“Football. Bloody hell.”
If your American friends ever ask why you get up early on Saturday and/or Sunday mornings to watch the Barclay’s Premier League, turn on a replay of this match, take a step back, and quietly relish in the newly converted football companion you’ve just created.
Manchester United Starting XI:
Rafael – Ferdinand – Evans – Evra
Valencia – Carrick – Cleverley – Young
Rooney – van Persie
Manchester City Starting XI:
Zabaleta – Kompany – Nastasic – Clichy
Silva – Toure – Barry – Nasri
Aguero – Balotelli
The match itself provided all that is good about Premiership soccer. In a match that lived up to all the hype of 1 vs. 2, reigning champion vs runner-up, old-school vs new world – it was a match I both didn’t want to end and couldn’t wait for to be over.
As you would expect, both teams came to play from the opening kick-off with energy, pace, probing balls, and counters. City forced much of the early play as they inquired of United’s porous defense, and in the 5th minute it looked as if they had found a weakness. Ferdinand was called for a foul and Balotelli put a ball on goal that De Gea cleared for a corner. Robin van Persie was able to clear the resulting set piece. Balotelli took another stab in the 11th, but that effort sailed over the bar.
The match’s early stages elicited memories of Muhammad Ali’s Rumble in the Jungle with George Foreman. Absorbing blow after blow, United rope-a-doped them into the 16th minute. Evra cleared the ball towards the midfield line where it was headed on by Ashley Young. van Persie chested the ball back into Young’s path, who ran at a City defender before passing on to Rooney at the top of the box. Rooney, shrouded in converging blue shirts, suggested he was going far corner. Joe Hart bit, and Rooney’s change-up to the near post left the City keeper’s knees buckled, wrenched to the spot. 1-nil to United.
City’s only true threat for the remainder of the half came on a 23rd minute effort by Sergio Aguero, but De Gea was up to task.
United, content to concede possession, struck again on the counter in the 29th minute. Surging down the right flank, Valencia played Rafael on an overlapping run, who sent a low cross in towards Rooney. Rooney one-timed a sweeping shot past Hart for his 150th Premier League goal making him just the sixth, and youngest, player ever to reach the milestone. The red half of Manchester took a 2-nil lead into the break.
City’s plight reversed dramatically at the inclusion of Carlos Tevez in the 52nd minute – funny how removing Balotelli from the pitch can energize a club – and they were finally able to get one back at the hour mark. Two world-class saves by De Gea (the second of which from his back) and one blocked shot by Chris Smalling went for naught as United couldn’t clear the danger. Tevez eventually found Yaya Toure away from the cluster, and the Ivorian was able to bury it in De Gea’s far corner from 12 yards out. United 2 – City 1.
Game on, and moving forward the referee had his hands full. After zero bookings in the first half, seven yellows were brandished in the second – one each for Jones, Ferdinand, Rooney, Barry, Tevez, Toure, and the spineless Samir Nasri.
City seemingly rescued a point (and their two year unbeaten home record) in the 85th minute. Tevez sent in a corner that was cleared only as far as Zabaleta at the top of the box. De Gea never stood a chance against Zabaleta’s cracker. United 2 – City 2.
Enter Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, and the two-and-a-half man wall:
Manchester United 3 – Manchester City 2
Why always him? Because he’s a punk, that’s why. Balotelli was subbed off not long after the start of the second half, and he was not happy about it. He stormed off the pitch, past Mancini, and straight into the tunnel – though he would later return to the bench to continue his pouting in public. Tevez has been far and away the better player on the year, and Sunday was no different. Balotelli had little (if any) impact on the game, and an errant, no-look backheel was the last straw for Mancini. Mario’s reaction typified his character; he’s a selfish, spoiled brat, and I’ve got to imagine City are on the cusp of cutting him loose – classic addition by subtraction. Here is Mancini’s take on Balotelli after the match:
“I love Mario [Balotelli] but it is important for him to start to think about his job. He has everything to play well but he can’t continue to play like today. We wanted more from him.
“When you have a player that has Mario’s quality, you cannot understand why he continues to throw it out of the window. It is incredible.”
I was at a Major League Baseball game in October that was held up for over 30 minutes due to fans throwing objects onto the field. Luckily no one was injured, unlike what we witnessed at the Etihad on Sunday. After the final goal, City fans started throwing projectiles, coins in particular, at the United players (It actually began earlier during a Rooney corner kick – Wayne was seen picking up a coin and showing it to the official).
With United celebrating the winner in extra time in front of the United supporter’s section, a coin caught Rio Ferdinand above the left eye. Fanatics that throw anything onto the pitch should be facing a lifetime ban. Period. End of discussion. There is absolutely no room for this. If fans want to rant, rave, curse, gesticulate, talk about Rio’s momma – more power to them. They’ve paid their money and are entitled to say just about anything their dirty little minds can think up. But what they don’t have is the right to put someone’s life, eyesight, or ability to make a living at risk. Manchester City have apologized for the incident.
If that weren’t enough, one powder blue idiot decided it would be smart to invade the pitch and have a go at Rio. Luckily for the fan, Joe Hart stepped in and saved his ass. I’m not sure of the fan’s intentions, but I’m pretty sure being confronted by an irate Joe Hart wasn’t on his list of expectations. Just an astonishing display of stupidity. The fan, 21 year-old Matthew Stott, has apologized for his actions.
It’s unfortunate that such a thrilling match had to be marred by a slew of classless City supporters. So far, nine people have been charged in the extra curricular activities that took place on Sunday.
Football. Bloody Hell.
Manchester United Scorecard (0-10)
Wayne Rooney, 8 – another man of the match performance for Wayne. His flat out, top speed sprints back to the defensive third are what impressed me most. He’s the epitome of a team player, and his effort and fire were infectious on Sunday. Oh yeah, there were also those two goals he scored.
van Persie, 7 – classic RVP scores his fifth game-winner of the Premier League season.
Young, 7 – Ashley was in a mood on Sunday. He faded in the final 10 minutes, but his first 80 were lively and aggressive. His run on the counter to set up Rooney for the first goal was a thing of beauty – United doesn’t win on Sunday without him.
De Gea, 7 – made a slew of highlight reel saves, but more importantly looked comfortable when the box was crowded. Nice to have you back, David.
Smalling, 7 – a surprising number for a substitution. He was all over the place on D, stifling several City surges on his own.
Rafael, Ferdinand, Evra, 6 – the effort was off the charts, may have done better at clearing the ball on City’s first goal.
Valencia, Carrick, Cleverley, 6 – serviceable, if unremarkable, performance by the midfield as a whole. Valencia seemed a tad rusty.
Evans, 5 – eventually came off with an injury; struggled to keep up with City’s forwards in the first half.