Sport Soccer

Saturday 24 February 2018

Fergie silences noisy neighbours

Manchester City 2 , Manchester Utd 3, Henry Winter

And so the elite season unfolds with one of the classic sights of English football: Manchester United at full throttle, red arrows in human form, flying forward and unleashing all their skill, character and squad resources first to reel in opponents and then send them reeling.

Nobody really needed reminding of United's DNA but they demonstrated it anyway: never give up, death or glory, attack, attack, attack.

This was only the Community Shield but it was also the Manchester derby. Trailing 2-0 at the break, United suddenly transformed into supermen, as if they had stepped from a phone-box not the dressing-room.

Alex Ferguson doubtless reminded them of their responsibility to the red shirt and their huge support, of the identity of the opposition, such loud neighbours of late. United turned into the Noise Abatement Society, tearing into City, silencing them with endless attacks, with even defenders like Jonny Evans making runs upfield.

Ferguson made a key tactical tweak at the interval, withdrawing the quiet Michael Carrick and sending on the hugely promising Tom Cleverley.

The youngster, his game-craft sharpened by time on loan under Roberto Martinez at Wigan Athletic, knitted the midfield together, snapping into tackles and playing some fine passes, many first time.

At one point in the second half, United's average age was 22.2, a reminder of how Ferguson is rejuvenating his side. Their goals were scored by Chris Smalling (21) and a brace from Nani (24). Danny Welbeck (20) and Phil Jones (19) acquitted themselves particularly well. As well as the youthful dynamism, there was a pace about United, a speed of mind and body that caught City out.

The Community Shield is often depicted as the mock exam of English football, an eye-opener for areas requiring attention before more significant tests as much as a pipe-opener to the season. United's new 'keeper David De Gea betrayed uncertainty when City came calling towards the end of the first half.

After Patrice Evra caught James Milner, David Silva swept over a free-kick that Joleon Lescott was most alive to. Rio Ferdinand was slow to react while De Gea could have taken responsibility.

As the game inched into injury-time, De Gea's reputation suffered further damage, albeit temporary. Maybe the 'keeper has been reading about Edin Dzeko and did not expect much of a threat. The Bosnian let fly, the ball veering late and totally deceiving De Gea. For a 'keeper so highly regarded in footballing circles, it was a bad mistake.

As De Gea trudged off at the break, Jamie Redknapp pointed out on Sky that the 'keeper had conceded 11 goals to shots from outside the box in Spain last season. All the half-time talk was of whether De Gea was good enough, and there was even ridiculous chatter mentioning Massimo Taibi, a name to make the Stretford End's blood turn cold.

An illustrious predecessor, Peter Schmeichel, endured an awkward debut for United, and Jaap Stam was given the runaround shortly after joining by Nicolas Anelka in the Charity Shield, prompting one columnist to muse over "whether Ferguson has spent £11m on a lamp-post".

It hardly needs re-stating that Stam and Schmeichel recovered to become revered regulars.

De Gea has work to do but it is simply ludicrous to write him off now, especially as he made an exceptional save in the second period. He was a spectator for a while as United launched into one of their famous comebacks in a half that had more highlights than Jones' hair. Within seven minutes, Richards had fouled Young, who lifted in a terrific free-kick. Dzeko forgot to follow Smalling, who steered the ball past Joe Hart.


Game on. Six minutes later, United equalised with a sensational goal, the ball moving on an irresistible odyssey through City's defence, speeding between Cleverley, Rooney, Nani, Rooney and Cleverley before Nani applied the coup de grace. Ferguson's delight at drawing level, and in such style, was inescapable.

There was much for him to admire. Jones playing a great pass with the outside of his foot to release Young. Rooney charging through. De Gea saving well from Adam Johnson. Welbeck tracking back selflessly. Jones delivering a reverse pass to Rooney. Anderson juggling the ball around Yaya Toure. And then nirvana, Vincent Kompany making a rare mistake, allowing Nani to canter through and around Hart to seal the comeback and victory.

As United celebrated, question marks clung to City. Roberto Mancini was again too cautious in his substitutions. He brought on a holding midfielder in Gareth Barry, a left-back in Gael Clichy and a winger in Johnson, his most positive move. If Sergio Aguero, who has had blisters after wearing the wrong boots, was deemed fit enough for the bench, he was surely fit enough to come on.

If City are to make up those "five yards" that Mancini believes United are ahead, they must learn to keep accelerating, even when ahead.

Aguero will undoubtedly make a difference when properly fit but United look in ominous form. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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