Roberto Mancini did an excellent job of picking up his players from their horrendous late March – early April collapse. Having Wolves on the schedule is always nice, but instead of folding the title race, City just turned up the pressure on Manchester United, culminating in their 1-0 derby win that puts them back at the top of the table.
For a long time it looked like Mancini was the man losing his cool, while his team acted accordingly. Mario Balotelli destroyed any good patch on the team, while Mancini integrating Carlos Tevez back in the squad didn’t have the immediate effect he hoped to get. City this season are based on a strong midfield and David Silva’s shining moments. There were very few of them during those dark days for the biggest spenders in England.
But everything you expect from United suddenly turned sour. If Ashley Young’s behavior on the pitch had anything to do with it we’ll never know, but for the first time it looked like Alex Ferguson wasn’t defending his player. He couldn’t have kept a straight face and said Young wasn’t diving. Not putting Ashley Young in the lineup against Manchester City was another mistake he made. Not starting with Danny Welbeck and signaling from the first moment that all he wants is a draw was the bigger on, in the grand scheme of things.
While Silva and Nasri continued to disappoint (I simply don’t understand why Nasri is getting so much credit), Yaya Toure had one of his best games in recent week, while Gareth Barry had one of his best games in City uniform. It’s hard to look past the slowness of Barry at times, but he’s got an excellent football mind. When he doesn’t actually have to chase players down (remember Mesut Ozil?) Barry is quite a defensive asset, displaying his perfect timing and positioning at the Etihad on Monday evening.
United came to steal a game, but it’s hard to do it again and again, especially against a better side. United do have their advantages, but none of them played out in the derby. The Giggs – Scholes duo in the middle of the Park had no influence what so ever, busy with clearing and having a very difficult time finding a frustrated Wayne Rooney, too alone up front.
Rooney produced a rare dud for him this season, but his behavior was the more troubling aspect of his performance. Cheating in football is encouraged, because it doesn’t get punished. Diving and simply misdirecting the referee is a common disease in the game, but sometimes you expect more from the biggest stars.
Rooney’s excessive talking with the referee, complaining about every tiny thing, while raising his hand to claim hand ball at every opportunity seemed a bit much. United to get too harshly criticized for bad refereeing in their favor, but when Rooney and the manager act like that, it’s not surprising to see that antagonism towards them.
Alex Ferguson keeps talking about behavior and loves to lecture his rivals, but he doesn’t behave accordingly to the same standards he preaches. His players, his best player at least, don’t measure up to that dual standard as well. What happens on the pitch is often divided from what happens on the sidelines and the ethical part of the match, but when too many factors weigh in and converge from both sides, it might not be that surprising to see United crack under the pressure.