1. Can you imagine being told in May that the next time we came to the Stadium of Light we would finish the game 18 points clear? I don’t think anything could have brightened our mood that day but it certainly would have helped. If there was to be any silver lining to the painful last minute of last season it was that Sir Alex Ferguson could use the hurt and disappointment to our advantage. When you consider the difference between us and City now, it is clear that Ferguson has used last season as motivation for this season, with us only dropping points in 5 games, compared to the 12 games they’ve failed to win. We will be at least 15 points clear of them on derby day next Monday.
2. Michael Carrick was rightly named Man of the Match after he bossed the midfield, particularly in the first half. He kept playing the ball forward and was repeatedly in the right place at the right time to make an important interception or tackle. In the first half he completed 46 of his 48 passes (96%) and over the 90 minutes completed 83 of 91 (91%), over 30 passes more than any player on the pitch. He has been such an important player for us this season and none of our other midfield options come close to matching him for influence.
3. Shinji Kagawa had a great first half too, with only Carrick seeing more of the ball than him, as Sunderland foolishly gave him lots of time and space on the ball. I love watching him play. He is filling the Berbatov shaped hole in my heart, with his silky touches and great vision. He still struggles to have the same impact on the game in the second half though and like usual was subbed off. Still, you think this year he’s just been warming up and next season we’ll see the best of him.
4. The away fans were on good form, like usual, and thoroughly enjoyed rubbing Sunderland’s noses in it after their behaviour last season. “Where’s your famous City songs?” they mocked. There were also a few rounds of “going down” and “we’re having a party on derby day” too. If Wigan beat Norwich today and Aston Villa beat Liverpool tomorrow, Sunderland will find themselves in the relegation zone.
5. Too often this season we’ve been left to complain about the players on the wings. Antonio Valencia’s fall from grace after last season’s brilliant form has been painful to watch. Today he had more about him than usual, although that probably says more about Sunderland’s defence. Ashley Young was poor though. After a good few games when he first signed he’s really struggled to show that he’s anything like the quality you would expect from a United players. It’s fairly shocking we spent £18m on a player of his ability in the last year of his contract. Patience in wearing thin. Maybe he can put in a good performance against City, as he did away from home, but I’d much rather see Nani in the starting line-up when he returns from his hamstring injury.
6. The last time we conceded a goal in the league was January which is a brilliant achievement and says a lot about our defence. The difference we’ve seen since Nemanja Vidic has returned has been fantastic, but that’s not to take anything away from Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans who have also been great. It’s great for David de Gea’s confidence too. Unfortunately, Rafael da Silva went off injured and that is a concern ahead of Chelsea. Phil Jones is probably a better option at right back than Chris Smalling, if he is to return as Ferguson suggested, because of his crossing ability. Patrice Evra will likely come back in to the starting team but Buttner put in a good performance. He’s probably better going forward than he is defensively but he looked decent enough today.
7. Robin van Persie claimed the goal but I doubt the dubious goals panel will be having that. Whilst he certainly deserves the credit for making the goal, after somehow managing to get a shot away from an unlikely position of the edge of the box, his effort was off target. Titus Bramble kneed it in and Van Persie celebrated like he needed it. In the dying seconds of the game he had the opportunity to make it 2-0 when Ashley Young put it on a plate for him but he ended up making Mignolet look good. He’s lost his spark in front of goal over the past few weeks and you imagine that it will be Rooney and Chicharito (with his 7 goals in 10 games against Chelsea) who will start on Monday.
8. Another game crossed off and another week closing to claiming that 20th title. It’s painfully close now. I really hope the lads give a good account of themselves against City, give them a good beating, and put it beyond any doubt that the title is ours. There isn’t the excitement or tension of seasons gone by but I genuinely couldn’t care less about that. We want our trophy back!