Manchester: The new capital of English Football.

As the dust settles on Sunday’s historic Manchester derby Boner’s Brain offers a few thoughts on the hiding handed out at Old Trafford:

Manchester United have not become a bad team as a result of this match. They are still better than most teams in the English League. What happened on Sunday is that the problems they have had for a while were finally put under the microscope by a rampant Manchester City. Against most teams, United have got away with/will get away with their weaknesses, City are no longer most teams.

Manchester United look dangerously shallow defensively. The Da Silva twins are injury prone. Rio Ferdinand is both injury prone and looks shakier with every performance. Chris Smalling is still raw and learning his trade. Phil Jones apparently was not trusted for such a big occasion. Patrice Evra (of which more later) looks horrifically out of sorts whilst Jonny Evans still has a huge question mark over him. Neither has set the world alight since moving, but Alex Ferguson’s decision to allow both Jon O’Shea and Wes Brown to leave in the summer looks like it may have been misguided.  Neither are world beaters, but perhaps (although it is only a thought) one of them alongside Rio Ferdinand might have had a better afternoon than the catastrophe that Evans endured. It is hypothetical and improvable, but still food for thought.

On that note, how many more chances will Jonny Evans be afforded before Ferguson realises he is a liability? He is, quite simply not good enough for a side looking to win the league and the UEFA Champions League. Evans can have no complaints about his sending off. If he has any cause for complaint it’s that he was not put out of his misery sooner.

United’s lack of a midfield destroyer in the mode of a Nigel de Jong, or dare I say it? Gareth Barry has probably only been more apparent during the struggles against Barcelona. Darren Fletcher, post illness is a shadow of the player he once was. City seemed to pass through the middle of United’s midfield with alarming ease at times. Part of that was due to the phenomenal skills of the beguiling David Silva, but part of it was because United simply don’t have player good enough to play that central role for them to any great effect.

To that end, those heralding the return of Tom Cleverley would do well to well to remember that whilst undoubtedly a talented young player, he also only has a handful of appearances to his name. To say he will solve their midfield problem is unfair on the youngster and probably, at least in the short term, not true.

Whilst Cleverley has impressed, ensuring United fans point to him as a cause for optimism, some of their senior players are a cause for concern. Patrice Evra has not had a good game for a very long time. Four of the goals came from his side of the pitch. It would be harsh to suggest he is completely to blame, however for a defender once touted as the best left back in the world to see so many chances created and converted from the side he was protecting is a damning statistic. Rio Ferdinand too looks very poor at the moment. Is he fit? Has he fully recovered from all his injury problems? Is he a spent force? It’s hard to say at this stage, but he and Evra were both singled out by Ferguson for criticism after the game. It is not often that the manager highlights players publicly, so their form must be a concern to the Scotsman.

Lee Dixon said on Match of the Day Two that United have allowed their opponents 92 shots this season. In nine games, that is a huge amount. Law of averages states that if you keep letting teams shoot, they will eventually score. City took advantage of their 12 attempts on target (19 in total) by scoring 6. United will have to address this problem if they are to avoid coming unstuck again.

Roberto Mancini has endured a lot criticism. A lot of pressure has been put upon him too. On Sunday, he got most things right. Most managers would have jettisoned Mario Balotelli after yet another off field incident. Mancini showed faith in the young striker, who repaid him with two goals. Similarly, Mancini’s rotation of his strikers resulted in two goals each for Edin Dzeko and Balotelli as well as one for Aguero. Even more pleasing was the shot of Balotelli and Aguero, both

substituted, enjoying a joke and laughing on the bench. It was a stark contrast from the tantrums and sulking of one Carlos Tevez.

Mancini deployed Barry, Toure and Milner, all renowned hard workers, in his midfield. This gave David Silva licence to drift around the field causing havoc and creating chances at will. The others played their roles, no question, but the star of the show was Silva. Obviously the numerical advantage coupled with the afore-mentioned midfield struggles of the home side contributed to City’s dominance in the middle; however Mancini should be praised for getting his side set up just right.

