Rooney had some good moments, but Agüero scored City’s winner with customary ease.
If Wayne Rooney had his own TV show, you’d imagine the intro wouldn’t be too dissimilar to the all-time great comedy Arrested Development. “Now the story of a wealthy football club who lost everything, and the one player who had no choice but to keep them all together.” As has been true for more seasons than I dare to count, the promise of an opening in the captain’s absence has come and gone with only a Rooney-shaped hole that can only be filled with a Rooney-shaped Rooney.
With United’s third least favourite child back after his three game suspension and a hard fought draw against Chelsea, Manchester United were as ready as they’d ever be as the bus rolled into the Etihad for battle with the noisy neighbours of City. David Silva was missing, as had City themselves during their last three games (dropping a lead to draw in Europe and then losing against West Ham and Newcastle). The odds were tight and the result really could have gone either way.
Of course, it went the way that everyone deep down had expected, but not to the level anticipated. City fought to a 1-0 victory thanks to a goal from Sergio Agüero, but it could have been so different. Here we discuss the talking points from the game and welcome comments from both sets of fans.
How on earth did United only keep it to 1-0?
Imagine being United in this game. Rafael is injured (more on that, later), your defensive options are depleted, Falcao is spending more time off the pitch during games than on it, Robin van Persie is out of form and then, after all of that, Chris Smalling went off and made a huge mistake.
Smalling was cautioned midway through the first half for blocking a Joe Hart kick. It was needless and still beggars belief as to why he didn’t just walk away. Before the first half was even close to being over, Smalling one-upped himself by taking out James Milner and pulling a face like a small child being caught drawing penises across the living room wall. That was enough for referee Michael Oliver who dished out the second yellow and subsequent marching orders. Both cards were deserved but only he will know what was going through that frozen banana of a brain of his.
Somehow, Smalling wasn’t even the only player testing the referee. City could have easily argued for three penalties, most notably on the strike of the half time whistle as Yaya Toure went down clumsily with Marcus Rojo diving in behind him. Contact was minimal at best, but lesser challenges have been given in the past.
By the time Gael Clichy picked out Aguero for his goal, United looked to be out of the game with a makeshift backline that included a returning Michael Carrick. Yet, by the end of the game it was City who were bringing on midfield reinforcements and fending off an increasingly dangerous United attack. At one point, Rooney ran straight through City’s defence and was unlucky not to score, as was Angel di Maria as the ball was slotted in front of him, only for Joe Hart to make a stretched save across the path of goal.
Plaudits can also go to David de Gea (Marry me!) for yet another streak of fine saves, as well as to Luke Shaw who looked far more confident in his role than in previous weeks. Even Fellaini, yet again, didn’t look out of place with his power and ability to reclaim possession when necessary. The only real weak links, Smalling already noted, were Antonio Valencia – who has never suited right back, and Daley Blind who found himself no match for an increasingly confident Toure. Van Persie was practically a non-entity but this was not necessarily his own fault.
With ten men on the pitch, we should have been on a plate for breakfast with vodka rocks and a piece of toast. Instead, through determination and the luck of officiating amongst City’s own frailties, United held fire and even came close to bridging the gap. This was not a defeat to be defeatist about: Louis van Gaal has brought the fight back to the club. All we need now are a few more players and a few less casualties.
Isn’t training supposed to help players?
As noted earlier, Rafael was out of action thanks to a knock in training. During the game, Rojo had to be substituted after dislocating his shoulder. Those two can now join Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Falcao and Ashley Young on the injury list. I mean, seriously? Come on!
There have been upwards of 30 notable injuries since July 15th, a number that almost sounds like a joke. Even with the recent history of Man Utd and their fitness woes, that number just sounds far too high. Have we bought a team made of glass, or is this a bigger issue that has to be addressed?
Now the jury may still be out on science but too many of these problems are occurring on the training ground. There are only so many games that we can field a back four of Shaw, McNair, Carrick and Valencia. Even the initial pairing of Smalling and Rojo wouldn’t start for most Premier League sides. We need to preserve our players instead of throwing booze on a $6300 suit and trying to wear it the next day.
Any club missing Jones, Falcao and Rafael is going to suffer, but United feel it more with their distinct lack of suitable depth to fill the gaps. If Kevin Strootman is our number one January target, I hope at least one experienced centre-back is our numbers two through to twenty.
Then again, if they’re going to turn to dust as soon as they walk out into the AON Training Complex, what good are new signings anyway?
Pundits have their narrative, reality be damned
The kindest thing you can say about Robbie Savage is that he isn’t troubled by the absence of context when appropriating facts at face value. To put it another way, the guy just shouts and hopes that whatever comes out makes the most amount of sense.
If you missed his snippet on the BBC website or never listen to 606 for fear of being sucked into the tabloid hackery that it has become, Savage suggested in his post-match spiel that big questions have to be asked of Louis van Gaal’s reign as manager of Man United.
Well let’s do that, shall we?
“Louis van Gaal, why are Manchester United coming out of two big games with the same results as last season, except for the far better scores and the big game fight-to-the-end attitude that had deserted the team under the previous regime?”
“Louis van Gaal, why are Manchester United now playing with more tenacity, more team spirit and more energy than last season, despite being made up of a significant number of players who weren’t at the club last season and another section of players who were mentally ruined under David Moyes?”
“Louis van Gaal, why are Manchester United now an exciting team to watch again?”
To put this all into perspective, there is one point separating United and Everton from an equally poor Liverpool and Tottenham. With ten games gone and a team who Van Gaal has repeatedly stated will require until November to start gelling properly, we are finally in November and seeing a team starting to gel properly. The prophecy is beginning to manifest itself.
Of course, the media already have their stories written; The Guardian will no doubt post the same story a hundred times this season whilst Savage’s agenda is as Ann as the nose on plain’s face – as long as the points aren’t coming, United will be ripe for any old critique, no matter how unfounded. They all need to pay a bit closer attention to what is happening on the pitch and a little less towards sensationalism. The season is young; don’t write anybody off just yet.
Conclusions! (You don’t have time for my conclusions!)
Never has a loss seemed such a positive result. With a tin can team and a foolish red card that threw this game on its head, United can still hold their heads high on the way back to Carrington this week. Just don’t be surprised if Chris Smalling isn’t seen for a very long time.
Problems still exist in the squad. Will this squad make a Champions League spot? Possibly. Matches against the likes of West Brom and Leicester have to go better than they have and we cannot afford to lose more first team players for any reason. Given the more competitive games we’re now seeing though, the gulf between our rivals and us doesn’t seem as noticeable as last season. If United can fix their injury problems and continue improving and fighting for results, there’s no reason why United can’t snatch all eighteen points when Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs come knocking.
Next week, we move on to Crystal Palace at home. We’re due to deliver a hammering at some point, but will it be against Neil Warnock’s side?
Anyway, there’s always money in the (Glazers’) banana stand.