Manchester United overwhelmed at the Etihad

Posted by Musa Okwonga

There was no one cause of Manchester United's 4-1 derby defeat to Manchester City; instead, it was a matter of multiple organ failure. When the away team were only a goal down, the mere numbers were a cause for profound concern: halfway through the first, Manchester City had already had nine attempts on goal, and had completed twice as many passes. Moreover, so potent was the defensive screen in front of Manchester City's centre-backs that it may as well have been an energy shield.

Gary Neville, commenting for Sky Sports on his boyhood team Manchester United, deserves some measure of credit for keeping his voice steady as they were eviscerated.

David Moyes seemed to have made an eminently sensible selection of a starting 11 for this match, the only real worry being the appearance of Chris Smalling at right-back. Fabio might have expected a start. However, Shinji Kagawa, after a reasonable outing against Bayer Leverkusen, would not make it off the bench, and neither Wilfried Zaha nor Adnan Januzaj was even named as a substitute.

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Unfortunately, without that trickery or pace coming off the bench, and having chosen to sit as deep as they did, Manchester United then proceeded to produce one of their most ineffectual counterattacking performances in recent memory. Wayne Rooney, who scored a brilliant free kick late on, was the team's sole threat going forward.

Marouane Fellaini will attract much criticism, but most of it will be unfair. Remarkably, he completed almost as many passes as Yaya Toure in the first half, at a higher percentage; the problem, though, was that he and Michael Carrick were playing behind a front four whose ball retention, for the most part, was abject.

At times, Manchester United's midfield duo were lost in a light blue sea, resembling two polar bears clinging to the edge of a disappearing ice cap.

Credit must, of course, be given to Manchester City, who were four goals up after 50 minutes and who could conceivably have ended up with six or seven. Samir Nasri, who scored the final goal with a far-post volley, was excellent, retaining the ball very well high up on the left and coming infield with purpose. Vincent Kompany was terrific at centre-back, and Aleksandar Kolarov bested Antonio Valencia, who normally excels at his defensive duties, on his flank.

Yet the greatest praise should probably go to Sergio Aguero, who opened the scoring at the Etihad Stadium with an outstanding close-range volley and netted again in the second half. Manchester United striker Robin van Persie, looking on from the crowd after a groin injury had ruled him out, may have been as impressed with Aguero's finishing as he was mortified by the result.

In the days to come, there will be a prolonged inquest into what went wrong. If there are positives to be taken from this result, it is that this humiliation has occurred early enough in the season for the club to regroup. As Neville mentioned, there is no time for the club to feel sorry for itself, particularly with a Capital One Cup game on Wednesday against Liverpool.

This match and defeat against Manchester City, though, was more troubling than the 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford two years ago, since in that case Manchester United were undone by fine breakaways when chasing the game. Here they were simply overwhelmed.


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