Twelve-point gap is real, but also misleading

Posted by Musa Okwonga

What a game this was. There was a 15-point gap between the sides at the start Monday, but during the game the margins were infinitesimal. Manchester City would win 2-1 at Old Trafford, with Vincent Kompany being named man of the match despite scoring (somewhat unluckily) an own goal.

-- Aguero fires in the winner
-- Martin: City pride restored

Yet the star of the show, who scored City's opening goal, was arguably James Milner. The England midfielder pressed with energy and purpose from the opening minute, and his overlapping with Pablo Zabaleta was the chief cause of Patrice Evra's discomfort in the first half.

Elsewhere, David Silva and Samir Nasri flitted elegantly across the top of the box. The latter's fine performance was a thing of mystery: It seems that he motivates himself mostly for the games when most of the world is watching. If he had the application of Zabaleta, perhaps Manchester City's outstanding player of the season, then the gap in the league would be substantially smaller.

But this is a hypothetical. What actually happened was that Manchester City forced the issue throughout, ending up with more than 130 more completed passes than their hosts (339-205, according to Opta) and with 60 percent possession. They asserted themselves like the home side and were rewarded accordingly.

Though Manchester United went toe-to-toe with City in a 4-2-3-1 formation, United were exposed by the power of Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure through the middle. Though they looked bright in patches, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney were ultimately ineffectual.

The game stayed goalless until halftime, and fittingly it was Milner who opened the scoring just beyond the interval; he drove forward and reaped the benefits of his entrepreneurship, sending home a deflected drive through a thicket of defenders legs.

Robin van Persie, goalless now in nine games, still played a key creative role, sending in an excellent free kick that Phil Jones headed off Kompany's back. But it was -- perhaps inevitably -- Sergio Aguero who would divide two teams so evenly matched.

Speed skating across the face of the back four, the late substitute cut to his right, away from the spot, before angling a furious strike up past David De Gea at his near post.

And so the deficit is 12 points, and City must wonder why they have allowed themselves to fall so far behind. On this evidence, they will again be a compelling presence in the title race; at present, though, they have merely served an unpleasant reminder that the margin is deceptively wide.

ESPN Conversations