have to buck several trends. Most of the recent results say that the Citizens will win, putting any confidence in United's regular win in doubt.
First, the match is at Eastlands, where City have won 21 of their last 22 matches. To be clear, that is 21 wins, not 21 results. The Citizens have been incredible at home and there is no reason to believe they won't be against United.
Additionally, the Citizens are the in form team right now. They have won their last three matches and scored 13 goals in those matches, flashing an attack that is in tip top shape. On the flip side is the Red Devils, who have taken just four points from their last three matches, including a draw against Everton last week despite being 4-2 up at Old Trafford.
More than anything, City look like good bets considering what happened when these two teams last met in the league. The Citizens went to Old Trafford and demolished City, 6-1, leaving Ferguson, his team and the United supporters dumbfounded.
With City's home record, their recent form compared to United's struggles and the way the Citizens demolished the Red Devils in October, it's tough to bet against the home side. Then again, betting against United in big matches has been as dumb as can be for almost two decades now. If they can buck the trends that say this one is all Citizens, maybe it is time to give in to the big match superiority of the Red Devils once and for all.
Manchester City has spent a lot of money, brought in a lot of top players and have lit up England with a Premier League best 87 goals this season. Even so, they don't have a Premier League title. They can wave around their FA Cup trophy from last season all they want, but they haven't topped the first division since 1968, a time span in which Manchester United have won 12 league titles.
Now United and City are ready to square off with the league title at stake and the historical differences between the two clubs are not exactly in the background. Being 8,012 years old, Ryan Giggs knows how superior the Red Devils have been and he's not afraid to say it.
"City will be looking at it and fancying themselves to win the game, just like ourselves, because they're a good team and they're at home," Giggs said. "But we're Man United, we're the champions and we'll try to go out there and put a statement out that we deserve to win this league.
"There is no mistaking that this is a massive game and the biggest in recent times. We realize it's a big game but as a player you're used to it and, as a United player, we're definitely used to it."
In fairness to Giggs, he went on to compliment the Citizens so he was in no way dismissive of them, but his thoughts on the state of the rivalry are clear. No matter what City does, "we're Man United".
Few people say that Manchester United play beautifully. They don't have the fluid passing of Barcelona, or even the electric, quick strike attack of Napoli. Cristiano Ronaldo has spent the last three years being awe-inspiring for Real Madrid instead of the Red Devils and they have failed to reel in some of their mesmerizing transfer target like Mesut Ozil. While undoubtedly effective, United are not beautiful, but that's just fine, and it is especially fine against Manchester City.
The Red Devils can be deadly on the counterattack, utilizing their pace on the wings to break quickly and luckily for them, that is exactly what City don't want to see. They have had troubles this season against teams that have defended well and broke on the counterattack. They get too open and can be exposed, which is exactly what Gene Um of The Busby Babe thinks United would be wise to try and do against City on Monday.
United's best approach may be to absorb pressure and keep it tight in the back, and then use the vision and passing range of Scholes and Carrick to ignite counter attacks from deep. City's deepest lying central-midfielder -- most often Barry but sometimes it's de Jong -- has been exposed numerous times this season trying to break up counterattacks due to the massive space they're often forced to patrol
Considering that a draw is just fine for United, the struggles that City have ha against good counterattacks and the Red Devils' ability to strike quickly, it seems as if this is the tactic they have to take. As we have learned very well through Barcelona, possession is not winning, so why bother with it when your best chances can come on the counter-attack?
Before the season, many speculated that if Manchester City did not win the Premier League title then Roberto Mancini would be fired. Eight months later, some are still speculating the same, meaning that a loss to Manchester United on Monday and Mancini could be out of a job.
For City to expect a title is not preposterous. The Citizens made their goal of winning the Premier League known and now three years into Mancini's reign at Eastlands, they want to see the Italian reach their expectations. With the money that he has had to spend and pretty much every resource he could possibly want at his disposal, if City fail to win a title then it is difficult to blame anybody else except for Mancini.
With the Citizens three points back of the Red Devils and just two matches to play after Monday, if they fail to get a result then the title is all but United's. A win and they are only ahead on goal difference, but it is something. A draw and they are dependent on United dropping points in the next two weeks, which is hardly going to be a comforting feeling for those on the blue side of Manchester.
Nobody will feel worse than Mancini, though. He admitted earlier this season to feeling the pressure to win the title and wondering if he could be sacked. Lately, his tune has changed and he's confident of being back at Eastlands next year, but that's hardly a guarantee. His status still appears to be very much up in the air.
Monday's match is not just a chance to make a claim for the title, but a chance to make a statement against United. They did so earlier in the season, demolishing the Red Devils, 6-1, but they then gave their lead atop the league back. If City can't win the league then they at least want to be superior to their far more successful neighbors. However, in this season they are the same thing. Win over Manchester, make a statement and top the league.
If the goal at City is a title and Mancini's job is dependent on it then his job may be dependent on one match - Monday at Eastlands and Sir Alex Ferguson in the other dugout.
Back in October, Manchester City thrashed Manchester United, but that didn't stop the Red Devils from moving to the top of table, which the Citizens hope to change on Monday.
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