With the destination of the premier league trophy hanging in the balance, United faced their toughest test of the season with a trip to the Etihad stadium to play Manchester City, in what looked to be an effective title decider. Having endured the indignity of suffering a 6-1 reverse defeat earlier in the season, United were looking to respond and in turn seal a 20th league title on their neighbours back yard. With a draw also likely to prove enough for United, Fergie reflected this in his team selection, handing Park his first start since January, and re introducing Ryan Giggs to a 5 man midfield, with the intention of stifling City’s midfield trio of Yaya Toure, David Silva and Gareth Barry.
With so much at stake, it was almost inevitable the game would be cautious in the opening stages, but it was United who looked the most likely as a good spell of early pressure yielded some success for the reds. However, a common theme soon emerged, as despite United’s success in depriving City’s front men the ball, Rooney was left too isolated as his frustration began to gradually simmer. Sensing this, City grew into the contest, with Samir Nasri and Pablo Zabaleta combining well down the right hand side, outnumbering Patrice Evra on several occasions and delivering some dangerous crosses into the United area. With City’s confidence growing, United’s caution increased, as the reds sat deeper and deeper in an attempt to get to the sanctuary of half time and regroup. With just a minute left on the clock however, a well timed run by Vincent Kompany saw the City skipper leap above Chris Smalling from a corner and head the home side into the lead, and leaving United with the daunting prospect of chasing the game.
Despite now requiring a goal or risk surrendering the title, United persisted with their game plan of frustrating City, and trying to hit quickly on the break. Chances were few and far between however, with only a smattering of corners to show for some good United pressure after the break. The introduction of Danny Welbeck on the hour mark saw the reds look to break their defensive shackles, and find the precious goal which would swing the title race back in their favour. Constant errors in the final 3rd however prevented the build up of any momentum, with Joe Hart remaining un tested in the City goal as the clock ticked down. Frustratingly, it was City who looked the greater goal threat, with Yaya Toure and Zabaleta both going close in the closing stages, threatening to put United to bed once and for all. Antonio Valencia’s introduction proved too little too late, as despite rallying in the final ten minutes, United failed to register a single attempt on target, and succumbed to a limp and toothless defeat. The title now seems firmly in City’s grasp, despite United commanding an 8 point lead just 3 weeks prior, and only an unlikely City slip up at either Newcastle or at home to QPR will prevent the reds from their first trophy less season for 7 years.
DDG – 6 Rarely tested but tentative from corners.
Jones -5 Wasteful in good positions.
Ferdinand – 6 Defended well through difficult spells.
Smalling – 5 Poor marking cost goal.
Evra – 6 Dealt with threat of Nasri well, with little assistance.
Park – 6 Disciplined but incompetent on the ball.
Scholes – 6 lacked any outlets as United sat deeper and deeper.
Carrick – MOTM 6 Inhibited the threat of Aguero and Silva well.
Giggs – 4 Extremely wasteful and rarely available.
Rooney – 3 Failed to provide United with an outlet.
Nani – 5 Gave Clichy problems at times.
Welbeck – 6 Added a genuine goal threat.
Valencia – 6 Should have started the match.
Young – 6 Threatened in brief cameo.
Steve has been lucky enough to be at both the 1999 and 2008 Champions League finals, seeing Manchester United lift the biggest trophy in the World, none more exciting than that faithful night in Barcelona in 99.
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