Manchester United 1-2 Manchester City
No need to panic, but a few things to think about….
Sir Alex Ferguson is right to say defeat to city last night will mean nothing in terms of the title race, but we knew that anyway. My greater concern, even before the match, was what it might mean to next year’s race and that’s pretty much where I am right now
It may be that I’m overreacting to what was, after all, a narrow defeat in a generally well-contested and even match, but I approached last night’s game hoping United might grasp the opportunity to demonstrate just why we’ve been so much better than city in 2012/13 and in doing so lay down a firm marker for the near future. Instead, I’d have to concede that it was city who brought the greater sense of hunger to the occasion and who, with an excellent goal from Aguero, used the occasion to show that extra bit of class to win tight matches that has been more a feature of our play over the season.
Of course, there’s another way of reading this, which is that city’s mercenaries could only be bothered to get out of bed for a glamorous fixture which, in the wider scheme of things, won’t matter at all. We can appreciate the irony of Aguero’s winner on this occasion having no impact whatsoever on the title, and relax in the knowledge that Mancini’s got to wake up this morning and get back to the trophy-polishing in preparation for its adorning with red and white ribbons. It may even act as a helpful caution to some of United’s players about how easily this might slip away next season if we fail to show the sense of purpose we have throughout this one.
There’s no doubt that the elements of United’s play that have been so decisive this season will be available next. Van Persie was, at times, brilliant; Michael Carrick influenced the play less, but his game-reading and interventions in snuffing out city attacks adequately showcased his intelligence and composure at the centre of midfield; De Gea, Rafael, Welbeck and Jones are among a large group of United players who will get even better, so the future’s in unquestionably good hands.
There remain areas of concern, though. Ashley Young once again failed to impress on the wing last night, while Valencia’s loss of consistency and Nani’s erratic performances this season have rendered them little more than potential impact substitutes, if that, for the bigger games. Giggs and Carrick both exuded class in central midfield but there was a lack of energy and vibrancy in there that left space ably exploited by Yaya Toure as the game wore on. Giggy’s mistake for the first city goal may have been a rarity in another fine season, but the man himself left the pitch at the end with the haste of a player who understandably wanted to get the experience behind him as quickly as possible.
United will want to do the same thing: a win at Stoke on Sunday would do the job, as well as hopefully helping to condemn their appalling brand of anti-football to the Championship, where it unquestionably belongs. But if last night’s match was an opportunity to lay down an early marker for 2013-14 it was city who had the greater determination to seize it. I’m left wondering again about areas of the transfer market we might take in an interest in over the summer and hoping that Zaha can make the step up to Premiership football very quickly.