Manchester mismatch as City crush Reds
Man Utd 0 Man City 3
It was when the Manchester City supporters at Old Trafford turned their attention to Alex Ferguson that you began to realise just now profound the shift has become.
City always loathed Ferguson, and he them, but even when they won their one Premier League title two years ago they knew that the old boy would come back for one last revenge mission.
Not any longer. The old dictator is gone and in his place is a manager who does not even merit the hatred of the City fans. Instead it was a full-scale humiliation visited on David Moyes, culminating in the demand from the City fans that he be allowed to see out the remainder of his contract at United.
"Five more years, five more years," they chanted at the end as Moyes headed for the safety of the tunnel.
The United fans have not turned on their manager, but that is about all he could take from another game in which his side were out-played and out-fought once again by a title challenger.
"Fergie, Fergie, give us a wave," they sung from the away seats as Moyes oversaw yet another retreat from the standards of a club that once set the pace at this stage of the season.
Of course, even in United's best years, City beat them. In the 2007-08 season, Sven Goran Eriksson's team did the league double over Ferguson, but they were anomalies. This was the real thing. One hesitates to make too certain a statement about shifts in power but there is no doubt that it will take a profound change at United for them to alter the course of things.
And the three points could prove "crucial" to the destination of the Premier League title, according to City's two-goal hero Edin Dzeko.
"Now we are only three points behind Chelsea and two games less. This game could be crucial at the end of the season," he said. "It was an amazing game for us from the first to the last minute. We were amazing."
Dzeko's two goals and another from Yaya Touré were a relatively modest margin of victory when one took into account the boldness of City's start and their goal within the first minute.
United did get their act together after the first half an hour and created a couple of chances before the break. But when Dzeko volleyed in his second goal 10 minutes after half-time it felt nothing more than that the game was heading towards its natural conclusion.
The expectation will always be that United have something in the tank. That they never give up. That a bold substitution and a roar from the Stretford End will see them over the line. But the spell is broken and they lose 3-0 at home these days like every other mediocre side.
As for City, they looked the part. Conducted in midfield in brilliant fashion by the magisterial David Silva, the win places them second, above Liverpool and three points behind Chelsea with two games in hand over the leaders. A victory over their old rivals does not carry the currency it once had but it still matters deeply and when Touré finished for the third in the 90th minute, the scoreline felt like it reflected the difference between the sides.
The selection by Moyes of Tom Cleverley was presumably done with United's midfield defensive strength in mind, but it left them badly lopsided and Cleverley himself too often in no-man's land. With Antonio Valencia on the bench and Adnan Januzaj and Ryan Giggs left out the squad altogether, it looked like Moyes was more preoccupied with bolting the back door.
In the Sky Sports studio, Paul Scholes put in a rare speaking appearance and gave an unsympathetic view on Marouane Fellaini.
"I expected more, to be honest," he said. "You pay that amount of money for a midfielder and you expect a few more goals."
Ouch, and that from one of the few at Old Trafford whose credentials to judge this team are unimpeachable.
It started about as badly as Moyes could have imagined, and he has seen a few worst-case scenarios in his eight months in the job. Dzeko popped the ball into the United net on 43 seconds after Samir Nasri's shot had hit the post.
Even worse for United, it was not City's first chance of the game. That fell to Silva, who crept through the United defence in the first few seconds with the kind of authority that made his opponents freeze. Rafael came to his senses and made the intervention. From his tackle the ball went from Fernandinho to Dzeko and on to Nasri for the shot that made the goal.
For a while it looked like this could be the worst yet for United, who were completely overrun in midfield, with Silva the dominant figure.
Michael Carrick gave the ball away to Jesus Navas on nine minutes and from there it went to Silva, who was dispossessed by Rio Ferdinand. The tackle rescued United. So, too, another excellent save from David de Gea to deny Dzeko on 18 minutes.
As United got to grips with that early storm it matured into a wonderful game. At times the three of Fellaini, Cleverley and Carrick looked crushed but there were some decent performances from the home side in the first half. Ferdinand offered some poise and stability. On the right wing, Danny Welbeck looked the part, although he was not on the ball enough.
That said, for all United's possession, they were held at bay by a City side that pressed and hustled them. The home side only carved out two chances before the break. The first, a volley from Fellaini after Welbeck knocked on Carrick's cross, never looked like it would trouble Joe Hart. Juan Mata's shot from Rafael's cross on 40 minutes was carelessly inaccurate.
There were four bookings before the break, although how Wayne Rooney escaped one for his foul on Fernandinho remains a mystery.
Had Michael Oliver decided to dismiss Fellaini for ramming a forearm into the face of Pablo Zabaleta in the 30th minute, there could have been no complaints from United. It was a misjudgement indicative of the struggles the £27.5m man is having adapting to the level required of him.
Moyes brought on Shinji Kagawa for the hapless Cleverley at half-time, but out on the right wing he has little effect. Dzeko got away from Ferdinand, partly blocked by Fellaini, to score at the near post from Nasri's corner for the second goal.
With barely a chance worthy of the mention from the home team, apart from a flick by Welbeck, Touré drilled in the third in the last minute. It was the first time since 1972 that City have won three consecutive games at Old Trafford but that, last night, was the least of Moyes' worries. (© Independent News Service)