Silva is probably, no, definitely the best player in the league at the moment. A goal, a couple of assists, including one outrageous volleyed through ball, all comprised a virtuoso display from the Spaniard. So sublime was he, members of the media were reaching for their thesauruses to find original ways to describe how superb he was. So far, he looks to be one of their best signings.

Manchester City have not won anything yet. You get three points for a 6-1 win. You get three points for a 1-0 win. Undoubtedly this was huge for their confidence. They have extended not only their points advantage over their rivals, but also their goal difference. A long way to go, and many tough games ahead, but a blow in psychological and real terms was struck for the Blues. At the risk of dusting off a cliché, it will be interesting to see how they fare against the “lesser teams”. It is one thing to raise yourselves for a huge game against your biggest rivals, it is quite another to find a winner away at Stoke after they have stifled you as an attacking force all afternoon. The reason Manchester United are as successful as they are is the sheer will to overcome even the most stubborn opponents. Do City possess that will yet? Time will tell.

 I realise that a lot of my thoughts above paint a very negative picture for Manchester United. I am by no means suggesting that they are out of the running. I still think that they will be there or thereabouts come May. What I would say, is that they now need to accept that their “noisy neighbours” are actually very much genuine challengers. Perhaps, United are no longer going to have things their own way.

An interesting season is shaping up for us to watch. I for one; can’t wait for the return match.



  1. Great article! And to be honest, the only one I’ve read regarding the horror show that was Sunday’s lunch-time kick-off.

    Surprisingly for someone from Manchester I am actually a Man U fan. All your points are spot on. Rio’s appears to have lost a worrying amount of weight and (not only for that reason of course) is past it. Evra – tbh I think he’s just lost the will/ desire.

    Evans was, surprisingly, perhaps having one of his better games in the first half, but you just know that there’s always a mistake in him. Although his positioning is 99% of the time like a blindfolded drunkard, he was actually in a decent position – in front of the attacker – to intercept the ball, but ended up bringing him down?!?! I’ve only ever questioned Fergie about 2 things – and they are the loyalty he gives to playing Carrick and Evans.

    In fact there’s a 3rd thing. Apart from needing to replace VDS, Fergie had one main job in the Summer transfer window – buy one (at least) world-class midfielder. Saying that ‘there’s no value in the market’ simply isn’t good enough. Value is determined by demand, and united (as has been shown against Barca in the CL final) are in desperate need of a creative midfielder. Why he didn’t buy one I don’t know, but I can only hope he’s learned his lesson now and will be after Moderic or De Rossi come January. Cleverly might be great one day, but as you say he’s not got the experience to take control at such a young age (and they need 2 CMs in total anyway!).

    Also, because of the lack of control in midfield and defense, Wayne Rooney ends up playing most of games like these in his own half! What a waste of a top-class striker!

    I wouldn’t be surprised if United win the league still, however. But I just hope this was the kick in the face they needed. I was telling Leo to lay Man U and was amazed that City were 3/1 to win the game. Watching the pre-match reviews on sky beforehand everyone was saying: “They’ve not been beat at home in 17 months” etc. etc. Did they not watch the Norwich game 2 weeks earlier where United grabbed a late-equalizer in the last minute?

    A result like this was only a matter of time, but the most important thing in football is how you react to games like this, and I expect a massive one from SAF and the team as a whole.

    P.s. I don’t think it was a coincidence that Fergie singled out Evra and Rio at the end of the match; they’ll be out of there pretty soon (he’s already taken the captaincy from Rio some time ago).

  2. Some interesting points you pick up there. United are still a good side, better than most in the league, but as you rightly say, the warning signs were clear to see in some of their other games. But for some wastefulness in front of goal, Norwich could easily have come away handsome winners. United seem to have got away with papering over some cracks, but now there is a genuinely strong contender in City they aren’t always going to be so lucky. Still, it’s better this way than a procession to the title for one side. Although United fans might not agree.

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