Manchester City back in pole position
Not quite job done as far as the title race is concerned, but a job very well done by Manchester City in the big Manchester Derby this morning puts them in pole position with only two games to go.
Now level on 83 points with United, with a significantly better (eight goal) goal difference, City can wrap up their first title in 44 years by ensuring maximum points at Newcastle and at home against Queens Park Rangers.
For United, recent slip-ups against Everton and Wigan let City back into the race and, with Carlos Tevez adding late impetus and quality, it’s an invitation City have accepted.
This was another disciplined and heady performance from a City side that has been very well marshaled by the tactics of Roberto Mancini.
Here he always had the upper hand over Sir Alex Ferguson, drawing a late reaction of frustration from the United manager.
Protecting a three point lead heading into this much hyped derby, it was perhaps not a great surprise to see Ferguson go for defensive approach.
But it came back to haunt him.
Perhaps the memory of being opened up, time and time again, in October, at home, also played a role in his conservative tactics.
Either way, the stall and tactics were set.
United would congest the midfield, aiming to deny space to Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Samir Nasri and David Silva.
They would sit deep, absorb and hope to hit City on the counter.
For Roberto Mancini’s men, the key would not only be to be patient in the front third, but to ensure they blunted and controlled the United counter.
In the opening exchanges it looked like Ferguson’s strategy might work, but gradually, with more and more possession, City started to wear United down.
Nasri in particular always looked dangerous, getting on the outside of United’s narrow formation and combining with the likes of Silva, Tevez and Aguero. There was some lovely work on the ball.
While there weren’t many opportunities, City were knocking, eventually opening the door from a set piece goal right on half-time.
Ferguson would have to react, and soon into the second half he introduced Danny Wellbeck for Park Ji-Sung, going to two up front.
But Mancini had more cards to play, and by introducing Nigel De Jong for Carlos Tevez, and later Micah Richards for Silva, City’s tactics were clear.
They were now intent on protecting the lead and countering for a second through the power of Yaya Toure and industry of Aguero.
It worked a treat, and while they couldn’t build on their lead, Joe Hart was rarely in danger.
City showed how strong and adaptable their squad is, able to seamlessly shift from the attacking play of the first period to the more pragmatic work of the second.
Mancini’s tactical flexibility and the ability of the players to execute it has been the hallmark of their season, and it now looks like it might be enough to give them a long awaited EPL title.
Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA
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