A strike from the heavens. One of the most iconic goals in the history of the Manchester derby. A winner that nearly brought down Old Trafford. Wayne Rooney scored on an overhead volley in the 78th minute, one that he rates among the greatest he’s ever netted. "I think it might have been the best goal I’ve ever scored," Rooney said after the derby. On a glorious afternoon at Old Trafford, Manchester United were victorious over their bitter rivals Manchester City, a 2-1 win that likely makes the Premier League a two-horse race between United and Arsenal for the title. It's also a United victory that likely dashes the title hopes of Manchester City.
Opening Lineups and Formations:
Manchester City went with their usual ‘4-3-3’ formation. Joleon Lescott got the starting nod over Kolo Toure, and partnered Vincent Kompany at center-back. Micah Richards got the call over Jerome Boateng at right-back. Pablo Zabaleta was tasked at left-back, and Aleksander Koralov was moved higher up the pitch to be the wide left-attacking player. Nigel de Jong was out due to injury, so James Milner started in the central midfield alongside Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure, the latter in an attacking role. David Silva was the wide player in the attack from the right side. Carlos Tevez led the attacking line in a central role. Edin Dzeko began on the bench.
United came out in a ‘4-3-3/4-5-1’ shape, one that Sir Alex Ferguson often goes with in big matches. With Rio Ferdinand out due to a calf injury, Chris Smalling was his deputy, and partnered Nemanja Vidic at center-back. John O’Shea was the choice at right-back over Rafael. Patrice Evra was at left-back and provided support in the attack to Ryan Giggs, who manned the left flank in the attacking band. Nani was on the right flank. In the three-man central midfield, Paul Scholes sat in front of the defense as a deep-lying playmaker. Darren Fletcher played higher up the pitch in a box-to-box role. Anderson played even slightly higher and the Brazilian was the most attack-minded of three central midfielders. Wayne Rooney led the line in the attacking band.
* Both Rooney and Tevez were employed in similar roles, as "false nines." Both strikers came deep for the ball, looked to link play between the midfield and attack, and attempted to create space for the flanking attackers to run onto by dragging defenders out of position.
* United started a bit slow, and City probably had the run of play in the first 25 minutes, although only by a slight margin. After this, United settled in and became more threatening
* The main point of attack for United became their two wide players, Giggs and Nani. Scholes, from his deep-lying position in front of the two center-backs, was doing a terrific job of spraying long diagonal balls to the flanks. This chalkboard of Scholes' distribution exhibits this well. This was putting City on their heels. Nani, in particular, was really terrorizing Zabaleta.
* The movement of Tevez and Silva, and their understanding with each other was most threatening aspect of attack for City. The quick ‘one-twos’ between Tevez and Silva nearly created an early goal for Silva but he slotted the ball just wide of the goal. Tevez continually came deep for the ball, and Silva often moved into the space that Tevez was leaving behind. Throughout the match, Silva drifted inward, and he was essentially playing the "trequartista" role, that of a playmaker.
* With de Jong out, Milner and Barry took turns playing the holding role. Milner would often make overlapping runs forward to the right when Silva tucked in centrally, and Barry would provide cover in a holding role. Barry was getting forward as well at times providing distribution for the attackers. When this happened, Milner would stay back and provide cover as the holding player. In essence, the two were taking turns playing de Jong’s usual role as the holding midfielder.
* Koralov was completely ineffective in attack on the left flank, and he seemed pre-occupied with helping Zabaleta on Nani. Despite Koralov staying back, O’Shea didn’t join the attack much and he stayed conservative in his role at right-back.
* With Silva tucking in centrally so much, Evra didn’t have to do much defending. This provided him space to join the attack in support of Giggs. As usual, he partnered well with Giggs and provided him another link in attack.
* Anderson and Fletcher were employed in box-to-box roles, and both provided a good work-rate. However, neither were particularly creative in the attack or able to provide a killer pass to unlock City’s well organized defense.
* Nani’s goal: van der Sar played a long ball towards Rooney, Giggs anticipated the knock-down and ran onto it, and then played a brilliant diagonal ball to Nani who was cutting inside. Nani’s first touch was superb and he was onto goal, where he calmly slotted the ball past City goalkeeper Joe Hart. There was two defensive breakdowns for City on the goal: (1) Kompany was playing too deep and should have been providing more support for Lescott, who was battling Rooney on van der Sar’s long ball. (2) Zabaleta fell asleep for a split second and was positioned out wide too far. This resulted in the speedy Nani running right past him and onto the space Rooney left behind when he challenged Lescott for the van der Sar long-ball. 1-0 United at the half.
* The start of the 2nd half brought no changes
* Shaun Wright-Phillips (SWP) came on in the 53rd minute for the struggling Koralov. SWP played on the right flank, and this switched Silva over to the left side of attack for City. SWP stayed wide and hugged the touchline, and forced Evra into defending for the first time all game. Silva continued his same inward-drifting from the opposite flank.
* City manager Roberto Mancini made a positive substitution in the 60th minute by bringing on striker Dzeko for midfielder Milner. City changed shape and now were in a ‘4-4-2.’ With Tevez playing much deeper than Dzeko, it could also be seen as a ‘4-2-3-1’.
* Soon after the Bosnian stiker came on, he took a half-chance that deflected off the back of Silva and went in for the equaliser. SWP was more dynamic in the attack than Kolarov, and he did well to create just enough space to send in a cross to Dzeko on the goal.
* Now that City had gone ‘4-4-2’ and had equalised, Fergie was prompted to bring on the Premier League leading goal-scorer, Dimitar Berbatov. The Bulgarian striker came on for Anderson, and United had now shifted to a ‘4-4-2’. The last 25 minutes or so of the match looked like this:
- Due to the switch to ‘4-4-2’ and fatigue for both teams, the match became much more open.
- Rooney goal: Scholes played another fantastic diagonal ball to Nani on the right flank. The Portuguese international sent in a deflected cross that found Rooney for his sensational winner. A breath-taking goal that no United supporter will soon forget.
- Right after the goal, Michael Carrick came on for Scholes to provide fresh legs in a like-for-like substitution. City chased another equaliser, but United held on for the 2-1 victory.
* Man of the Match: Nani by a slight margin. Nani provided a threat throughout the match, and Zabaleta was no match for him. He was brilliant on the first goal; a well-timed run, a superb first-touch, and a confident finish. Vidic and Smalling were sensational as well and I wouldn’t argue against either of them for man of the match honors.
* Rooney’s winner will be remembered forever. However, the rest of performance can be forgotten. Wazza struggled to get going, and even he admitted his overall performance was poor. All it takes for a great talent like Rooney to yield their influence is a single moment of genius, and that’s what Rooney gave us today. A goal for the ages.
* More on Smalling… the young lad was incredible. He had Tevez in his pocket for most of the match. His positional sense, which was challenged quite a bit by the movement of Tevez and Silva, was very solid. He also won nearly every challenge he was involved in and was very good out of the back with his distribution. I don’t even know that Ferdy could have given a better performance today. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Smalling has the potential to succeed Rio down the road.
* Kompany is a beast, he’s easily among the 3-5 best center-backs in the Prem. He was very solid for City today.
* Richards put in a solid performance as well for City at right-back. Giggs tested him all afternoon long, but Richards held his own. He might be worth a look by Fabio Capello. Glen Johnson is not the answer at right-back for England.
* It’s a two-team race for the title. An absolutely crucial result that tilted the title race today. Even more satisfying that it was done versus the ‘noisy neighbors.’