Man City relishing role reversal

August 19, 2007
(Archive)

'The Temple of Doom' was an arena of undisguised glee. Having mockingly bestowed that rather unflattering moniker on the City of Manchester Stadium, it was only to be expected that Manchester City fans would savour the downfall of Sir Alex Ferguson and his team.

EmpicsRichard Dunne and Kasper Schmeichel show their relief after the final whistle.

However temporary the change in the balance of power in Manchester, City are relishing it. The much-mocked underdogs are not accustomed to being in the ascendance, and they are milking it. Taunts of 'going down' won't prove accurate prophesies, but were savoured by the home support. League tables, with United seven points adrift of City, are in danger of being framed.

Because, at the ground where United won the Premier League last season, they took a step towards relinquishing it. Three games have produced a mere two points, and that sluggish start is without facing their title rivals.

And each ceded point is becoming more costly. United accomplished the treble while dropping 35 points. In the last four seasons, the champions have yielded an average of 22.75. 'We've left ourselves an uphill struggle,' admitted Ferguson. 'Ten years ago, we could handle it.' And now?

The implication is that it is harder than ever, despite huge expenditure. Record investment was rewarded, at the City of Manchester Stadium, with the good, the bad and the indifferent, in the shape of Owen Hargreaves, Nani and Carlos Tevez respectively. City's carefree attitude to spending has caught the eye, but their winner came from a rather cheaper acquisition.

Geovanni once cost Barcelona £12million. Sven-Goran Eriksson obtained him on a free transfer during a month of almost impeccable decision-making. If his start today was a consequence of Stephen Ireland's illness, it brought his second goal of the Premier League season.

And at this formative stage of the campaign, he has outscored Manchester United. That is not for a lack of chances. As Ferguson admitted: 'We had so many opportunities to win it ourselves. It's our own fault. I can't fault the performance. It was outstanding. We completely dominated the match.'

That is dubious but, as Eriksson conceded: 'If you could have points for possession on the ball and shots on target and off target, we would have lost.'

Even if victors can afford to be magnanimous, there was a lightness of touch in Eriksson's comments. Devoid of animosity, he sympathised with Ferguson, playing for the first time without Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney in the league. Yet, though the Scot produced a parody of the Eriksson England knew - though City were better in the first half than the second - his imitation appeared a form of flattery today.

Because United almost mirrored City's 4-2-3-1 formation in a match where attacking midfielders far outnumbered actual forwards. Stationed further back, however, Owen Hargreaves was United's greatest cause for optimism.

On an accomplished debut, Hargreaves expertly patrolled the area in front of the United back four. Even for the City goal, he was blameless, with Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick failing to track back and assist him.

With Hargreaves lured across to track Elano, the Brazilian squared the ball for his compatriot and Geovanni's curling drive, aided by a deflection off Nemanja Vidic, nestled in the bottom corner of Edwin van der Sar's net.

It was an isolated attack, and the second half contained still fewer, though Vedran Corluka almost scored with a 35-yard thunderbolt. United, in contrast, spend much of the game on the attack without exploiting Kasper Schmeichel's fallibility. Indeed, and at the risk of being ungenerous, it is hard to identify a less convincing keeper who has begun his career with three successive clean sheets.

EmpicsRio Ferdinand: Groin injury

But this was a match to outline the importance of Rooney and Ronaldo to the United cause. In their absence, the lone striker was the tireless Tevez. Serenaded with superlatives by Ferguson on his debut, his was an afternoon of frustration. Twice he advanced on goal, but mustered a shot on neither occasion because the Argentine, swift as he is, was outpaced by Micah Richards. He ensured City's decision to opt for a high defensive line did not backfire while one interception - when Giggs' inviting low cross merely required a touch - was outstanding.

Tevez's radar was marginally askew. Nani's was going haywire. In United's efforts to work an overlap in midfield, the extra man was often the Portuguese, but his efforts suggested shooting is not yet his forte. His crossing, too, varied in quality and the criticisms that used to be levelled at Cristiano Ronaldo - whether he supplied the end product to accompany his undoubted skill - may now be transferred to the younger winger. He only lasted an hour before, following one particularly wayward cross, Ferguson replaced him with Chris Eagles after a chastening derby debut.

The introduction of the callow Frazier Campbell followed and eventually he and Tevez were accompanied in attack by Vidic. Tevez missed a glorious chance to equalise when he found space on the far post in the final minute, Sven celebrated and the man who left the City of Manchester Stadium with a sense of doom was Sir Alex Ferguson.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Micah Richards - A quite majestic performance at the heart of the City defence. 'This young man is 19 years old and to have a defender that strong, so quick, I don't remember having that with anyone. That combination is very, very rare,' was Eriksson's view.

MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: The resilience displayed by a band of virtual strangers was remarkable, even if it was based on the dependability of two of the players Eriksson inherited, Richards and Richard Dunne. Rolando Bianchi, meanwhile, was demoted to the bench because the Swede expected counter-attacking to be a feature of the match and wanted a speedier striker. Not for the first time, his analysis was correct.

MANCHESTER UNITED VERDICT: The decision not to sign a conventional centre-forward is looking ever more costly, though Tevez led the line with great enthusiasm. Only Giggs and Hargreaves left with their reputations enhanced, however, and Nani's display suggests he requires time to acclimatise.

EIGHT AND COUNTING: Eriksson has confirmed he is still looking for more players, who could include another goalkeeper and 'one or two midfielders'.

A NEW SVEN? The Manchester City manager has been spotted on the touchline more often and appears more demonstrative. His self deprecating verdict: 'When I go out, nobody hears me, so I have to wait until there is a stop in the game. You saw me with other eyes when I was England manager.'


  • Any comments? Email Newsdesk