Manchester Civil War

05.01.2012

SPORTS

Vincent Kompany’s striking header gave Manchester City a 1-0 win against Manchester United at Etihad Stadium on Monday to overtake its rival for the Premier League lead with just two games remaining.

As the cross-town rivals have been locked in a two-way fight for the title for most of the season, Monday’s contest had been hyped up more than any of the matches in their 131-year history. Man City had defeated Man United earlier this season, in a game that will be remembered for years to come. The attractive football game saw City record a historic 6-1 win at Old Trafford that featured, among other things, Mario Balotelli’s t-shirt celebration and David Silva playing the pass of the season – a volleyed, sliced-forward ball to Edin Dzeko in the buildup to a late goal. Everything about the game was exciting. Even United’s only goal, scored by the much-missed Darren Fletcher, was a brilliant curled effort from outside the box. As exhilarating as that match was between the rivals, Monday’s game paled in comparison.

In what had been billed as the biggest Manchester derby ever, City was relentless, and didn’t let up until it had scored the vital goal just before intermission and United was left to ponder their lack of aggression. While United ventured forward in the opening minutes, it was City that controlled possessions in the first half and came close in the 25th minute. Sergio Aguero volleyed off target from an angle. That chance had the City supporters on their feet –including Aguero’s father-in-law, Argentina great Diego Maradona, who was watching from an executive box. United seemed content to soak up City’s attacks knowing a draw would all but end City’s title hopes. However, that plan backfired in the first-half stoppage time.

It came from David Silva’s corner kick from the right flank, the kind that once would have been intercepted by United’s defense, helmed by captain Nemanja Vidic, who went down with a season-ending injury in December. But instead his replacement Chris Smalling, who started in place of defender Jonny Evans, lost Kompany for a split second, which was long enough for the Belgian defender to out jump him and, with one powerful snap of his head, achieve City immortality. Kompany’s header not only provided the difference against Man United but it lifted him into Man City lore.

United’s frustration continued as City’s defense held strong, while City midfielder YaYa Touré curled a left-footed effort just wide in the 82nd as gaps opened up in midfield. City’s defender Gael Clichy had a shot saved by goalkeeper David De Gea in the United goal in the 8th and midfielder Samir Nasri thumped the turf in anger as he took too many touches before being tackled in front of goal in the 90th minute. Five minutes of stoppage time was not enough for the Red Devils to find a trademark equalizer and City’s fans –including Maradona– erupted in celebration at the final whistle.

The clubs are now level wit 83 points, and both have two games to play. City leads United on goal difference, having erased an eight-point deficit in three weeks. Kompany’s heroic shot put an end to United’s dominance on Monday nights. Since 2007-08, the Red Devils have won all eight of their Monday evening encounters. United failed to record a single shot on target– the first time that’s happened in almost three years, when it drew 0-0 at home to Arsenal. In that game, the failure was something of an anomaly, as United needed only a draw to clinch the title and spent the second half barely trying to score. In Monday’s game, a 0-0 would again have favored United, but they never were able to test City goalkeeper Joe Hart after Kompany’s header. In a way, City’s defensive performance is what makes the 1-0 score as impressive as the 6-1.

It’s the future where this match’s significance really lies. If City does go on to win the league, it could be a fundamental shift in the balance of power in which the Sky Blues come to dominate the Premier League for years to come. They haven’t won their first league title since 1968 just yet, but with two games to play they are primed for a massive breakthrough.

First, they are away to face the fifth-place Newcastle United, and then home to Queens Park Rangers. The Newcastle match is supposed to be the final difficult hurdle, though the way the Magpies were thrashed by Wigan this past weekend, we’re not sure they’ll stop City. Ironically, the last time City clinched the top-flight league, in ’68, was after a 4-3 win against Newcastle. Meanwhile, United is home to play Swansea City and will later travel to face Sunderland. The Sky Blues’ will be favored to win its remaining games, as well the Red Devils for its own, but the Premier League could be decided by goal difference for the first time in its 20-year history.

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