Blue is the colour
Chris Burton takes a look at the main talking points from an entertaining Manchester derby which saw City overcome United at Old Trafford.
Last Updated: 08/04/13 11:21pm
Sergio Aguero: Stepped off the bench to decide Manchester derby
In all likelihood, Manchester City's 2-1 victory over Manchester United on Monday will only delay the inevitable - with United still 12 points clear at the top of the Premier League with seven games left to play.
They have, however, ensured that the race goes on and that they will head into next weekend's FA Cup semi-final clash with Chelsea full of confidence and with momentum firmly behind them.
United have enough experienced heads on and off the field to suggest that they will have put a derby defeat to the back of their mind long before they next take to the field, but setbacks against local rivals are always difficult to stomach and they must endeavour to make the disappointment work in their favour - with Stoke City probably readying themselves for a backlash on Sunday.
Manchester United made four changes to the side which came unstuck in their last outing - a defeat by Chelsea in an FA Cup quarter-final replay. Wayne Rooney was returned to their starting XI for the first time since picking up a groin injury on international duty with England. He was paired alongside Robin van Persie in attack. Rafael slotted in at right-back, while the experience of Ashley Young and Ryan Giggs was drafted into midfield.
Roberto Mancini made just two changes to his Manchester City side, and both helped to see the Blues over the line. Matija Nastasic returned to partner skipper Vincent Kompany at the heart of the back four, and he barely put a foot wrong against United's star-studded frontline. James Milner was also recalled - with Edin Dzeko the man to miss out as the Blues looked to pack the midfield.
In selecting Michael Carrick and Giggs alongside each other in the middle of the park, United were keen to see plenty of the ball and try to make the most of the mobility and pace they possessed in the final third. Danny Welbeck was selected for his hard running, but he is not at his best out wide and struggled to make much of an impact as he traded flanks with Young on a regular basis. The Red Devils also need to find a way of getting Van Persie firing again, as he continues to work hard for the team but is finding clear sights of goal hard to come by. He often went looking for the ball on Monday, and was forced away from goal on many occasions.
City decided to start with five men strung across midfield, with David Silva asked to provide support to lone frontman Carlos Tevez from a deep-lying post. That approach worked well early on, as the Blues bossed possession and pegged United back. They were able to frustrate the hosts and had enough battle-hardened professionals within their ranks to stand up to the physical test they faced at times. With no Dzeko up top to aim at, they looked to play their way out from the back and were able to get the ball to the likes of Samir Nasri and Silva in areas in which they could pull the strings.
There were only 10 minutes remaining when Sir Alex Ferguson turned to his bench for the first time. He sent on Antonio Valencia in place of Welbeck after seeing Sergio Aguero fire City back in front. Valencia is a willing runner, but he is not a match-winner - especially when faced with a defence looking to shut up shop. Javier Hernandez is capable of altering the course of a game, but he was given just five minutes in place of Rooney and saw little of the ball. United's final change was forced upon them in the dying seconds, with Young hobbling off to be replaced by Shinji Kagawa.
The first substitution of the evening saw Aguero sent on in place of Nasri, with 71 minutes on the clock, and he took less than seven minutes to make a telling impact. Mancini said prior to the game that the Argentine was not fit enough to start, but he looked sharp enough as he held off two defenders and rifled in a stunning solo winner. City's final two changes were intended to waste time, with Joleon Lescott replacing Silva and Tevez given an opportunity to play pantomime villain in stoppage-time as he trudged off to make way for Javi Garcia.
Mike Dean was able to keep a lid on proceedings for the most part, with there only one occasion in which tempers boiled over and an unsightly melee erupted. The man in the middle ended up producing eight yellow cards, but five of them came in the last five minutes as tired legs and frustration from the home side began to take its toll. The tackle which saw Rooney cautioned was far from clever, but he did not make contact with Milner and that ultimately got him off the hook. All of the other bookings were fair, with the only surprise being that Giggs did not see yellow given that he was tightly sprung from the off and flew into a few reckless challenges.
Van Persie's goal drought continues, with the Dutchman having now gone 10 games without finding the back of the net. In truth, he never looked like taking his Premier League tally for the season on to 20. He has been around long enough to know that one goal is all it takes to open the floodgates again, but he will be a touch concerned about how long he is having to wait for that effort. Rooney also looked a little flat, but he was coming back from injury and has a knack of exploding into life in the blink of an eye.
Aguero played a leading role in City's successful title charge last season, with his contribution to the cause made up of much more than a dramatic winner with the last kick of the campaign. He has been unable to replicate those heroics this term, but he has still been a big miss through injury of late. He showed with one flash of brilliance at Old Trafford what he is capable of when on top of his game, with City once again grateful to their South American striker for stepping up when they needed him most. Milner also showed how important he is to Mancini's plans, with hard workers as important to the cause as the flashy playmakers who make City tick.
Manchester United still have one hand on the title and are unlikely to lose any sleep on the back of what was just their fourth defeat of the season. They have seven games in which to get over the line, and no longer have any other distractions to contend with after crashing out of Europe and domestic cup competitions. With silverware all but secured for this season, Ferguson is likely to be turning one eye to the summer and possible additions. He may look at the City game and feel that added creativity, especially in wide areas, is required.
Mancini conceded afterwards that he considers the title race to still be 'finished', and he does not have the look of a man trying to get under United's skin with mind games. It would take something special for City to get back into the chase, so they need to make sure they wrap up second spot and end the season with momentum to carry into next term. They also have the FA Cup to aim at, and will be determined to land that particular prize and avoid ending the season empty-handed.