Saturday 14 December 2019

Tevez catalyst for surge to summit but real heroes are grafters who toiled all season

Paul Hayward

Carlos Tevez would not feature highly on a list of the blood, sweat and tears expended by Manchester City in pursuit of their first English title for 44 years.

How could he, after 10 appearances in the Premier League this season and a spell of gardening leave longer than any of Capability Brown's horticultural projects?

If City's Argentinean strikers were playing trumps, Sergio Aguero won by bringing his famous father-in-law to this metropolitan melee. Nothing could be cooler than handing one of your complimentary tickets to Diego Maradona for a game that might decide the title race.

The stats favoured Aguero too: 22 league goals in 28 starts, to compare with Tevez's four in four. Together, they ought to have been a mighty combination from August to May, not just at the season's end.

City bristled with intent against a United side who deployed Wayne Rooney alone up front and assigned Park Ji-Sung to stop Yaya Toure's rumbling midfield runs. That just left Aguero, Tevez, Samir Nasri and David Silva to deal with.

Coping with Vincent Kompany proved too much for Chris Smalling just before half-time when Nasri swung in a corner and City's captain outjumped his defensive counterpart and applied a meaty header.

'El Apache' was absent when the hard work was done in this campaign, yet here he was being cheered louder than any City regular when his old club strode into the Etihad Stadium to avenge the astonishing 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford.

At this stage in the cycle, Tevez is more highly valued than a mere conscientious pro. City's fans had him marked down as a catalyst, a closer, a sure-fire Machiavellian trophy grabber.

The real heroes of City's long battle against United's power, though, have been Joe Hart, Kompany, Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott, Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry, Silva and Aguero, another Argentinean striker, but with a first-class attitude.

Aguero's work-rate is matched by Tevez, but the younger of the pair displays an honesty and humility the Munich rebel is unable to emulate.

So City's attempt to draw level with United ought to have been a stage on which the team's grafters could claim their garlands. Instead it started out as the Carlos Tevez show until Kompany made his mark. Chutzpah is Tevez's calling card. The four goals he scored in three games -- including a hat-trick against Norwich -- was the finest example yet of his ability to time his run into the affections of people who were dumping his shirt in a skip six months ago.

Throwing the title race lead away was a bigger issue until United faltered in front and turned the searchlights back on this Monday night power struggle, which featured two sides who have scored 173 times this season.

United have fallen back on tenacity and know-how to nullify the vast middle eastern spending power that threatens to relegate them to the second best team in Manchester.

When the deadlock was broken it came from a big centre-half nutting home a corner: a reassuringly old-fashioned sight. It seemed an age since City's ignorance of title run-ins seemed to be their undoing. Autumn's verve returned with their 12 goals against West Brom, Norwich and Wolves.

To recap: Tevez refused to warm up in Bayern Munich on September 27, fled to Argentina, accused Roberto Mancini of treating him like "a dog" flew back, apologised, came off the bench to set up Nasri for the winner against Chelsea and then capitalised on Mario Balotelli's dismissal against Arsenal to reclaim a first-team place, while less than "100pc", according to Mancini.

The psychological boost to City's tiring squad was undeniable. Any resentments are no doubt muttered privately. All through this campaign City have had the heat on the melting pot at maximum, to force all these talents into a winning whole.

Balotelli and Tevez made it seem hard work. But in the end City, three games from the finish, were able to call on two of the most elusive strikers in world football to maintain their counter-surge.

With their three-point lead, United sought to nullify until Danny Welbeck replaced Park on 57 minutes and Rooney was withdrawn off the front-line to exert more midfield influence.

City seemed restored to their old confidence and fluency for much of this game, but United were undaunted, surging between the sky blue shirts to show who really runs this city.

Tevez, who gave way to Nigel de Jong on 67 minutes, has seen it from both ends, in both colours. He just can't escape. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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