There are bad days, and there are really bad days. Yesterday was one of those days for United and United supporters, with the embarrassment of embarrassments at Old Trafford.
Losing to City is one thing, but losing 6-1 to City, at home no less, and losing to City in the manner that it all unfolded, makes it even harder to swallow. But while scorelines and football stats are what people tend to pay the most attention to, when you can look deeper and see how different a result could have been were it not for a couple of key moments, that’s what can drive the stake through even more.
As bad as it all ended, no one could have guessed it would from how it started. Manchester United started positively, dominating possession over the first 20 minutes and looking the more likely side to break the deadlock.
However, United were also the better side throughout the first half in the Community Shield in August, and United ended up down 2-0 at halftime before roaring back for a 3-2 win. And as was the case at Wembley, United were not only unable to translate early superiority into a lead, they fell behind. Jonny Evans made the schoolboy mistake of turning his attention to the ball and away from Mario Balotelli, who was afforded time and space to fire a shot that Evans’ lunge of desperation couldn’t keep from beating David de Gea.
That’s how it would remain until the whistle blew to end the first half, but at that point, United were still very much in the game. We’ve seen many times over the years how adept United are at overturning deficits, so the deficit was far from insurmountable, especially at home.
However, what any optimism didn’t account for was the potential of going down to ten men before there was time to get settled in after the restart. Evans got caught watching the ball instead of Balotelli again, allowing him to get by him with De Gea all by his lonesome. And as he was the last man, trying to prevent Balotelli from advancing without as much as a half-attempt to play the ball fully merited the decision that Mark Clattenburg made after the Italian went tumbling to the ground just as he reached the penalty area.
Still, there was still reason for optimism, because we’ve seen United do some great things even with a numbers disadvantage. Unfortunately, City were out for blood, and understandably so, so instead of seeing what good things can happen when you‘re trying to make a comeback down a man, we got to see the opposite end of the spectrum, to put it mildly.
It was game, set, match when Balotelli and Sergio Aguero made it 3-0, but as you‘d have expected, United continued to fight, and Darren Fletcher pulled one back with less than ten minutes to go. But as admirable as not giving up is, it only served to play into the hands of a team who had a real point to prove. And so, as the final minutes ticked down, disappointment turned into horror as City added a fourth, then a fifth, and finally a sixth.
City were a team on a mission, and they executed that mission very well yesterday, much to the chagrin of anyone who was in red. Possession for the game was nearly even, with City holding a slight edge at 51%, but United’s failure to turn their early dominance in that area into a goal proved to be costly, especially after Evans saw red.
But it’s far too early for anyone to say that the win means that the balance of power is shifting or that United’s hopes for a 20th title are done and dusted. Here come the clichés, sure, but they’re all true.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and if titles were won in October and not in May, then United would have far fewer titles, wouldn’t they? Fair play to City for their win, and they have every reason to celebrate, but there are more than two dozen matches left in the season, and as we’ve seen over the years, there are many more twists and turns to come.
Whatever side you’re on, derby wins mean bragging rights for several months, but it could end up being that a match against QPR or Swansea will have more of an impact on the outcome of the title race than this one, and that‘s something that would apply irrespective of yesterday‘s result.
In the end, the result, as bad as it is to look at, could amount to nothing more than a really bad day at the office if United have the right response. When you suffer embarrassment, you can either hang your hand and let it break you, or you can regroup, rise up, and come back better and stronger for it.
Roberto Mancini expects the latter, and more importantly, so does Fergie, who said in his post-match comments:
“We’ll come back. By January we’ll be okay. We usually get the show on the road in the second half of the season and that will have to be the case.”
“We’ve played all the teams around us and they have all to play each other so the second half of the season is important to us now.
“We will react, no question about that. It’s a perfect result for us to react to because there is a lot of embarrassment in the dressing room and that will make an impact.”
United’s penchant for never giving up may have proven detrimental yesterday, but that never-say-die attitude has seen the club overcome adversity, potentially crushing defeats, and being written off by the masses too many times to count. Should we expect anything less this time? I think not.
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